Friday, January 22, 2010

A Stroll through Sha Ping Park

For me, the indelible moment in MacFarquhar’s Cult. Rev. lectures came when he asked the entire class to clutch their notepads, as if it was the Little Red Book, and chant with him, “Mao Zhu Xi Wan Sui” (“毛主席万岁”, i.e., “Long Live Chairman Mao”). The entire Mem Hall rocked in unison, “Mao Zhu Xi Wan Sui, Mao Zhu Xi Wan Sui, …” I was sitting next to Bill and Viv then, and I still remember to this day how shaken I was. Partly it was being caught up in a mob, and realizing that this collective had a will of its own, that was beyond individual logic or rationalities. Partly because of the questions it and its memories kept bringing up: What would I do in Cult-Rev China? How would I behave had I been in some of the circumstances?

(And “No,” it’s not the reason I married a neo-Red Guard and moved to Beijing, but that’s for an entirely different blog.)

I made my first, and thus far, only visit to Chongqing in January 2008, just before my move. My wife was visiting XiNan DaXue (Southwest University) and I was the accompanying spouse. The campus of XiNan DaXue was far from city center and so we did not get to visit Chongqing city itself until the afternoon before our flight back to Beijing. Our hosts insisted that we get taken by a university car to see the night lights and skyline of Chongqing by the river; however, my wife first wanted to see Sha Ping Park in Sha Ping Ba (沙坪坝), a park that housed one of the largest cemetery commemorating the Cultural Revolution. Chongqinq was one of the most intense and bloody "battlegrounds" (supposedly due to the proximity of major arsenals).

It is also with some sense of urgency that my wife wanted to see Sha Ping Park. She felt that with the way real estate development was going (especially in megapolises such as Chongqing), it may be only a matter of time before the real estate developments get to these cultural relics (witness the ever diminishing number of Hutongs in Beijing). And for a while, there were some clamoring over the eventual fate of Sha Ping Park. But on December 15th, the cemetery was made into an official Chongqing city preservation site (as a cultural relic; 文物保护单位)

Here are a few photos of the tombs in Sha Ping Park. The photo aren’t very good, mostly because I’m not a very good photographer, but also because it was already very close to dusk on a cloudy day. And Chongqing is inclined to be cloudy and foggy. The perpetual cloud cover was one of the primary reasons the Nationalists picked it to be the war time capital during the War Against Japan, after the fall of Nanjing. That and the mountainous surrounds made it very hard for the Japanese to bomb Chongqing.

The cemetery is just off a lake and next to the southwestern corner of the park. You can see some taller buildings from outside in the first photo. It's a very typical cemetry. But, at the time of our visit, it was not very well attended to. You could see quite a bit of wild growth everywhere.

In the photo to the left, you will see engraved the names of 3 men, ages 58, 27 and 24. The tomb was erected in 1968 by the self-proclaimed Chongqing's 815 8-1 “Army” of Red Guards. (815 presumably means that the “Army” was established on August 15th.)

The inscriptions in the photo on the right read 可挨打、可挨斗,誓死不低革 [命头]. “(We) Can be beaten, (we) can be struggled against, (but we) pledge to the death not to bow (our) revolutionary heads.” The last two Chinese characters, in my square brackets, have already faded away.
It seemed very quiet when we left the cemetery. Almost dusk, the lanterns in the park were coming on. On our way out, we saw some people who just got off work join retirees in a couple of mahjong games in a well-lit pavilion next to the lake.

Sha Ping Park was on my mind again this week, after I read Roger Cohen’s column, “Chinese Openings,” in the NYT / IHT.

And here’s my wife’s letter to the IHT regarding “Chinese Openings”:

Talking about ‘honest’ history, I have to say a few words here:

Quote 1: ‘the frenzied attempt of Mao Zedong in the decade before his death to revitalize his rule by spreading terror.’

What terror?  Who were terrified?

What I observed on Mao's birthday (December 26th) last year was that many ordinary people in different places spontaneously organized commemorations of ‘Chairman Mao’.  These people are in their 50s to 80s who had lived through the ‘dark times’ of Cultural Revolution.  Why do they remember Mao on his birthday if they used to be terrorized by Mao?

In fact, some government officials were not happy with people commemorating Mao and they tried to disrupt many such events.  Why?  Because they did not want people to be reminded of the greatest supporter of the oppressed!  Who were terrorized in the Cultural Revolution?  The oppressing bureaucrats!

Quote 2: ‘a cemetery containing the remains of 573 people slaughtered during the Cultural revolution’

Slaughtered?  By whom?

These tombs were built during Cultural Revolution by the friends and relatives of the victims who were killed in the factional fights.

If Mr. Cohen does not know the history well enough, can he please at least not spread rumors?

in Beijing

1 comment:

redwine said...

May I say something? I don't think that so many people went to Tian'anmen Square in April 5th, 1976 purely because everybody there loved Premier Zhou-- someone had their certain purposes to be hiding behind the statement of loving Zhou.