Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Last "Red Guard"?

In my previous post, I distinguished two generations of Red Guards.  The first generation,  a disarray of factions who engaged in a great deal of violence from the summer of 1966 to 1968, were disbanded by the end of 1968 after the "Down to the Countryside" movement began on a large scale. This fact is pretty much clear.  The nuance I was trying to spell out is about the second generation, which came into being when middle schools resumed classes in the fall of 1969 after a three-year hiatus.  This time, the name "Red Guard" was borrowed by authorities for the official student organizations that, at first, served as a temporary substitute of the Communist Youth League which remained dormant then.

Apparently, what requires further clarification is exactly when the second generation "Red Guard" organizations began to disappear and when they eventually ceased to exist nationwide. From my memory, after I entered high school in the fall of 1971, the Communist Youth League revived, and we had no more "Red Guard" activities.  Last week in Chongqing, I asked a few old schoolmates, and they remembered it the same as I did.

However, the evening before I left Chongqing, I had dinner with some friends, and a couple of younger men told me that they had entered middle school and become "Red Guards" in 1975 (at the time, I was in the countryside receiving "reeducation" as a "zhi-qing").  I was surprised and subsequently searched I found two pieces of information that I wasn't previously aware of (or had forgotten about):

  • In 1975, Wang Hongwen (a member of the "Gang of Four") had proposed merging the Youth League and "Red Guard" organizations in secondary schools, though the merger was never realized.
  • The Communist Party and Youth League formally revoked "Red Guard" organizations on August 19, 1978.
So, theoretically, the second generation "Red Guards" could have existed through August 1978.  On the other hand, I have found no citations suggesting their activities lasted beyond 1976, the year the Cultural Revolution ended.

In my discussion with the younger friends in Chongqing early this week, they believed that, by 1975, the "Red Guard" organizations were no longer mandatory for all schools. Thus, different schools might have done things differently, and differences might also have existed between high schools and middle schools.  This again reminds me the danger of generalization from one's own experience, something I try to be vigilant for but still sometimes let down my guard. Also, while I do not remember any Red Guard activities when I was in high school, it is possible that my memory serves me wrong.

As such I would like to invite my Chinese readers to help the fact-checking process:  if you were a secondary school student in China between 1971 and 1978, could you please let me know when was the last time you were aware of "Red Guard" activities in your school?  If you don't like to leave comments, you can email me.

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