Reddest Red Sun

Shades of Mao

A STAR REFLECTS ON THE SUN
Liu Xiaoqing

Introduction by Geremie R. Barmé

Liu Xiaoqing is an actress from Sichuan. Although her fame was eclipsed in the early 1990s by Gong Li, Liu remained one of China's most popular leading ladies. She was also remarkable for her brash and outspoken personality--something with which few of her rivals could compete, and she was denounced during the 1983 Anti-Spiritual Pollution Campaign for producing an autobiography entitled I Did It My Way (Wode lu). Among her numerous screen roles her portrayal of the Empress Dowager Ci Xi, in particular in Tian Zhuangzhuang's film "Li Lianying" (1990) was, perhaps, most noteworthy.

Liu's memoir, from which this excerpt is taken, was written at the height of the Mao Cult. Its sentiment was shared by many of Liu's generation as they looked back a youth spent in the thrall of Cultural Revolution zealotry. Regardless of the horrors of those years--and there is no dearth of material concerning the devastation wrought by Mao's rule--for many his was an age of passion, excitement and social engagement. Maoism was suffused with religiousity and it catered for young idealists yearning for sincerity and altruism, things unknown and unthinkable in Deng Xiaoping's China. This memoir shows that Liu's longing for a lost moment of "beauty" had grown more intense with the passage of time and stronger in the atmosphere of the cynicism that enveloped the People's Republic now that it was bereft of anything other than a faith in economic might. It also reveals a level of objectification of Mao that brings to mind the German book Love Letters to Adolf Hitler.1


I've only seen Mao Zedong twice. On the first occasion he was standing, the second time he was flat on his back. The first time he was on Tiananmen Gate to review the Red Guards who, like me, had travelled to Beijing to see him. The second time was at the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall where I lined up to view his body.

Everyone says that you never forget your first love. I can't really say that I ever had a first love, for in my childhood and youth the man I loved and admired most of all was Mao Zedong. I gave him everything I had: my sincerest love, as well as all my longing and hopes. He was an idol I worshipped with all my heart.

Chairman Mao, you were my first object of desire!

The first song I learnt to sing was "The East is Red". I knew what Chairman Mao looked like from the time I could recognize my parents. When I was a Red Guard I could recite all of his quotations word perfect. My brain was armed with Mao Zedong Thought. During the unprecedented Cultural Revolution I used Chairman Mao's words as my weapon to parry with opponents. My prodigious memory and quick tongue always meant that my "enemies" would retreat in defeat.

If I ever had any problems I would search Chairman Mao's writings for an answer. When we lost one of our chicks I looked for help in his works. When, not long after, the chick reappeared, I knew it was due to the intercession of our Great, Wise and Correct Chairman Mao.

When, as a child, I played games with my friends our pledge of honour was: "I swear by Chairman Mao". If someone said that, even if they prefaced it by claiming that they'd just come from Mars, we'd believe it without question. Naturally, no one ever took this oath lightly.

I worshipped and loved Chairman Mao so utterly that there was absolutely nothing extraneous or impure in my feelings for him. When I grew a bit older and learnt the secret of how men and women make babies I had the most shocking realization: "Could Chairman Mao possibly do that as well?" Of course, I immediately banished this sacrilegious thought from my head...2

Then Chairman Mao set the revolutionary blaze of the Cultural Revolution alight. It also ignited our youthful enthusiasm. We were like moths drawn to a flame and we threw ourselves into the inferno en masse. We were in a frenzy and utlized every ounce of energy at our disposal.

We would give anything to protect Chairman Mao, including our very lives. Our love for the Chairman consumed us body and soul. If anyone had dared to try and harm our beloved Chairman we would have pounced on him, bitten his hand off, gouged out his eyes, screamed in his ears until he was deaf, spat on him until he drowned in a lake of spittle and would have happily died in the effort just like [the revolutionary martyr] Dong Cunrui.

On 18 August 1968, Chairman Mao reviewed the Red Guards for the first time. I was too young to become a Red Guard, but I spent all my time dreaming of joining the organization that was sworn to protect Chairman Mao. After making extraordinary efforts I was finally allowed to take part in a peripheral grouping called the "Red Brigade". They gave me a red armband too. It was like a dream come true. Although it wasn't the same as the Red Guards, but the difference was only one word. I wore it so the word "Brigade" was hidden under my arm. I stuck out my chest and, just like a real Red Guard, strutted around the school yard increadibly proud of myself.

