Saturday, February 16, 2013

Fact Checking on Fu Ping's Controversial "Red Guard" Photo

(posted from Chongqing via a proxy)

First, full disclosure:  I have not read Fu Ping's memoir, Bend, Not Break. The book, advertised as a "rags to riches" story, is not the kind that interests me, thus was not on my reading list. I had glanced at a few criticisms online in January, but did not read them carefully because I was busy writing.  In early February, before I left Boston, a friend got very angry at Fu after reading some articles about her book from a US-based Chinese website, and talked to me about it. She urged me to read those articles, but I did not get the time.  After I arrived in Chongqing to spend the Spring Festival with my parents, another cyber friend wrote and invited me to add an independent voice to the discussion.  But my father, who's 87, was hospitalized on Chinese New Year's eve, and caring for him took priority.

As my father's condition was improving, I checked out a few articles two days ago.   Among them, I found a Guardian report informative and balanced.  Sounds like Fu will have quite a number of things to explain to her readers.

To be fair, however,  I have to say Fu was not wrong in the following quote:
A photograph supplied to media by Fu shows her posing with a little red book, Mao badge and armband. Michel Bonnin of Tsinghua University and Prof Yin Hongbiao of Beijing University said it showed she was not disgraced as a "black element" at the time, as she claimed; Fu said it was common for children to be pictured pledging allegiance to Mao, "whether 'black' or 'red'".
As a child of "Capitalist Roader" parents, I wore a Mao badge and held the "little red book" during the Cultural Revolution. Every kid I knew did that, regardless of their family background.

In another photo that caused outrage, Fu and other students wear armbands before a Red Guard flag. I don't know when that photo was taken, but if Fu was born in 1958, she could only be 8 to 10 from 1966 to 1968, when the violent Red Guard movement was ongoing, and she herself would be too young to be one of them. If the photo was taken after she entered middle school, then it would be no earlier than 1969, which was the year middle schools resumed classes. By that time, the Red Guard factions involved in the early years of the CR no longer existed, and their members either had gone to the countryside, were in factories or had joined the army. 

After middle schools reopened in 1969, however, another kind of "Red Guard" came into being, this time organized by school authorities. Because the Communist Youth League was still paralyzed at the time, the authorities needed another official student organization as a substitute, so the name "Red Guard" was borrowed. But this "Red Guard" is not that Red Guard; the two generations were completely different in nature despite the common name. I was one of those who entered middle school in 1969; almost all kids in my class were members of the new generation, official "Red Guard" organization, except one or two mischievous boys. I don't know about other schools, but we didn't have armbands.

After high schools reopened in the fall of 1971, the Communist Youth League resumed activities and the official "Red Guard" organization began to exit the stages of history. It is unclear when the aforementioned photo was taken.  I checked with a friend who has a digital copy of Fu's book and learned that the photo is undated. If it was taken in the late 1970s, then the armbands and the flag in it could have been some sort of props for performances.

So the question is: when was the photo taken?

I have a few more things to discuss but I'm running out of time right now. If you can read Chinese, please check out my post on Sina blog.

(Updated on 2/19)

1 comment:

Xujun Eberlein said...

Administrative note: I am only publishing comments providing facts relevant to the history (i.e., two generations of Red Guards) and the timeline concerned here. I don't have the time to read Fu's book right now, and certainly have no interest in turning my blog into another battlefield on the evaluation of the author. If you want to express opinions on Fu, there are plenty of other places to go to.