The Forgetting and Remembering of the Cultural Revolution by Hongsheng

On October 6, 1976, less than one month after Mao Zedong’s death, four key rebel leaders, i.e. Wang Hongwen, Zhang Chunqiao, Jiang Qing, and Yao Wenyuan, were arrested in Beijing in a coup. Shortly after this event, three major leaders in Shanghai, Ma Tianshui, Xu Jingxian and Wang Xiuzhen, were tricked into flying to Beijing to attend a fake “Central meeting”. At this point, some Shanghai rebel leaders learned from the broadcasts of foreign news agencies, such as the BBC and VOA, that Wang Hongwen et al had been apprehended. The night of October 12, the rebel leaders who were left in Shanghai convened a special meeting. During this meeting, they decided that if Ma Tianshui, Xu Jingxian and Wang Xiuzhen did not return to Shanghai the next day as Beijing had promised, they would lead the Shanghai militia to wage an armed uprising the next night. Ma Zhenlong, a standing committee member of the Shanghai General Trade Union, which was the metabolism of the disbanded WGH, contended that they should immediately revolt without waiting for Ma, Xu and Wang. He was ready to sacrifice his life. Zhu Yongjia, a literati rebel leader and a standing committee member of the Shanghai RC, swore that if Shanghai took the lead, then very soon, other provinces and cities would follow as well. If the uprising was suppressed and failed, Zhu averred, then, similar to the Paris Commune, history would remember their outstanding deeds. In this meeting, Zhu also announced four slogans that he had prepared for the uprising: “return our Jiang Qing”, “return our Chunqiao”, “return our Hongwen”, and “return our Wenyuan”. Together with Wang Zhichang, another intellectual leader, Zhu Yongjia urged the worker leaders to mobilize the Shanghai militia, and he promised that he and Xiao Mu, Wang Hongwen’s secretary, would prepare the manifesto for the revolt. Once the militia took the key Shanghai positions before daybreak, they would announce the manifesto to the world. In the meeting, Zhu Yongjia also recounted the heroic story of the Parisian Communards who fought to the end. Nevertheless, even though all the Shanghai rebel leaders agreed to revolt, many of them wanted to know what really happened before the planned revolt. They suggested that they should wait for several more hours to see whether or not their superiors Ma, Xu and Wang would return to Shanghai on schedule at 11:00 o’clock the next day.

As we know, 1976 did not see the rise of another Shanghai Commune. Ma Tianshui, Xu Jingxian and Wang Xiuzhen returned to Shanghai on schedule the next day. But by then, all the major strategic positions were taken by the coup forces. All rebel leaders were gradually imprisoned and sentenced by the post-Mao regimes. Among the rebel activists, Ma Zhenlong was sentenced to 16 years’ imprisonment for “the crime of instigating armed revolt” and other crimes. When the judge delivered his verdict to Ma Zhenlong in a prison house, Ma refused to accept it. On the judge’s insistence, Ma Zhenlong accepted but immediately threw the verdict out of the iron-barred window without reading a single word.20 Zhu Yongjia, the erudite historian and literati rebel leader, who got no chance to announce the manifesto of another Shanghai Commune in 1976, was sentenced to 14 years’ imprisonment for “the crime of instigating armed revolt” and other crimes. Ma Tianshui was a high Party cadre representative who supported the rebels after the formation of the Shanghai RC. He made a great contribution to the economic development of Shanghai during the CR and cooperated with the Hua Guofeng and Ye Jianying regime right after the coup in 1976. But he was dismissed from the position of Shanghai party secretary and arrested the next year. Due to harsh interrogation, Ma Tianshui became mentally deranged in 1978. In 1988, Ma Tianshui, a senior and outstanding communist who had been a member of the party for nearly 50 years, died alone in a madhouse. As for the four Maoist leaders apprehended in Beijing, Yao Wenyuan, an, a member of CCP Politburo, and a major leader of the Shanghai Commune and Shanghai RC, was sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment.

