Sunday, February 10, 2013

Grammar School

When I was seven years old, my grandmother took me to the nearby grammar school (塘坎上小学) and she told my teacher I couldn’t clean the classroom, even though it was the students’ duty to clean our own classroom at the end of each week. My teacher told my grandma that I would have to learn. She told my teacher that I could learn everything else, but cleaning. My teacher did not argue with her since my grandmother was an old-fashioned elderly woman. Of course, I did clean just like everyone else, only I did not tell her. We only had Chinese and math lessons to start, so I had two teachers, one for math and the other for Chinese. I was very excited because it was the first time in my life that I had books even though only two to start. We didn’t have storybooks in kindergarten; our only lessons were oral stories from our teachers. My grades were excellent; especially math in which I often received a perfect score of 100. I used to challenge my older cousin on math problems. A few years later when I went back to visit my teacher Mrs. Liu, she still remembered that my grades were excellent.
     The Cultural Revolution (1966-1976): I had just started school. It was a violent mass movement of civilians, mostly high school students and young people, spreading to the military, urban workers and the party leadership itself. The campaign was to destroy the Four-Old (四旧) but ended up destroying anything and everything old. Red Guards (红卫兵), who never completed their high school education, went around destroying anything they thought it was old or simply disliked -- famous temples, shrines (including our Guan in Neijiang), and other heritage sites. Institutions and higher education were closed until the fall of 1970. Hundreds of thousands of intellectuals and professionals were killed, beaten, or sent to hard labor camps. Top party officials, Liu Shaoqi and Peng Dehuai
(彭德怀) were attacked and died in a very inhumane way.  My father blamed the Dragon Chair he had sat in Xi'an before 1949 for Peng's bad luck and his own bad luck. The situation eventually turned into fighting between gangs. Chairman Mao had ordered them to end the movement since he was the one who started it with his first post; he must have regretted “letting the genie out of the bottle,” out of his control. In 1967, they were ready to overthrow the provincial Chinese Communist Party committees. The power seizure took place in Shanghai; the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) had to forcibly suppress the Red Guard. It was such a mad time; millions died.  I heard Chengdu was in the war zone, with different high school groups fighting against each other. The hospital in Chengdu was full; some of the wounded had to come to our little salt city. Most people left Chengdu; my father was one of the few who stayed. He said he ended up working in the dining hall because most of the cooks were gone. The fighting did not scare him since he was in the army before.
     Posters were up everywhere with ugly cartoons of the opposition. Older kids in the school joined the city parade. I often went out to the street to watch. It was crowded everywhere. I could not imagine there were that many people in the city. I went downtown with my aunt and cousins to buy Chairman Mao’s little red book. It was more of a pretty thing to me than what it was meant to be, because of its red velvet cover and shiny gold words. I do not think I ever read the little red book.
     To calm the youth, Chairman Mao sent them to the farm and remote places so they could not gather up again.  I saw the Red Guard, high school kids going to the farms in big trucks; they were crying, saying goodbye to their parents and friends. It was cool for me to watch since they were dancing, singing, and drumming. I could not imagine what kind of life they faced afterward. I guess their parents knew better, and that was why they were crying.