2006, 1976

This is a translation of a post at Massage Milk.

Going into the year 2006, the first thing that I felt was the 30th anniversary of the death of Zhou Enlai.  The beloved Premier Zhou left an indelible impression in our hearts since we were very young.  In Middle School, we learned "Premier Zhou, where are you?"  Premier Zhou, where are you?  The echo in the valley: He just left, just left.  From this lesson text, I leaned a technique of writing: repetition.  The teacher said: "He just left, just left" is known as repetition.  Later on when I composed essays, I used similar techniques of writing.  Finally, the teacher said, "Your repetitions tend towards being flawed."

Just like I did not understand grammar at the time, I did not know what the fates of the national leaders meant.  When I got older, I learned more and I knew much more about the glorious image of Premier Zhou.  But my first knowledge came from those paragraphs, and those paragraphs basically all said that Premier Zhou was wise and outstanding.  Later on, through the reading of the historical materials, the image of Premier Zhou was not as glorious in our hearts.  Lifeweek recently had a front page story of Premier Zhou and discussed how people's feelings changed towards the Premier over these thirty years.  Indeed, the feelings have changed vastly over these thirty years.

On January 8 each year, I instinctively remember that this is the day when the Premier died.  Of course, it is also the birthday of Elvis Presley.  These two completely unrelated persons are always fighting against each other inside my head.

2006 is a memorable year.  It is the 30th anniversary of the downfall of the Gang of Four.  I remember that on the day after the Gang of Four was smashed, the good news reached our place.  Everybody ran around telling each other.  It was then that I realized that China still had the four people named Wang, Zhang, Jiang and Yao.  It was snowing hard outside.  There was a general assembly of all teachers and students at the school.  The teachers even let one of our students recite the letter of resolution over the megaphone.  It was snowing very hard that day, but it was not cold.  The snow fell on the ground and almost melted immediately.  Therefore, it was easy to make snowballs.  After school that day, we had a snow fight among the students.  The next day, I read the newspaper and learned that the whole country was rejoicing.  But everything was calm as usual in our village.  The production brigade leader held a sickle and stood under the wall with the huge "Continue to criticize Deng, and repel the right-leaning reversal tendency" slogan to hold a meeting of the villagers.  He did not say anything about the political trend, and he seemed to have only spoken about next year's work points.

Later, the school began the usual criticism activities of the Gang of Four.  There was even a performance program.  Three male students and one female student had to play the Gang of Four, and we had to bring in Lin Biao and Confucius for criticisms too.  It was very strange back then, because those people that we had to criticize sharply are often unconnected to each other but they had to be put on the same stage to be criticized.  For example, it may be reasonable to put the Gang of Four and Lin Biao together, but I have still not been able to understand why Yuan Shikai and Liu Shaoqi were placed together.  The only explanation is that we were backwards in the northeast and when the villagers got bored, they made up a lot of stuff for the sake of entertainment.  But what I liked most was the comic dialogue (相声), especially those about not paying attention in class . At the time, I saw something like that in a Youth Literature magazine and I memorized it with my fellow students.  I invited the teachers from other schools to watch.  But I was nonplussed by the fact that because there were too many teachers from outside in the audience, the whole atmosphere was quite serious.  From the start to the finish, there was not a single moment of applause or laughter.

I remember in the spring that year, the class master suddenly told us one day: "There is a small group of people who are opposing Chairman Mao."  The teacher looked very serious.  I did not understand what he was talking about at the time and I had no idea about how many people are in that "small group of people."  In 1978, I came to Beijing.  From a book of my father's, I learned that the teacher had been talking about the 1976 April 5th incident at Tiananmen Square.  "I want to be sad but the ghosts shriek; I want to weep but the wolves laugh; I cry to remember the hero and I raise my eyebrows as I pull out my sword."  Based upon what was written in the book, I felt that it was just a small group of probably bad people.  But later on, they were all vindicated.

There was another big incident that year: the Tangshan earthquake.  In 1978, I went to Beijing and the train passed through Tangshan.  From the Tangshan train station, I saw a wasted landscape.  The people of Tangshan were walking to and fro on the station platform with a dazed look.  On the exterior of some of the remaining walls were slogans: "Unite together and rebuild our homes."  I don't know how many people died in that earthquake.  Based upon the fact that the houses all collapsed, there could not be too many survivors.  As the train moved out slowly from the station, my eyes were affixed on the wasted landscape until it vanished from my view.  Later on, I went through Tangshan twice again.  Each time, I felt that Tangshan was changing.  Later on, the route from Changchun to Beijing was altered and I no longer went through Tangshan anymore.  I have not seen what the new Tangshan looks like.  This year, I intend to visit Tangshan in order to see what Tangshan looks like thirty years later.

This year is also the 30th anniversary of the death of the great Chairman Mao.  What can one say about his entire life?  I remember that when he passed away, the school took it very seriously.  All the students had to line up and go in front of the memorial altar to bow three times before the photograph of Chairman Mao.  Before going, the teacher said sternly: "When you enter, you are allowed to make noise or laugh."  For people of our age, this was the first time that we were told to be serious.  We didn't know how to feel, and we went in with rigid expressions as we were afraid that others may think that our expressions were inappropriate.  There was a student who was a bully in our class, and the other students decided to get him into trouble by reporting to the teacher: "Teacher, we saw him laughing in there just then."  The teacher was irate ... in that evil era, there were class struggles everywhere.

2006 is bound to make me think of 1976.  The things that happened thirty years ago are fuzzy in my memory.  But I can remember that I did not know how complicated and awful the world was.  On the afternoon of the third day after the Gang of Four was smashed, I was copying a newspaper essay on my desk.  I can't remember what I was copying, but it was surely the usual empty slogans and clichés.  The only thing that I can remember was that this was the first time that I used a fountain pen to write, and it was especially easy when that type of essay did not have unfamiliar words.  Afterwards, I realized that my penmanship was quite pretty.

Today, if I have to copy those clichés in today's newspapers, my handwriting will be horrible-looking because my hands must have gone stiff from using the computer for too many years.  But those clichés today are prettier than those before.