Yao died on December 23, 2005 and was buried with his wife. In the center of his tombstone are inscribed two words: “Truth and True Feelings” (zhenli zhenqing). On the back of the tombstone, one Yao’s poem, dedicated to his wife, was carved. One line of the poem reads: “I will not change my mind.” Zhang Chunqiao, the major leader of the
Shanghai Commune and the ensuing Shanghai RC, was sentenced to death with a reprieve. During the entire period of the court trial, Zhang Chunqiao refused to cooperate by remaining silent. Zhang died April 21, 2005, shortly before his comrade Yao Wenyuan in the same year. Wang Hongwen, a rebel worker leader and later the vice chairman of the CCP, was condemned to life imprisonment. In 1975, speaking about Deng Xiaoping re-assuming office in the Center, Wang claimed: “let’s wait 10 years and see.” Wang might have thought that he could live longer than Deng Xiaoping as he was only 41 years old while Deng was 71 at that time. But on August 3, 1992, Wang died in jail from “serious liver disease” at the age of 57, five years before Deng Xiaoping’s death. Jiang Qing, when she was tried in Deng Xiaoping’s court, read out loud, “A Point of View of Mine” (“Wode yidian kanfa”). She said:

Xiang Zhuang performed the sword dance as a cover for his attempt on Liu Bang’s life.22 Those traitors will have their hold caught by the people. The key issue is about the two programmes. The class struggle should be taken as the key link. Once the key link is grasped, everything else falls into place [just like once you pull up the headrope of a fishing net, its meshes open], and we can continue the revolution. To take [Deng Xiaoping’s] three directives as the key link is to take the meshes as headrope; it is a revisionist anti-party action. [Those revisionists are] extremely vicious and now completely reveal the true colors. In order to cover their crimes, they modified their appearance.
To gain fame and authority, they [did not hesitate to] cheat the public. By claiming to do things unorthodoxly, they spread fallacies to deceive people. They manufactured monstrous lies to cover the truth. They viciously perpetrated a gigantic fraud and maneuvered for some evil ends. They forcefully confused one thing with another and furtively grafted one twig on to another. They stealthily shifted the misfortune onto others in order to divert the people’s attention. They unashamedly blew their own trumpets in order to clear themselves of opprobrium. They framed cases against the CCRG. They persecuted and killed related witnesses and accomplices. The hands of those revisionists, who throw straws against the wind, cannot cover all the ears and eyes of the people in the world. The motive force to make the world history is the masses of the heroic people.

Obviously, Jiang Qing did not think that she was a criminal, and she laid her hope on the masses. But by this time, her supporters could not publicly defend her, because millions of them suffered the same destiny as her, or even worse at the same time. Outside Jiang Qing’s trial in Deng’s court, a large number of Maoist rebels was jailed, executed, or forced to commit suicide. Moreover, there were still many common people who hated Jiang Qing, as the coup and post-coup regimes gave them official verdicts and documents that included the lie that Jiang Qing intended to murder Mao Zedong, who they hypocritically referred to as the “greatest and reddest sun in people’s hearts”. Therefore, when it was said that Jiang Qing committed suicide on May 14, 1991, there was not much of a reaction among the common people. though the official statement of Jiang Qing’s “suicide” was full of inconsistencies and questionable “facts”,24 not many people wanted to find out the truth regarding Jiang Qing’ mysterious death.

But things have greatly changed in recent years. The CR, and woman who fought at the forefront of CR, Jiang Qing, were invoked and remembered in the struggles of the Chinese working people. For instance, on December 26, 2006, in commemoration of the 113th anniversary of the birth of Mao Zedong, more than one thousand workers, disregarded the opposition from the government and held a rally at the football field of the Chongqing Special Steel Factory in Chongqing city. Above the platform hung a big CR style poster of Mao that said “Let the Socialist New Culture Occupy Every Stage”. This was a famous CR slogan advocated by Jiang Qing. As these words usually came with Jiang Qing’s pictures during the CR, the re-staging of Jiang Qing’s slogan in a workers’ rally, though with Mao’s picture, was actually a homage publicly paid to her as well.

