Red Guards prove hard act to swallow

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 April, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 15 April, 1996, 12:00am

Red Guards have appeared again in this provincial capital 30 years after the start of the Cultural Revolution plunged China into a long nightmare. As before they wear Mao badges, red armbands, belts and baggy military uniforms, but now they are waitresses working in a fast-food restaurant.

'It is a little strange,' admitted one customer, a middle-aged woman tucking into rice and boiled pork, 'but the service is good.' Customers queue to pay for meals at a counter, wait to be seated and then hand tickets to one of a dozen brisk and charmless waitresses. Food comes quickly from a serving hatch on stainless steel dishes.

Mingsheng restaurant in the city centre is the creation of entrepreneur Tan Yongzhun, who was a Red Guard himself at the age of 11.

'It is just good fun and good publicity,' he said, but admitted that older people found the gimmick in bad taste.

'Some old people get angry when they see the waitresses. They remember how they were persecuted and this gives them a bad feeling,' he said. 'However, young people don't care. They like it.' Mr Tan emphasises that the uniforms are fake and the armbands say 'service personnel', not Hong Wei Bing or Red Guard.

But his theme restaurant is in particularly bad taste since in Guangxi, Red Guards killed counter-revolutionaries, sometimes their own teachers, hung up their corpses in public canteens and served human flesh. Documents detailing the atrocities formed the basis of two books by Zheng Yi.

At Saturday lunchtime, the restaurants' 128 seats were all taken and most customers seemed oblivious to the associations with the past.

'I was a Red Guard myself, that was a historical period and we have to accept that,' said one man in his 40s.

Mr Tan, who opened the restaurant last year, has been encouraged by its success and is planning to open more.

'I would like to open a chain of restaurants like McDonald's. I think they would be very popular,' he said.