Soon after that, Chairman Mao called on the Red Guards to travel around China on Revolutionary Link-ups. Our group of Red Brigade members decided to respond to Chairman Mao's call too. Without a penny to our names, and each carrying a yellow-green PLA napsack that we had all done our darndest to get a hold of (including some who had dyed their own bags), we set out. I had cut off my beloved pigtails so I looked like the revolutionary Sister Jiang.3 At the train station, we fought our way past all the people who tried to pursuade us to "return to the classroom and continue the revolution there". Pushing them aside with determined urgency we got onto the train. With a great clamour the train moved out of the station. We were in very high-spirits, our hearts throbbing with revolutionary ardour. Then one of my classmates asked: "Where are we going?" I was stunned and asked the others: "Where's this train headed?" We took out a map of China and put our heads together and, doing our best to put the basics of geography we'd just acquired in class to use, we scrutinized the map and finally worked out that we were on the Baocheng line. There would be a change of locomotive at Baoji and the train would then head for Beijing.

Beijing! The city where Chairman Mao lived! We went wild.

Over the next few days, we were so excited about going to Beijing that we didn't sleep a wink. But where would Chairman Mao be? Would we be able to see him. We all stood atop the "Gold Mountain of Beijing" which we had dreamed of for so long tormented by these questions.

We imitated the Red Guards of Beijing scrupulously, literally aping their every move. When we got on a bus we would take out Quotations from Chairman Mao and start reading in really loud voices. "Revolution is not a tea party. It is not like writing an essay, painting or embroidering flowers,... revolution is an act of violence, it is the violent overthrow of one class by another..." We did our best to make our heavily-accented Sichuan voices sound as much like Beijing dialect as we could. We'd read one quotation after another right to the end of the trip...

I will never forget August 31, 1966. On that day I joined all the Red Guards who had come from throughout China to be in Beijing to see him, to see Chairman Mao, the leader we dreamt of and thought of 24 hours a day.

A few days earlier we had been told by the Revolutionary Committee of the Agricultural Museum [, our billet,] that some Central leaders would see us on August 31. When we heard this everyone exploded in excitement. Speculation was rife: which leader or leaders would be there? Would Chairman Mao come? The result of our group deliberations was that Chairman Mao was sure to be too busy to come. Since we were from out of Beijing there was even less reason for him to see us. But there was a small and adamant group who were sure that Chairman Mao would appear. Naturally, I really wanted to believe them. Truth, after all, [as Chairman Mao taught us] is often the prerogative of the minority.

It was 6:00 am, August 31. We all woke with a start. Although we were all at the age when you find it impossible to wake up in the morning, everyone had been really excited the night before. People had woken at the slightest noise and looked around to see that nothing was going on before drifiting off to sleep again. But this time it was for real. We all got dressed in record time and, armed with the food and water we had set aside the night before, we ran into the courtyard.

Once assembled we got into our bus and were driven to Tiananmen Square. We lined up and sat in ranks; the Square was turned into a massive sea of green. We waited wide-eyed and expectant. Morning broke slowly and we saw the majestic outline of Tiananmen Gate. As the sun rose we began to get hot. But we waited, and waited. Our eyes were popping out of our heads. The sweat trickled down our brows and into our eyes. Everyone was constantly wiping the sweat away with their hands. We took out our food and water and started chatting as we ate. Some people nodded off to sleep, heads cushioned on their knees. As a person nodded their head might slip off their knee and they'd wake with a shock, look around and then nod off again. This happened repeatedly. Some people simply lay down to sleep using their caps and satchels as a pillow. I stood up and looked out over the Square, a massive expanse occupied by an army of battle-weary Red Guards. I sat down and was overcome by drowsiness myself and, despite my best efforts to keep awake, I nodded off.

Suddenly, drums could be heard, a weak sound at first that grew louder. After the drum roll all the loudspeakers on the Square resounded with the opening chords of "The East is Red" followed by the tumultous din of the orchestral arrangement of the song. The very earth shook with the volume of sound. Everyone jumped to their feet. My heart was in my throat, I could feel my pulse around my lips, in my head and neck. The eyes of a million Red Guards were riveted on Tiananmen Gate.

