As China approaches the 50th anniversary of Mao Zedong’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution this year, Chinese independent historian and former political prisoner Song Yongyi, now a university lecturer in California, has published an e-book based on official records. His research describes an era of government-sponsored political violence and turmoil that engulfed the country from 1966-1976. Song, who had unprecedented access to secret government files in the southwestern region of Guangxi, spoke to RFA’s Mandarin Service about his findings:
RFA: What did you find out from your research into the Cultural Revolution in Guangxi?
Song Yongyi: According to the secret government files from Guangxi, 150,000 people died from non-natural causes during that era. Of those, 30,000 had no identifiable identity, or even gender. Ninety-five percent of them were killed outright, or died as a result of torture or mistreatment. Less than five percent died as a result of armed conflict. Another 30,000 were listed as disappeared.
RFA: You mention cannibalism in your book.
Song Yongyi: Of those deaths from unnatural causes, a number of people were eaten by the revolutionary masses. Independent researchers in Guangxi counted a total of 421 people who were eaten in a single county. But there were reports of cannibalism across 27 counties in Guangxi; that’s two-thirds of all the counties in Guangxi.
RFA: It’s quite spine-chilling to think that this took place in the 1960s, in what we think of as the civilized 20th century.
Song Yongyi: There was one man who was said to be in the so-called fifth category, who was beaten to death where he stood. He had two kids, one of 11 and one of 14. The local officials and armed militia said that it was important to eradicate such people, and so they not only killed those two children: they ate them too. This took place in Pubei county, Guangxi, where 35 people were killed and eaten in total. Most of them were rich landowners and their families. There was one landowner called Liu Zhengjian whose entire family was wiped out. He had a 17-year-old daughter, Liu Xiulan, who was gang-raped by nine
people who then ripped open her belly, and ate her liver and breasts. There were so many incidents like this.
RFA: Do you have other specific examples?
Song Yongyi: In mid-October 1968, a member of the armed militia at a commune in Shangsi county started killing people openly. Under his direction, local militia cut open the bellies of five people, ripped out their livers, cooked them and sat down together to eat them. The next day, they killed four more people and ripped out their livers, which they shared with the other people on the production brigade, who all got to taste a mouthful each, to symbolize the dictatorship of the proletariat.
RFA: So it was part of the political campaign against the landowners, and richer categories of people?
Song Yongyi: They also ate three urban youth [college and high-school students sent down to the countryside by Mao to learn about the lives of the peasants] in Guangxi, on Sept. 14, 1968. These three youngsters had been sent to a tea plantation in Xinzhou county, and one of the leaders had been acting disrespectfully towards a young woman in the group. He led the militia to kill and eat all three of them, cooking and eating their livers and drinking and making merry over it. After that, none of the other urban youth at that commune dared to speak a word about it. But they would kill them and eat them whenever they felt like it. There were around 100 urban youth at that commune, and they were treated like animals for slaughter.
RFA: Why do you think such things happened?
Song Yongyi: During the Cultural Revolution, this political movement, basically there was no law whatsoever, and the politicians were inciting people to kill each other. The line between people and beasts became more and more blurred, and it became very easy to cross that line. It was normal to ‘struggle’ against landlords and kill people; it happened everywhere at that time, and the military, party cadres and militias were all part of the land reform mobs. This was going on all around the country, so I don’t think that cannibalism was confined to Guangxi.
Reported by CK for RFA’s Mandarin Service. Translated by Luisetta Mudie.