Student Attacks Against Teachers: The Revolution of 1966
May 2, 2005 6:52 AM   Subscribe

Student Attacks Against Teachers: The Revolution of 1966 At the Middle School attached to Beijing Teacher's College, Yu Ruifen, a female biology teacher, was knocked to the ground and beaten in her office. In broad daylight, she was dragged by her legs through the front door and down the steps, her head bumping against the cement; a barrel of boiling water was poured on her. Though she died after approximately two hours of torture, it did not satisfy the students. All other teachers in the "ox-ghost and snake-demon team" were forced to stand around Yu's corpse and take turns beating her.
posted by Kwantsar (41 comments total)
I have an idea, why don't Americans only read negative stories about China. And why don't Chinese only read negative stories about the U.S.? Oh wait a minute, we got that covered.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:07 AM on May 2, 2005

i recently read an outstanding memoir which describes abuse of this kind and the havoc that the cultural revolution wreaked on all forms of hierarchy (student, teacher, parent, child, etc.) it is called Spider Eaters by Rae Yang.

on preview: StickyCarpet, on a related note, my mom teaches 4th grade in the DC public schools and last week she was severely beaten by one of her students. i don't think *anybody* will be reading about that.
posted by jmccw at 7:12 AM on May 2, 2005

i should have used the term 'violence' in my earlier post, not 'abuse'.
posted by jmccw at 7:13 AM on May 2, 2005

I recommend the movie To Live, which covers the history of 20th century China, for a good view of the cultural revolution.
posted by klangklangston at 7:21 AM on May 2, 2005

my mom teaches 4th grade in the DC public schools and last week she was severely beaten by one of her students. i don't think *anybody* will be reading about that.

Its probably all over the news in China.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:22 AM on May 2, 2005

Interesting, it's the usual whole array of mob behaviors under ideological extremization, hate fomentantion and direction

1. repeat incessantly that there's an enemy and its vile and root of many if not all evils

2. identify the enemy in some well-definied possibly well-known class (jew, teachers, liberals, republicans, whatnot) when necessary large enough to be applied to anybody

3. give a rationalization on why the target is evil (jews because they were considered rich, liberals because they are the cause of U.S. weakness, Republicans because they're the cause of hate toward U.S.) Use rethoric to cover up the fact none of the accusation make much sense or stand ground under strict unbiased scrutiny.

4. build up the tensions against the group then let the people vent on the target group. If some rebel rebels too much prepare proof that they belong to the group that needs to be hated ( for instance : nazi dissenters are traitors, these who don't support revolution are against it ..not supporting the troops equals hating them)

It's the same tactique and strategy, only name and target change.
posted by elpapacito at 7:28 AM on May 2, 2005

It's the biology teacher's own damn fault. If she'd been hadn't been mocking Christian values and removing Jesus from the classroom by teaching theories of Evolution, she'd have been fine.
posted by orthogonality at 7:28 AM on May 2, 2005

I recommend the movie To Live, which covers the history of 20th century China, for a good view of the cultural revolution.

I second it. To Live's a terrific movie.
posted by unreason at 7:33 AM on May 2, 2005

To those who would rewrite history and rule by lies, teachers as a group are probably more of a threat than any other. Students who are schooled in logic and history and who have been taught to examine current events critically are less susceptible to political indoctrination. A tyrant needs an army of the faithful, and it's much easier to create such an army out of the ignorant and resentful than from the educated and thoughtful. Inflame the first group and reward them with inclusion and power, and turn them against the other and you're halfway there.
posted by George_Spiggott at 7:48 AM on May 2, 2005

I'm not sure what your point is. These aren't just some "negative stories about China", the Cultural Revolution was an enormously important period in Chinese history. These stories help illustrate the all-pervasive mentality of the time. It would be like asking why stories on the Nazi's activities during the war are always so negative.
posted by Sangermaine at 7:50 AM on May 2, 2005

Plus, for modern-day neocons, this is a fantastic roadmap of how to deal with those uppity liberals and activist judges. The Coulter would be proud!
posted by hincandenza at 7:59 AM on May 2, 2005

