Professor Ilya Somin called to designate May Day as the “Victims of Communism Day.” I wholeheartedly support his idea with only one suggestion–let’s call it the “Victims of Communism/Socialism Day.”
According to Karl Max, socialism is the transition stage to communism. Communist countries such as the former Soviet Union and China under Mao, never claimed that they had achieved Communism. Instead, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and their Communist cadre, committed crimes against humanity, which caused a total of 80-100 million death in the 20th century, under the banner of socialism. It’s also important to remember that the full name of Nazi is National-Socialist German Workers’ Party. Socialism and communism are similar shades of darkness and we need to condemn both of them in the same sentence. In the meantime, we ought to commemorate victims of communism/socialism on the same day.
On this day of commemoration, I’d like to share an excerpt from my book, Confucius Never Said.
In 1966, when Chairman Mao launched his most brutal political campaign: the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. Millions of Chinese people’s lives were turned upside down, and this movement, unlike any other of Mao’s political campaigns, hit young people especially hard.
Mao declared “young people should go to the countryside and learn from the poor peasants.” Thus he gave birth to a new movement that came to be known as “Up to the mountains and down to the village.” From 1966 to 1968, nearly all high school students and young adults were forced out of cities. Some were sent to the countryside; many were sent to the most remote and most under-developed areas of China. Over 17 million young people were impacted including my mother’s three younger siblings—Aunt San, Aunt Er, and Uncle Tan.
Aunt San was only 15 when she and her siblings were sent to the countryside, but they weren’t allowed to stay in the same village. The communists wanted to sever family ties so people could devote themselves 100% to the Party’s causes.
Transitioning from a city girl to a peasant wasn’t an easy process. Chinese farm work was very primitive. Mao believed that he had millions of people at his disposal, so why invest in machinery? Therefore, everything was done by hand.
Every day, Aunt San marched to the fields with other young people, following the lead of the local farmers and singing cheerful revolutionary songs along the way. In the fields, she had to plough, sow, rake, and weed. With a pole across her shoulders with a basket at each end, she carried human waste fertilizer to the fields.
Local communist leaders didn’t care if one worked hard or not. Anyone who showed up would earn a day’s work points, which were tied to a food ration. It turned out that the daily food ration wasn’t enough even for a girl, so Aunt San suffered famine edema. She wasn’t alone. Some other girls couldn’t stand the hunger, so they traded their bodies to village leaders in exchange for extra food.
Aunt San couldn’t rest much in the evenings either, because daily evening study meetings were held in the village. The routine was to first bow to Mao’s enlarged portrait on the wall and wish him to live forever. Then the groups would study books supposedly written by Mao (no other books were available). The most dreadful part of the meetings was when everyone confessed his bad thoughts or bad deeds. Sometimes these self-confessions turned into accusations of other people’s bad thoughts and bad deeds. This daily exercise ensured no one trusted anyone else with his or her most intimate thoughts.
A year after Aunt San came to the countryside, she caught an infection in her left eye. The clinic in the village had only one staff member. Because he only knew how to deal with basic cuts, Aunt San asked the team captain if she could return to the city to get treatment. The team captain accused her of being a spoiled “Miss Bourgeois Aristocrat.” If she left, the captain threatened, her action would be equivalent to defying Chairman Mao’s decree. The consequence would be very severe. Aunt San had witnessed one village woman being forced to parade around the village naked, with nothing but two well-worn shoes tied around her neck. Her crime was that her husband was a landlord. Aunt San knew that the captain wouldn’t hesitate to use her as an example to intimidate other students. It was a well-known Chinese Communist Party scare tactic to “Kill a chicken in order to scare the monkey.” All these threats and accusations were too much for a 16-year-old girl, so Aunt San stayed in the village and continued to work. Due to lack of medical treatment, she lost the sight in that eye.
When I first met Aunt San, it was in the mid-1980s. She met my mom and I at the bus stop. She was nothing like I had imagined. Because she had been able to see with only one eye for so many years, her facial muscles seemed twisted, and I was scared to look at her. Her skin was dark and rough. Years of hard labor made her look like my mother’s aunt rather than her younger sister.
My mother told me that Aunt San’s childhood dream was to be a performing artist. If the Cultural Revolution hadn’t taken place, Aunt San could have been a dancer or learned to play piano with her tender fingers. Harsh life in the village had turned this delicate city girl into an ordinary farmer.
After Mao’s passing in 1976, the youth who had been forced to the countryside started returning to the city. Aunt San finally was able to move back to her home town in late 1980s. Since she never finished high school, she initially had a hard time finding a job. Eventually, she took a job as a city sanitization worker, which was one of the dirtiest, lowest paying jobs available.
Aunt San was considered a lucky one. Many young girls of her generation who went to either the countryside or to the northwest wildness were raped, starved, or even murdered. Many of them never saw their families again. If these girls lived in a free society, they could be teachers, doctors, dancers, or any professionals they wanted to be. A dictator’s decree altered their lives forever. They were China’s lost generation. Today’s Chinese history books gloss over this period as if these women never existed.
We should never forget these women and millions of other victims of communism/socialism, in Professor Ilya Somin’s words, “both for their sake and for our own.”