Xinjiang, autumn 1966
How the Cultural Revolution made me a Taiji teacher
Born to be a doctor, it was the Cultural Revolution that made me a professional Taiji teacher. Here is my story.
Escape from Xinjiang
The 16th of May 1966 was the beginning of the Great Cultural Revolution in China. The Communist Party was split. Mao ZheTong had radical political ideas and wanted to remove his deputy, Leu SaoQi who he saw as a threat to his position. Mao called for a public meeting in Tiananmen Square. There, talking to the people, he convinced them to accept his vision of a world divided into two camps, the proletarians and the capitalists; China itself having two headquarters, the 'proletarian headquarters', led by himself, the 'capitalist class headquarters' led by his deputy Leu SaoQi. He convinced them of the necessity to rebel and to sweep away all 'class enemies'. The slogans he introduced - 'it is your right to rebel' and 'overthrow the Old World' were powerful enough to incite a massive rebellion amongst the people. Students were given free travel throughout China by train, bus or boat to spread the message. Mao had won the power struggle within the Communist Party! Leu and his supporters were out of a job.
An immense chaos all over China followed. The students left their books and took to the streets to whip up public enthusiasm for the Revolution. On their arms they put cardboard armbands bearing the name 'Red Guards'. They waved banners and shouted 'overthrow the Old World'. They pulled the teachers out onto the street, putting high hats on them to ridicule them and making them walk on their hands while whipping them.
The workers were divided into three groups. There were those who wanted to take the chance and join the Revolution; they wore a red armband labelled 'Revolution group'. There were those who did not want this Revolution; they wore a red armband labelled 'Revolution group' as well, only to protect themselves from criticism or attack by the Revolutionaries. The clever ones just stayed outside this political war, working quietly in their own homes and doing as they wished. The situation had completely run out of control: 'to overthrow the Old World' had come to mean the total destruction of Chinese culture; Poverty was the ideal, Beauty was illegal.
Political movements in Beijing always took 6 months to reach Xinjiang, far to the Northwest, where I was living at that time. So by the end of 1966 the Revolution arrived there. Initially the ideas of Mao seemed good, and I could only see one way ahead of me: I would join the Revolution and seek a position within the political movement. I went to the capital of Xinjiang, the city Ürumqi, in search of an opening. But when I arrived there and saw what was happening I became very sad. Everything had been turned upside-down and the initial good intentions of the Revolution were already lost. The Red Guards from Beijing were arriving and doing exactly as they liked without any regard for the law. They would illegally arrest completely innocent people and brutally torture them. They searched people's houses and confiscated property as they pleased, taking what they liked for themselves. Some people were so afraid of the Revolutionaries coming to their homes that they would destroy any antiques they had and burn their money in the street in order to protect themselves from any worse fate.
One family's grandparents had been high officials in the Ming dynasty and were therefore very rich, holding many antiques and national treasures in their house. They were forced to destroy these relics in the street. They had to smash the irreplaceable jewellery, including the highly prized jade statues and pottery. They had to burn the ancient paintings. The wife decided cynically to save the batons from the painted scrolls from the burning pyre as these could be used for rolling dough. These at least were not capitalists!
My position as Director of the hospital and the pharmaceutical factory was enough to label me as a 'capitalist leader'. This of course meant I was in great danger, so I decided that perhaps I would be safer if I returned to my hometown in Shanghai. Therefore, taking my 18-month-old son ZhengYu in my arms, I travelled by train from Ürümqi to Shanghai. Because students could travel for free the train was very full. People were so crammed in that they were totally unable to move, and if somebody needed the toilet they would have to get there by walking on the other passengers' heads. Even under such circumstances most people still wanted to help each other and I was very lucky to be offered a seat. Normally that train journey took four days, but at that time it took seven days. Imagine what this was like, holding my son in my arms for seven days!