The leaders of Party Central had appeared! But who was behind them? It was Chairman Mao himself!! Everyone threw down their hats, satchels, bread, water flasks and began shouting as we surged towards Tiananmen. All those acres of green-clad bodies that had been sitting passively only a moment before turned into a solid wave of human flesh, like a wall of football players. We all shouted "Long Live Chairman Mao!" At first it was an uncoordinated cry but slowly we began chanting in unison. The love that tens of thousands of Red Guards felt for their leader burst forth like a lava flow from Mount Vesuvius. It was like a torrent, like an explosion of liquid steel. Without a second thought I joined in and tears streamed from my eyes. I hated the people in front of me who blocked my line of vision and kept Chairman Mao from me. I hated the fact that I was shortsighted, that at this most precious moment I couldn't see the Chairman clearly. I begged a Red Guard in front of me to lend me his telescope. He was staring into it looking intently at the rostrum on the Gate. Tears had flowed down his cheeks to the corners of his mouth and were dripping onto his clothes. His face was ecstatic. I pleaded with him to let me have one, quick look. "Just for a minute or even only a second. I'll give it back immediately, I swear. I swear by Chairman Mao." He finally gave in and handed me the telescope. I put it up to my eye as quickly as possible but I couldn't find the Chairman anywhere. What was wrong? He wasn't there. Then suddenly the human wave surged in my direction and I was thrown to the ground. I was held down by a mass of hysterical Red Guards. I pressed down with both arms to keep myself from being crushed, still the breath was knocked out of me. I struggled for all I was worth, but I could feel my strength being sapped away. I couldn't keep up and my face was being forced against the ground, my cheek crushed downwards. I could hear my bones creaking, but I couldn't scream out. I was afraid I would die without ever having seen Chairman Mao. What a wasted life! But my instinct for self-preservation took over and I started fighting my way out, regardless of the cost. Miraculously, the crowd in front of me parted and a wide road appeared. In that instant I saw Chairman Mao. He was in an open limousine that was moving slowly in our direction. He was like a statue, as tall as the heavens. He was dressed in military uniform and he waved at us. Tens of thousands of eyes turned towards us, saw our faces, our bodies and saw into our hearts. I went limp but I was held up by the mass of other Red Guards. I felt warm all over; I was drunk with happiness. My tears soaked the front of my army-green uniform. I forgot everything, my studies, my future. Life seemed so unimportant, irrelevent. Nothing could compare with this instant, because I had seen him!

I did, nonetheless, have one major regret. I didn't get a chance to shake Chairman Mao's hand. How I wished I could have become a spirit or a martial arts expert and jumped over the crowd to sit next to Chairman Mao! But I couldn't. The people who shook Chairman Mao's hand that day were our heroes. We all rushed up to them so we could hold them by the hand, reluctant to let go, we nearly tore them to pieces.

Even today, whenever I hear "The East is Red", that incredibly familiar tune, my heart beats faster. It's because that moment was so profound, so exciting and happy. I've only felt like that once in my whole life. I'm sure I will never, ever feel like that again....

Some years later, I went to Beijing with my mother. One day, we visited the Chairman Mao Mausoleum. Over the years people have ceaselessly gone to see the Chairman's corpse. Our line was like a coiled dragon which wound around the centre of the Square.

We entered the stately and solemn foyer of the Mausoleum. The stream of people made a slow circumambulation. This was the second time I had seen Chairman Mao. He was the undying idol in my heart, the man who possessed and ruled me throughout my adolescence and youth. If the truth be told, I had lived solely for him for two decades.

Mao Zedong was lying there so still and quiet, at repose in his crystal sarcophagus. The flag of the People's Republic was draped over his body, his face had a peaceful expression on it. I felt an odd mixture of emotions: bitter, sweet, sour and hot. I couldn't take my eyes off him, my leader.

In my mind's eye, I saw him make the announcement: "The People's Republic of China is hereby established. The people of China have stood up!"

I saw him dressed in a military uniform waving a cap in his hand as he said: "Long live the People!"

I saw him in his limousine driving towards the hysterical Red Guards.

I saw him standing there with that expression on his face that I was so familiar with from all the photographs, extending his massive hand in my direction...

I couldn't help reaching out for his hand in return, just as I had so many times before in my dreams. But there was nothing there. The Chairman was still lying in his coffin and we inched forward with the rest of the crowd. We moved past the bier which was surrounded by fresh flowers and made our way slowly to the exit.

I bid farewell to Chairman Mao. I bid farewell also to twenty years of my life, the most precious, enthusiastic and impressionable time of my youth.

We walked out into Tiananmen Square which was bathed in bright sunlight. We could see [the portrait of] Chairman Mao on Tiananmen Gate, although Chairman Mao was not there himself.

Even now the songs I most often sing, the songs with which I am most familiar, which I can sing from beginning to end, are songs written in praise of Chairman Mao. The works I can still recite off by heart are Chairman Mao's poems. And I still quote Chairman Mao at the drop of a hat. I know and hold it to be true that Mao Zedong will live on in my heart forever.

This year I'm in Shenzhen for Spring Festival. During the holiday I happened to take taxis a number of times. None of the taxis had the usual talismans for good fortune hanging from their rear-vision mirrors. What hung there instead was Chairman Mao's portrait. I asked the drivers about it and they all said that they hung the Chairman because he could ward off evil.

Dear Chairman Mao, people throughout China miss you.

6 February, 1992, Shenzhen

Notes
1. See Stephen Kinzer, "'Love Letters' to Hitler, a Book and Play Shocking to Germans", The New York Times, 25 May, 1995.
2. Subsequent to the publication of Li Zhisui's memoirs in 1994, one Beijing-based writer questioned whether Liu Xiaoqing had re-evaluated her innocent view of the Chairman. See Xue Yu, "Zhide pengMaozhe renzhen yidu", Kaifang zazhi, 1994: 12, pp. 38-40, at p. 39.
3. "Sister Jiang" (Jiangjie) is a pre-1966 opera about the Sichuan revolutionary martyr Jiang Zhuyun. It is based on the novel Red Crag (Hongyan).


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