Other People’s Neighborhoods – A first hand account of China’s Cultural Revolution

The following true story was told to the Editor of East Coast Stories by Shu Chou Fan, who was a little girl in china during the Cultural Revolution.

Shu was very excited about going to school that day. She always like school. It was within walking distance of her house. She had lots of friends and she respected her teachers very much. Shu was 10 years old then and everything in China was exciting.

The day before, the teachers had announced that today would be a special day and that the school students would be involved in a project to personally help Chairman Mao create a better China. The students had gossiped after school trying to guess what was going to happen, but none of them was able to come up with a good idea of what might be to come.

When Shu got to school, all the students were brought into the gymnasium and the head of the school gave them a speech. He said that Chairman Mao was concerned that the revolution was not following the true communist course.  Some people in China had become very wealthy while others remained poor. The Chairman had called on  all the students of China to set things right.

The students were told that they were going to go to the neighborhoods of rich people and confiscate the things the rich people  did not need. All of these things would be brought back to the school, stored and locked in the gymnasium.  Later these items were to be  redistributed to the poor of China who needed them.

Shu and the other students were then herded outside where there was a long line of Army trucks and soldiers waiting to take them to a rich neighborhood. Shu and the other kids were thrilled to see real soldiers  and their gigantic trucks. The soldiers gently  helped them up into the back of the trucks and then the trucks speed off. The kids bounced around in the back, laughing and singing patriotic songs.

About forty-five minutes later the trucks arrived in a neighborhood with houses larger than anything Shu had ever seen. Like the rest of the students, Shu was angry at seeing the houses. People had no right to live in such luxury.

The students jumped out of the trucks and stormed the houses. They broke down the doors and rushed in; taking many objects and smashing others. The occupants of the houses did not even try to resist. They stood outside in frightened groups, some crying others visibly  shaking.

Shu and the other kids took things they thought the poor would need, and loaded these things into the trucks. They took beds, blankets, mattresses and even food. Some of the older kids were smart enough to search the houses for smaller more valuable items such as jewelry. The teachers took charge of these and paced them into special wooden red boxes. Shu saw pearls, gold bracelets and even  a diamond ring go into the boxes.

The raid went on for hours. It took a long time to go through all the houses and load the trucks. Then there was the problem of how to get all the kids and the goods back to the school. Some of the students had to squash into the front of the trucks with the soldiers, and the rest had to squeeze themselves into the back of the trucks in between the mattresses and other confiscated items.

When the kids got back to school, everyone unloaded the trucks and helped move the confiscated goods into the gymnasium. She was amazed to see that what they had taken completely filled the gym. The red boxes with the jewelry were all placed together in a one corner. Then chains were put around the doors, and a lock was put on the chain. Everything was safe until it could be given to the poor people who needed it.

When the school day ended, Shu like all the other kids, was exhausted. Still, she ran all the way home, eager to tell her parents all about what had happened. When she got home something frighting  was going on. There were hundreds of strangers in her neighborhood breaking into houses and taking things out to trucks.

They were kids from a school in another part of town, and they thought Shu’s neighborhood was rich. The door to Shu’s home was smashed in. There was a group of students screaming at her parents saying they were not true communists and that the students were confiscating their excess goods. Another group was making Shu’s old grandmother march up and down the stairs over and over until he old lady looked like she would drop from exhaustion.

Shu’s parents most prized possession was their large bed decorated with a beautiful multicolored cover. The invading students did not take these, but they took a large jar of cooking oil and poured it all over the cover and bed, completely ruining them. Finally the students from the other school got in their trucks and left. Shu’s neighborhood was quiet again except for the crying to be heard through the smashed doors of her neighbors’ houses.

Going to school was never fun for Shu after that. She felt like she was in a daze as the months slipped by. The doors to the gym remained locked, and Shu never saw anything go out the doors to be redistributed to the poor.  She happened to know a secret way to peek  into the gym. There was a utility closet in the hallway outside the gym. If you went into that and climbed the shelves you could  get into a crawl space in the ceiling and peek down into the gym. It was too high to jump down, but you could see everything in the gym.  One of Shu’s friends has shown her the secret the year before. The friend had moved to another district and as far as Shu knew she was now the only one knew about it.

About once a month Shu would sneak into the closet, climb into the ceiling and peek down at the gym to look at the things they had taken from the rich people. Shu knew that nothing had been given to the poor, yet the number of items in the gym kept getting less. And it was never items like the mattresses that disappeared. The first things to go were the red boxes filled with jewelry. One by one the red boxes disappeared until eventually there were none left .  There has also been some very nice artwork and even some antique chairs that were no longer in the gym.  Only the head of the school and some of the senior teachers had access to the gym. Even as a child Shu knew that the people she used to have such respect for were stealing the items that had been meant for the poor.

Shu is now  middle-aged  and lives in New Jersey. She works for an American company that imports medical devices manufactured  in China. Her fluent Chinese and business connections in China have allowed her to do quite well. She will never tell you exactly how well. From her experience as a little girl Shu learned to hide any show of material wealth. She never wears expensive clothing or jewelry of any kind.  Her house has every type of lock and security system you can buy. Mao has been dead a long time, but there are still nights when after Shu has bolted the doors and set the alarm, she tries not to worry about invaders from other people’s neighborhoods.

2 thoughts on “Other People’s Neighborhoods – A first hand account of China’s Cultural Revolution

  1. Valerie:

    Thanks for reading and your comment. People have heard about the Cultural Revolution in history books, but this shows the real impact on one little girl’s life.

    East Coast Stories

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