Aside from its fascinating etiology and progress, the "Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution" serves as an eye-poking reminder of the tremendous danger of having a 1+ billion-person critical mass that has demonstrated a propensity and potential to tilt in disastrous ways with no salvation save letting the holocausts consume themselves. No sympathy for any member of the upper reaches of the Beijing gov't, but it's hard to imagine the difficulties of maintaing a ten-mile-high pile of sand.
posted by the sobsister at 8:12 AM on May 2, 2005

hincandenza, you should be ashamed of yourself. The people are smart, not stupid, and we can see through your sarcastic comment. You aren't in support of the people's government, you're against it! I would like to say to you and all the other dissenters who stand in the way of our progress, your days are numbered!
posted by nervousfritz at 8:24 AM on May 2, 2005

that's "maintaining", not "maintaing"...
posted by the sobsister at 8:44 AM on May 2, 2005

Erm, anyone notice the red elephant (Chinese Nationalism) in the room?

Real or orchestrated, the nationalistic zeal of the people of China and its growing strength in the region may lead to another Cultural Revolution-type event. Capitalism may prevent that, as too many have too much to lose in today's environment, but it's not hard to view China's actions as leading towards Japan rearming itself, and the many countries in the area getting pretty damned nervous.

StickyCarpet simplifies the issue (of course, Metafilter is all about quick one-liners showing how moral/witty/"right" the poster is these days). I'm sure if we all just came together, hugged, and sang songs all the people of the world can live in perfect harmony. Oh wait, that was a Coke commercial.

Screw it. It's fun to obey the machines!!!
posted by AspectRatio at 8:52 AM on May 2, 2005

Oh yeah, what elpapacito said.
posted by AspectRatio at 8:53 AM on May 2, 2005

The Cultural Revolution as History - a set of reviews by grad students at the University of California of books on the cultural revolution, some dealing directly with education. And here is The Morning Sun, rich web site of the film of the same name.
posted by TimothyMason at 9:26 AM on May 2, 2005

"Even kindergarten teachers could not escape the violence. Some teachers of Beijing Zhongshangongyuan Kindergarten and several kindergartens in Beijing's Dongcheng District were denounced and beaten in the Zhongshan Concert Pavilion. Students from middle schools beat them and shaved their heads there."

Man, what a great and chilling post, Kwanstar. Thanks. My university is launching a series of partnerships and exchanges with Chinese universities, this is good background information.

On preview: The MeFi spellchecker want to change Dongcheng to "douching."
posted by LarryC at 9:27 AM on May 2, 2005

(scans comments)

Can I be the first one to blame video games, the Internet and heavy metal music for this?

If only we'd stopped them in 1966 ...
posted by Peter H at 9:29 AM on May 2, 2005

Ha, Metafilter: (everything from) Dongcheng to "douching." !
posted by Peter H at 9:32 AM on May 2, 2005

never, ever, trust a youth movement, or a movement glorifying the role of youth, or a movement which relies on youth for its energy.

I second it. To Live's a terrific movie.

great film. don't know how accurate it is. it was given to me by a chinese expat couple. but one scene in it emphasizes a health care crisis due to the medical students having smacked around and displaced all the doctors. their slogans were pretty useless while treating the sick.
posted by 3.2.3 at 9:51 AM on May 2, 2005

I don't think nationalism in china would lead to another cultural revolution, far from it. In fact the "cultural revolution" was more about "idiologicalism" then "nationalism" (in other words, pro-communist vs. pro-china).

China wants to be a global super-power, and they have brains and people to do it.
posted by delmoi at 9:52 AM on May 2, 2005

Was anyone astounded at the voracity, the cruelty, the intensity of these KIDS!! From the writing it seems that they had complete control of the teachers...There is an incredible unity among them, and for it to be as violent as it was truly amazes me.
posted by Smell at 10:22 AM on May 2, 2005

I wonder what arguments and evidence may exist for or against the following proposition: The kids who did these things now run China.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:44 AM on May 2, 2005

Was anyone astounded at the voracity, the cruelty, the intensity of these KIDS!!

I kept thinking of "Lord of the Flies" while reading this.
posted by caddis at 10:46 AM on May 2, 2005

elpapacito writes " Interesting, it's the usual whole array of mob behaviors under ideological extremization, hate fomentantion and direction"

I recommend reading "We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families" by Philip Gourevitch, which is about the Rwandan genocide. It's a riveting read, and really gives you a feel for what it's like when a people who had been living side-by-side -- some even intermarrying -- with another to basically, one day, pick up machetes and try to wipe the other off the face of the earth. Children and the old were not spared; some Hutu men even started referring to their own mothers as "cockroaches" because they were Tutsi.

