Former Filipino exile Jaime FlorCruz who joined the Cultural Revolution slated to be Manila’s envoy to Beijing
- Jaime FlorCruz and a group of ‘subversives’ defied a government ban 51 years ago and travelled to China leading to their exile under Ferdinand Marcos Snr’s rule
- During his time in China, FlorCruz joined the Cultural Revolution, then attended Peking University at the same time as politicians Bo Xilai and Li Keqiang
FlorCruz’s life took an unexpected turn 51 years ago when he, Santa Romana and 13 other young radical activists, who were then fighting against Marcos Snr, defied a government ban against travel to China by going there for a three-week study tour.
A bombing in Manila landed five members of the group, including FlorCruz and Santa Romana, on a most-wanted list of “subversives”, forcing them into self-exile. This was even though the blast went off late on August 21, 1971, a day after their departure.
From then on, the banned Red Book of Chairman Mao Zedong became more than theoretical for FlorCruz as the exiles opted to join the Cultural Revolution and work in the countryside like millions of young Chinese. The exiles were sent to Hunan, Mao’s birthplace, where the romance of the revolution was dampened for FlorCruz by harsh reality.
In his memoir published in July, The Class of ’77: How My Classmates Changed China, FlorCruz wrote how he had to learn to light a primitive stove, layer bulky clothing to ward off his first-ever winter, and carry buckets of human waste from latrines to vegetable plots.
“One sight that will never leave my mind was of the white maggots crawling on the mud-packed latrine walls,” wrote the former middle class youth from Manila, who was given the name Ji Mi by the Chinese government, meaning “lucky rice”.
In 1973, the Chinese government relocated the exiles to a fishing firm in Yantai, Shandong province. “On board Yantai’s trawlers, we would sail out for five to seven days at a turn. Working alongside Chinese members of the crew, I dropped and pulled in huge fishing nets and learned to navigate the boats,” FlorCruz recalled.
It was during this time he wondered what had happened to his girlfriend-activist Jo-Ann Maglipon and the others “in the face of the ruthless political repression under Martial Law” of Marcos, Snr. He would sob quietly so no one would hear.
FlorCruz on Monday declined to be interviewed, particularly on why he agreed to serve as envoy for the son of the late dictator whom he once bitterly fought.
However earlier this year on March 2, FlorCruz who was then a visiting professor at Peking University teaching a course on “China and Media Matters”, said during a webinar that Chinese nationalism was shaping Beijing’s South China Sea claims.
“My hope and my wish is that we will protect our own national interest and that we will strike a deal … that is mutually beneficial and that is fair to both sides,” FlorCruz told educators at the webinar organised by the Philippine Asian Institute of Management.
He stressed the importance of understanding China because “when China sneezes everybody else catches a cold”.
With its numerous problems, including a widening income gap, moral decay, uneven distribution of resources, he also asked: “Will China implode?”
He added: “Probably not, [because] many Chinese can eat bitterness, even poverty.”