Cultural Revolution

Son of China's war hero apologises for attacking teachers during Cultural Revolution

The son of one of the country's most famous war heroes reveals violent past as Red Guard

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 August, 2013, 12:24pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 May, 2016, 3:33pm

The "Chinese Dream" cannot be realised until China accepts responsibility for the crimes and injustices committed during the Cultural Revolution,  Chen Xiaolu, a former Red Guard and youngest son of civil war and Sino-Japanese war hero Marshal Chen Yi, said in a statement published this week.

Chen Yi was also China's foreign minister and a mayor of Shanghai.

Now, Chen Xiao Lu is joining other former Red Guards to express remorse for his actions during the decade-long social and political movement launched by Mao Zedong in 1966. Chen apologised this week for his behaviour as a young man when he physically attacked teachers at Beijing No. 8 middle school. At the time, he was serving as a student “revolutionary leader”.

In an email sent  to the South China Morning Post on Wednesday, Chen said he decided to make an official apology after noticing how little China's younger generation knew about human rights abuses during the Cultural Revolution. 

“As a student leader and chairman of the school’s revolutionary committee, I was directly responsible for the torture of staff, teachers, and fellow students,” Chen wrote in a tone of remorse in his statement. “And later into the movement, I - due to lack of courage - failed to save them from inhumane persecution.”

“Today I’d like to sincerely apologise to them via the internet," Chen wrote, adding he would also like to apologise to former teachers and staff, personally, in a upcoming reunion.

At the end of his statement, Chen denounced a recent trend he has noticed in China of trying to justify and glorify the Cultural Revolution.

“I think it’s up to each individual to interpret the meaning of the Cultural Revolution, but unconstitutional behaviour and acts that infringe human rights should never be allowed to happen again in China.” he wrote. “Otherwise the ‘Chinese Dream” - national revival and people’s happiness - will be nothing but talk. ”

Chen also told the Post that he believed different opinions about the Cultural Revolution should be tolerated. "It’s a sign of social progress and could encourage more people to study history," he said.

Chen released his statement after Huang Jian, a fellow graduate of No 8 Middle School published several 1966 photos of student Red Guards torturing teachers on campus. Huang posted the photos on Sunday, August 18 - the 47th anniversary of the historic Tiananmen rally joined by the country’s 800,000 fervent Red Guards and famously attended by Mao himself.

Huang, 65, told the South China Morning Post in a phone interview that he deliberately posted the photos on Sunday to remind him and his peers that they had “supported the movement and acted as accomplices to a disaster".

“Let’s bravely apologise to our teachers on such a special day,” Huang said in a post published on a blog of an alumni association for the No 8 middle school. The association represents about 800 former students who graduated from the school from 1966 to 1968.

Chen, the current chairman of the alumni association according to its website, responded to Huang’s post on Monday morning by sending his own apology.

During the Cultural Revolution, educators, targeted as “capitalist intellectuals,” were insulted, tortured, and even killed by their students - who were mobilised as members of a youth organisation widely known as Red Guards.

Several former Red Guards have apologised to their victims in public in recent months - triggering heated debate in China's blogsphere.

“I believe everyone who went through the Cultural Revolution have been thinking and reflecting on it, but they are either unwilling or dare not talk,” Chen said. “I hope those who were victimised during that time will discuss their feelings bravely, and those who hurt others will sincerely reflect on their misdeeds and apologise to their victims.”

Chen’s statement made headlines and went viral on Wednesday on China’s social media sites and forums, eliciting hundreds of thousands of posts and comments. While Chinese media noted Chen’s “princeling” background, many readers commended him for his courage, urging more former Red Guards to apologise.

“How many more Red Guards who committed violent attacks remain unrepentant while leading our government?,” a microblogger wrote.

“We can only force the organisation to apologise if we each start repenting,” another wrote.