All in all it offers a good perspective on man's inhumanity to man, and how unbelievably far the mob mentality can go.
posted by clevershark at 11:00 AM on May 2, 2005

Erm, anyone notice the red elephant (Chinese Nationalism) in the room?

Hell, I noticed it when we started hearing about the anti-Japanese riots in China. The west may try to ignore that aspect of it out of fear for their investments, but it's a very clear-cut case of state-sponsored nationalist mob action.
posted by clevershark at 11:05 AM on May 2, 2005

You have to remember that these 'kids' didn't just suddenly erupt into violence against their teachers.

It was a process. And it had less to do with lack of education and more with tapping into the raw emotions of a naturally rebellous age group, channeling it, and directing it.

Once the gangs knew they had power and that even adults would back down from them, it just snowballed.
posted by rich at 11:37 AM on May 2, 2005

Great post -- many thanks, Kwantsar. I've read a lot about the GPCR and was aware in general of the attacks on teachers (and I think the article overstates the extent to which they've been ignored), but the mass of details was chilling and, in the end, stupefying. Should be required reading for anyone who still has illusions about Mao and Chinese communism. One very minor quibble, that I wouldn't be languagehat if I didn't quibble about:

"Ta ma de," literally "fuck his mother"

No, literally it means 'his/her mother's,' though it's the functional equivalent of "motherfucker" or "motherfucking" or simply "fuck!" depending on context (you can yell "Ta ma de!" if you hit your finger with a hammer). You can read more than you want to know about its psychosocial implications in Oedipus Lex: Some Thoughts on Swear Words and the Incest Taboo in China and the West by Youqin Wang, which concludes (interestingly in terms of this post):
Another paradoxical instance occurred in the early 1980s, when the CCP used "parents may wrongly beat their children" as a metaphor to vindicate the persecution of countless ordinary Chinese people during the Cultural Revolution. Use of this defense required two premises: that the government corresponds to parents; and that people should be filial to their parents unconditionally. It is ironic that after a ten-year-long revolution that attempted to destroy the "four olds" (old thought, old culture, old customs, and old habits) in order to establish a new world, those who adopted this defense still sought to derive legitimacy from the notion of filial piety.
There's also a very funny excursus on the subject in this John Derbyshire column:
In Mandarin Chinese, the only foreign language I know much about, the all-purpose expletive is tamade, pronounced "tah-MAH-duh," which translates as "his (her, its, your) mother's." His mother's what? The great 20th-century writer Lu Xun — he was a sort of Chinese Orwell in his broad outlook — wrote a witty essay on this topic...
posted by languagehat at 3:18 PM on May 2, 2005

actually it is short for "kiss your mother's cunt". You can use it in polite company because most of it is left out (according to the Chinese speaking fellow I work with.) That article languagehat linked to goes into a good deal of the dynamic that is going on here.
posted by perianwyr at 5:39 PM on May 2, 2005

This is the sort of post that makes me love MeFi - a very interesting article that I might not have found anywhere else. I recently spent some time with someone who is a little bit younger than these kids, yet brilliant. He was denied university education for some years after secondary school as all of the universities had been closed from the cultural revolution. Given his background and brains he was sent to a re-education camp where he was fed a steady diet of indoctrination and labor. He kind of liked the zen of the labor, but then society started opening up again and he was one of the lucky ones able to matriculate to the newly opening university based upon his test scores. I think he said about 1 out of a thousand made the cut in those years. Of course, once educated he fled China. I will be sure to ask about the school violence when next I see him.
posted by caddis at 5:41 PM on May 2, 2005

Sangermaine: StickyCarpet,
I'm not sure what your point is. These aren't just some "negative stories about China", the Cultural Revolution was an enormously important period in Chinese history.

I guess I just am trying to supply the equal and opposite knee-jerk reaction to the bulk of coverage on China. These people were wearing silk gowns when my ancestors were squatting in caves, and in 1966 we were lynching negroes.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:24 AM on May 3, 2005

I just am trying to supply the equal and opposite knee-jerk reaction

That's just what we need around here, more knee-jerk reactions. Way to go!

in 1966 we were lynching negroes

Do you have any evidence for this? And who's "we"?

