Xi Jinping during a visit to Beijing in 1972. He has rarely spoken publicly about his experiences as a teenager in the capital during the early years of the Cultural Revolution. Credit Xinhua Press, via Corbis
In a recent article in the New York Times titled Cultural Revolution Shaped Xi Jinping, written by Chris Buckley and Didi Kirsten Tatlow, the world is given a rare glimpse at China’s Cultural Revolution.
Jinping, the son of an unseated official, speaks of surviving the Cultural Revolution; a time in history that impacted many of China’s families and put them through turmoil, destruction, and even death. Can you imagine being denounced by your own mother? Criticized and disowned, acts of betrayal probably uttered through tears by the woman who gave him birth and loved every hair on his head? In my mind, I can see the boy standing stoically, struggling to be a man and accepting his fate so that his mother would be left alone and not persecuted alongside him. Despite his courage, her role as the pampered official’s wife was reversed and she was sent to do hard labor on a farm.
According to the article, Jinping’s father was exiled from home and taken to a city where he was displayed in the back of a truck, through the streets as the locals beat him. From the New Yorker, Born Red by Evan Osnos; ‘In January, 1967, after Mao encouraged students to target “class enemies,” a group of young people dragged Jinping’s father before a crowd. Among other charges, he was accused of having gazed at West Berlin through binoculars during a visit to East Germany years earlier. He was detained in a military garrison, where he passed the years by walking in circles, he said later—ten thousand laps, and then ten thousand walking backward. Jinping was too young to be an official Red Guard, and his father’s status made him undesirable. Moreover, being born red was becoming a liability.’
Also from Born Red; ‘A recent state-news-service article offers the mythology: “Xi [Jingping] lived in a cave dwelling with villagers, slept on a kang, a traditional Chinese bed made of bricks and clay, endured flea bites, carried manure, built dams and repaired roads.” ‘
Jinping’s life went from normal to devastating in a few short years but he didn’t blame Chairman Mao for all of the bad luck that fell upon his family. Quite the opposite, he felt an urgency to prove his loyalty and he dedicated himself to the party.
Much happened in between but years later when the horror of the revolution was over, Jingping and his brother were reunited with the father who had suffered much physical and mental damage from the isolation and torture he’d been through. The first moments must’ve been heart-breaking as a father didn’t even recognize his own sons. According to the NY Times article, the father wept and Jinping offered him a cigarette.
The old, battered man asked him why he also smoked.
Jinping gazed into his father’s eyes and spoke of the ordeal they’d both experienced, similarly but separately, in the years they’d been apart.
And his father considered it, then gave his quiet approval of a son who had not only survived what many did not, but like a phoenix from the ashes he’d turned tragedy into triumph and became the president of China, Xi Jinping.
If this small piece of history interests you and makes you long to read more about the upheaval of the Cultural Revolution and how people survived it, I hope you’ll take a peek at my latest novel, The Palest Ink, available for pre-order now on Amazon.
A sheltered son from an intellectual family in Shanghai, Benfu spends 1966 anticipating a promising violinist career and an arranged marriage. On the other side of town lives Pony Boy, a member of a lower-class family—but Benfu’s best friend all the same. Their futures look different but guaranteed…until they’re faced with a perilous opportunity to leave a mark on history.
At the announcement of China’s Cultural Revolution, Chairman Mao’s Red Guard members begin their assault, leaving innocent victims in their wake as they surge across the country. With political turmoil at their door, both Benfu and Pony Boy must face heart-wrenching decisions regarding family, friendship, courage, and loyalty to their country during one of the most chaotic periods in history.
The Palest Ink depicts the coming-of-age of two young men during the tumultuous years of the Cultural Revolution. Available for Pre-Order on Amazon here.