At the Center of the Storm 1997
The Red Guard student groups were at the heart of the Cultural Revolution. Mao paraded them in Tiananmen Square and they roamed with virtual impunity around the country in 1966 and 1967. On the one hand, the Red Guards were utterly idealistic in their desire to serve and follow Chairman Mao. On the other hand, this radical idealism gave vent to the petty resentments of students and frequently led to violent deaths. Rae Yang’s recent memoir of her life as a Red Guard demonstrates both results. At first she found the Cultural Revolution thrilling. She created dazibao, or “big character posters” — big sheets of paper denouncing anyone or anything the Red Guards considered “counterrevolutionary.” Her targets, however, were merely high school teachers she didn’t like, not the national political figures criticized by Mao. She was transfixed when she caught a glimpse of Chairman Mao at Tiananmen Square. Later, when her Red Guard troop traveled to Guangzhou to “make revolution,” they ended up beating a deranged man to death. What began with pure ideals ended with sordid death. The question to consider here is, How much of the complex ideas in Mao’s writings did Rae Yang and her fellow Red Guards understand?
KeywordsCultural Revolution High School Teacher Violent Death Labor Reform Pure Ideal
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- Rae Yang, Spider Eaters: A Memoir (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 115–18, 122–23, 136–38.Google Scholar