And, in general, is your position that nobody is allowed to talk about millions of people being killed in another country unless their own country has a completely pure history? Because that would be a really stupid position.

Here's a hint: if you click on a thread and can't think of anything constructive to contribute, just tiptoe out again. Leaving a dumb, pointless comment, especially if it's the first, is just going to embarrass you and make you defend the indefensible.
posted by languagehat at 11:32 AM on May 3, 2005

languagehat: 1966 lynching.
posted by StickyCarpet at 1:06 PM on May 3, 2005

(sorry, link worked on preview, just google 1966 lynching)
posted by StickyCarpet at 1:08 PM on May 3, 2005

And yes, languagehat, your criticism is well taken and your esteem well deserved, but on this one issue I hope some affirmitive action might be excused.
posted by StickyCarpet at 1:13 PM on May 3, 2005

Was anyone astounded at the voracity, the cruelty, the intensity of these KIDS!!

Not so much. A lot of kids really hate teachers, often rightly so. Anywhere outside the toney suburbs, schools are usually minimum security prisons.

That's not in any way to justify these atrocities - I'm more disgusted with how the revolutionaries took the very healthy contempt for authority that most kids have, and turned it in to something murderous and obscene rather than something even remotely transformative. Playing both sides against the middle, I guess. Thanks, communism!
posted by poweredbybeard at 1:53 PM on May 3, 2005

rich --

i hear what you are saying. i think the word "brainwashing" could be used too.
posted by Smell at 1:57 PM on May 3, 2005

StickyCarpet: I turned up this useful timeline which supports your point, so thanks for sending me in that direction. Sorry if I was too snarky, but I'm really sick of people derailing other people's posts to promote their own favorite cause. I'm totally with you on the importance of remembering America's wretched history with regard to its black population, but seriously, if you want to draw attention to it, craft a good post, don't jump into a totally unrelated (and excellent) post about China and start saying "why should we talk about this?" That's just rude.
posted by languagehat at 3:34 PM on May 3, 2005

George_Spiggott - it wasn't just about Mao using the students. Things sort of began before he got fully involved, and then he rode the red tiger, so to speak; he later called out the PLA to put down the student uprisings.

As to why teachers and intellectuals? It's complicated. I've always felt like there were several Cultural Revolutions, which coincided and fed off each other, but really have different origins and effects. I mainly see three, but there are likely more; I see:

- a political battle, between the Liu Shaoqi and the Deng Xiaoping faction, whom Mao called "capitalist roaders" because they were willing to allow the cultivation of private plots and small scale private marketting of goods, whereas Mao felt this betrayed the Communist vision (which it does, in a way); Mao used the upheavels to purge Liu and et himself firmly in power again (he had been sidelined)

- there was also the intellectual/artistic battle, which really took off around the Wu Han affair - his play, The Dismissal of Hai Rui from office, about a historic figure, was interpreted by people like Jiang Qing (Mao's wife, a former actress who became one of the most notorious members of the Gang of Four) as a criticism of Mao's purge of Peng Dehuai for criticising the Great Leap Forward; in the Arts, Jiang and the others of her faction claimed that art remained too bourgeouis, too beloved of kings and concubines, flowers and birds, and that they should depict reality and working class heroes instead. Thus the few approved operas, about new revolutionary heros - Farewell my concubine depicts this shift; painters had to leave behind traditional Chinese subjects and styles for heavy handed almost photorealist, but of course idealised, paintings - they are very didactic, but do have a certain charm/power of their own, the image of the soldier, reading his book by the glow of the red red fire - there is one painting I especially like, called "I am Seagull" of a woman technician at the top of a telephone or electrical pole in a storm, buffetted by the winds but looking so strong and happy.

- the Cultural Revolution in the schools was related to that in the arts, and in intellectual life. I know more about highschools in Canton than about universities, but I think the first big character poster was hung at Beijing University, attacking the adminstration for being anti-revolutionary; from the universities, where it was about one thing, it passed to the high schools and middle schools. There's a good (thogh not perfect) book by Jonathan Unger, Education under Mao, which looks at the origins and tensions that emerged in the cultural revolution in some Canton middle and highschools, and there it was really student driven and all about who was going to get to go to unversity (and thus not be sent down to the countryside to be a peasant, as was happening because of urban unemployment) - those who could do best on the really hard exams, many of whom where the children of those who had been middle class or "non-red class" (everyone not a peasant, worker or party cadre, like teachers, doctors, clerks, ect) before the revolution, or those who were the most dedicated to the Revolution. The party cadre kids claimed they were most dedicated, and so they should all go; the non-red kids were targetted with public humiliations, but some later formed their own Red Gaurd units, claiming that they were redder in their hearts than those who had been born red.

