China’s Cultural Revolution: son’s guilt over the mother he sent to her death for Mao

China’s Cultural Revolution: son’s guilt over the mother he sent to her death for Mao

Zhang Hongbing was 16 when he denounced his mother for criticizing Chairman Mao. Now Zhang wants to make amends.

in Guzhen, Anhui

They beat her, bound her and led her from home. She knelt before the crowds as they denounced her. Then they loaded her on to a truck, drove her to the outskirts of town and shot her.

Fang Zhongmou’s execution for political crimes during the Cultural Revolution was commonplace in its brutality but more shocking to outsiders in one regard: her accusers were her husband and their 16-year-old child.

More than four decades on, Fang’s son is seeking to atone by telling her story and calling for the preservation of her grave in their home town of Guzhen, central Anhui province, as a cultural relic.

Fang’s plot is already hemmed in by buildings and a wall is rising behind it. Nearby streets are stacked with window frames, tiles and pallets of wood. Without official recognition, fears Zhang Hongbing, his mother’s grave and story could soon be swept away – part of a wider, shadowed past that is fast disappearing.

“My mother, father and I were all devoured by the Cultural Revolution,” said Zhang, 60, who is now a lawyer. “[It] was a catastrophe suffered by the Chinese nation. We must remember this painful historical lesson and never let it happen again.”

They were condemned by their political views and social background or someone’s whim, enmity or attempt at self-preservation through incriminating others. Victims included the father of China’s new leader Xi Jinping, who fell from grace and was sent to labour in the countryside.

The Communist party long ago deemed the period a disaster. Even so, authorities are chary of its examination. “It’s almost not dealt with at all in official history,” said Michael Schoenhals, of Lund University, who co-authored Mao’s Last Revolution.

In a chilly study piled high with books and papers, Zhang leafs through family mementoes. One photo records his father being paraded in a dunce’s cap. Another shows crudely pencilled illustrations of their story, from an exhibition that lauded Zhang’s fervour. In the last sketch, blood spurts from his mother’s mouth as she is executed.

The family was once “harmonious, happy and warm”, said the lawyer.

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