Iconic Red Guard says sorry

By Yang Jingjie Source:Global Times Published: 2014-1-14 0:38:03

The daughter of a late general, who led China's revolution, has made a public apology to her high school teachers for her deeds during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) amid a recent wave of reflections by the perpetrators of the decade-long movement.

Song Binbin is the daughter of Song Renqiong, a general in the People's Liberation Army during the time of China's founding.

Song herself was a student leader of the revolutionary Red Guards at the Girls' Middle School Attached to Beijing Normal University in 1966. She and another student, Liu Jin, posted the first poster slamming the teachers at the school before the finger-pointing and abuse got physical.

The school's deputy principal Bian Zhongyun was beaten to death on August 5, 1966, marking the first killing of a teacher during the chaotic Cultural Revolution.

On Sunday, Song and her fellow students came back to the school and apologized to the teachers who were attacked more than four decades ago.

The students bowed to a statue of Bian and conveyed their sincere apologies.

Song, now 64, said she should have done more to protect Bian and other school teachers. "Please allow me to express my everlasting grief and apologies to Principal Bian," Song said Sunday in a tearful apology at her former school, the Beijing News reported on Monday.

"I failed to protect the school leaders, and this has been a source of lifelong pain and remorse," she said.

In an iconic photograph taken on August 18, 1966, 13 days after the incident, Song was seen helping Chairman Mao Zedong affix a red armband on Tiananmen Rostrum. The fame also brought her to the center of controversy, as she was rumored to have led the Red Guards in violence and was among those who beat Bian to death.

"If we don't reflect on things, it is hard to get close to the truth," she told the Beijing News. "I hope that all of those who made mistakes during the Cultural Revolution - all those who did harm to their teachers and classmates - can face themselves, reflect on the Cultural Revolution, ask for forgiveness and achieve reconciliation."

A series of investigations into the vice principal's death began some 10 years ago.

By 2008, a group of five, including Liu Jin and Song, was formed to work on the case.

Subsequently, they published articles online about the investigation. Song alone also writes about how the incident affected her personally.

Ye Weili, who was a student at the middle school when the Cultural Revolution started, is one of the five. She told the Global Times on Monday that actually apologies made by those who had hurt teachers and fellow students at the school had already begun long before.

According to Ye, Sunday's meeting between a group of former students and former teachers was inspired by the public reactions toward what Chen Xiaolu and his schoolmates did last year.

Chen, 67, son of late marshal Chen Yi and a former Red Guard, as well as some of his classmates, paid a visit to the Beijing No.8 High School on October 7, 2013 and apologized to their teachers for what they did during the Cultural Revolution.

"Their apologies and all the publicity helped society to confront that horrible period of Chinese history," Ye said.

During the August 5 incident, another four teachers were injured by students, including the school's principal Hu Zhitao. Hu's daughter Ding Donghong also attended Sunday's meeting.

In an interview with the Global Times on Monday, Ding told the Global Times that her mother was badly hurt that day and the Cultural Revolution brought a lot of hardship to her family.

However, she noted that her mother didn't blame the students for the tragedy, as she was aware that it was caused by the political campaign. "The students made reflections and they are brave enough to take their responsibilities," she said.

Ding called for an objective review of the history of the period, noting it's not just a matter for an individual but also the entire nation and the Party.

The Cultural Revolution has been defined by the authorities as a disastrous period of chaos for the Party, nation and people, which was wrongfully started by the Party's leaders and exploited by anti-revolutionary gangs.

However, detailed accounts of the decade are still rare, making it difficult to assess its damage.

According to a 2008 article published by the Study Times, the decade-long turbulence resulted in 2.3 million officials, or 19.2 percent of the total, being investigated, leading to the deaths of some leaders, including Liu Shaoqi, then the nation's president.

The wave of reflections by Red Guards has caused a stir among the public.

Chen told the Global Times on Monday that the authorities' reflection on the turbulent period was "not adequate," and he hopes the authorities, society and every citizen will  reflect on the Cultural Revolution, which goes against the Constitution.

Zhou Xiaozheng, a professor at the Renmin University of China, told the Global Times Monday that the reflection by the descendants of revolutionary generals was a positive move but it remains to be seen whether it could prompt the authorities to move further in that direction.

Li Jinping, a scholar in Beijing, Monday wrote on his Sina Weibo that as Chen and Song made their own public apologies, reflection and confession over the Cultural Revolution should be made in the name of the State to mourn the victims.

However, Sima Nan, a conservative-leaning scholar, told the Global Times that Song's apology should be respected if it was made by her own consciousness and could only be made on her own behalf.

"Given the ideological conflicts in  society, I have to speculate that there may be some forces trying to use the second generation of revolutionary families' apologies to sway public opinion on the Cultural Revolution," Sima said.

He added that the ultimate goal of the move was to deny Mao Zedong, who launched the movement.

Liang Chen and AFP contributed to this story

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