Teachers and intellectuals were attacked all through this, along with anyone who objectted - some were attacked because they were thought to be too old-fashioned, and thus feudal or bourgeois (like Wu Han), but many were likely attacked because they had offended someone. The chaos was such that many grudges could be settled in extremely violent ways, and scapegoats were easy to find. But I think with close study you can see patterns like university students (who clearly weren't worried about getting into university) attacking professors more on ideological grounds, while in the highschools there was definitely this more practical edge to it. That's not to say the idealogues weren't practical - people like Jiang Qing (sorry I keep using her, but that's the name that sticks in my mind) got a great deal of power out of their denunciations of other artists and intellectuals, but it was a little less direct.

I think multiple causes might help explain some of the chaos and seeming lack of coherance in the Cultural Revolution - how were did university admittence and painting style related? But they were both big planks in the CR platform. Also, I think the majority of the Red Guards were acting on their accord - they may have been encouraged by Mao, who was among them a god-like figure, but they didn't need that much encouraging - they were frightened about very uncertain futures, angry at the establishment, at the powers that would send them to the countryside if they didn't get into university (because once you decided to go to highschool, at least in Canton, you couldn't get a job in a factory, and still students took the risk), some urban young people were stuck in the countryside, unable to marry or settle down or start a family for fear of staying there forever, and many of them took the chance to go back to the cities. It's all over the place.

Sorry - that was probably more than anyone wanted to know. I've just been thinking about and teaching (as a TA only, it's not my field) some of this stuff lately, and so it all spilled out.

I think the article is right - not a lot has been written on the specifics of the violence, who was killed, by whom, why. Today the professor for Modern China was saying that recent studies are suggesting that it may have been the younger teenagers, the 14 and 15 year olds, who were responsible for most of the violence. There was one book I read a while ago, which compared it to the Holocaust, which I thought went a bit far; it was a Holocaust for intellectuals and teachers - thousands killed, many more beaten, tortured, sent to live in the countryside with little food, few supplies, sent to labour camps for "reeducation" (just as in the Anti-Rightist crackdown of the 1950s) - but the experiences of the majority of Chinese (who were still mostly rural and even primary education was not universal) were very varied. Thus the violence dominated certain places and institutions, while not affecting other places to the same degree. Unger co-authored another book, Chen Village (which I highly reccomend as fascinating reading), about a single rural village from the early 60s right through to the 1980s - there the first waves of violence of the GPCR had the most impact on walls, which were painted red; festival cake molds were also broken. The clean-up campaigns afterwards, though, affected more people in the village. (It's been a while since I read the book - if anyone remembers stuff I don't, please correct me).
posted by jb at 8:02 PM on May 3, 2005

There is one side that few people talk about, but it sticks with me, probably because of my own experience - before the CR, a peasant, no matter how bright, had almost no chance to go to university. They didn't have the good schools, they couldn't afford to send their children to highschool (which often meant boarding as well as fees), they were always poorer than the city workers, and when things went bad, as in the Great Leap Forward, they were the first to starve.

But between 1966 and 1976, some of those peasants, and workers too, got to go to university. They were really behind in education; the professors despaired because they weren't as well educated as the middle class and party cadre kids whose parents were literate and had money for books, and who didn't have to work to help support the family. But they weren't stupid - many were chosen from their commune or shop floor as the brightest to go, to learn stuff so they could come back and make things better.

All of these people were turfed out of university in 1976, and out of their jobs too, the ones they had trained for, to make way for the new exam kids.

I think of theirs as a lost generation too, just as lost as those urban and middle class kids who were denied the chance for education. Whose education was it? Did it belong by right to those who could get the highest scores on exams, if that system was, as it certainly was, so very unequal in the provision of the education you needed for those exams? Or did the system, as the Red Guards on all sides of factional fighting charge, just continue the same inequalities, whereby those with the social and/or cultural capitol got the chances and the good jobs that followed?
posted by jb at 8:15 PM on May 3, 2005

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