More significant thing related to Jiang Qing happened in the last days of 2009. In a popular Chinese website zhonghuawang (, there is a virtual memorial hall section ( dedicated to several hundred deceased people. These various halls were set up by the moderators of this website and the common netizens (wangmin) as well. The order of these virtual memorial halls was based on the numbers of the virtual flowers offered by the netizens. The more flowers the netizens offer to a deceased person, the higher status the deceased person holds. The most popular memorial hall at the site was that of Mao Zedong, who obtained more than 1.4 million flowers from netizens from March 30, 2009 till February 13, 2010.25 On November 16, 2009, in the virtual memorial hall section of this site, some people set up a Li Yunhe memory hall (Li Yunhe was the original name of Jiang Qing). Since Jiang Qing had been demonized for more than 30 years as a “white-boned demon” (baigujing) by the mainstream media, Jiang Qing’s name could not be used in the title of her memorial hall. Almost completely unexpectedly, a mere 6 days later, Li Yunhe (Jiang Qing)’s memorial hall obtained more than 130,000
flowers and more than eight thousand short elegiac addresses. The popularity of Jiang Qing was only second to Mao Zedong in the memorial hall section of this site, far beyond other halls. Astonished by this, the administrators of the zhonghuawang, possibly on the direct demand of the regime, deleted Jiang Qing’s memorial hall on Nov. 23, 2009. This move from the authorities enraged the netizens who supported Jiang Qing. As a result, the zhonghuawang was incessantly bombarded by protests and abuses. At the same time, some new memorial halls dedicated to Jiang Qing, under other names of Jiang, were stubbornly set up by netizens disregarding the repeated deletions. Take the Li Jin (another pseudonym for Jiang Qing) memorial hall, for instance. Just overnight, the rank of her memorial hall was promoted to the second place with more than 120,000 flowers. Again, unfortunately, this Li Jin memorial hall was deleted. Then the netizens set up other new memorial halls of Jiang Qing again and again. The deletion and reconstruction of Jiang Qing’s memorial halls have been repeatedly and alternately staged for many days. Sometimes the administrators of zhonghuawang would keep one or two Jiang Qing’s memorial halls for several days, but in order to downplay Jiang Qing’s popularity, the flowers and elegiac addresses dedicated to her were frequently cleared away. Moreover, in order to limit the numbers of the flowers offered to her, zhonghuawang adjusted the script, and instituted a new restriction that people can only offer one flower every three minutes.
But all these measures could not eradicate the love and enthusiasm of the netizens toward Jiang Qing. The numbers of flowers offered to her have been continuously ncreasing.

Among the elegiac addresses, many of them were from young people, and quite a few middle-aged and old people, who expressed their deep remorse for not defending Jiang Qing in 1976. In sharp contrast to the official propaganda, Jiang Qing was seen by these netizens as the greatest heroine of the proletariat, the national mother of the PRC (guomu), and the most beautiful Chinese woman. Many citizens even directly called Jiang Qing mom in her memorial hall. After many days in which there was a seesaw battle between the common netizens and the administrators of the website, possibly together with the Chinese regime behind the scene, Jiang Qing’s memorial hall was finally allowed to stand.27 At this point, including deleted flowers, Jiang Qing might have received more than one million flowers at the site. This was in fact a major battle over Jiang Qing’s reputation between the common netizens and the Chinese authorities. In this instance, in virtual space, Jiang Qing and her supporters have triumphed.

Interestingly, Deng Xiaoping’s memorial hall was also set up there. However, he only obtained fourteen thousand flowers between March 31, 2009 and February 13, 2010. And some netizens have disclosured that these flowers were a sham. The administrators themselves intentionally added a large number of flowers to Deng Xiaoping by employing software—because it was too awkward for the authorities to have Deng Xiaoping get only a few flowers compared to Jiang Qing. But the biggest difference between Deng Xiaoping’s and Jiang Qing’s memorial hall is not the numbers of flowers they received. Rather, it is the content of the elegiac addresses. In Deng Xiaoping’s memorial hall, more than 95% of the comments were negative and abusive. But in Jiang Qing’s memorial hall, more than 95% of the comments were positive and full of praise. Since the time it was first set up, Deng Xiaoping’s memorial hall has been repeatedly closed down because of too many curse words. Right now, the zhonghuawang administrators have to hire extra help to delete the curse words in Deng Xiaoping’s hall.28 Jiang Qing’s memorial hall has been repeatedly closed down as well. Yet in sharp contrast to Deng’s hall, Jiang Qing received far more flowers, and more importantly, she obtained mostly favorable compliments. One elegiac address of Jiang Qing reads: “Rosy clouds/flow in the sky/the people’s daughter Jiang Qing/ is coming back.” In addition to Jiang Qing, at the virtual cemetery section of zhonghuawang, there are memorial halls for almost all the major Maoist leaders during the CR, such as Zhang Chunqiao,Wang Hongwen, Yao Wenyuan, Kang Sheng, Xie Fuzhi, Chen Yonggui, Qiao Guanhua, Hao Ran, etc. Every one of them has received strong support and a large number of flowers. It was indeed one of the many ways by which the Chinese people were recounting the history of the CR other than the official version. If Jiang Qing were alive and could see this, she might have even more confidence to say that it was really the masses of
the people, not the elite, who made world history

(This excerpt is from the book Paris Commune in Shanghai)