, BEIJING, Aug 12 – As a teenager radicalised by China’s Cultural Revolution, Zhang Hongbing denounced his mother to the authorities. Two months later a firing squad shot her dead.
Now after more than 40 years of mounting guilt, Zhang has ruffled the silence that cloaks China’s decade of turmoil with a public confession.
Such rare apologies have been welcomed as a potential gateway to the collective soul searching that could bring healing but is blocked by a ruling Communist Party whose critics say is unwilling to confront its own responsibility.
“Back then everyone was swept up and you couldn’t escape even if you wanted to. Any kindness or beauty in me was thoroughly, irretrievably ‘formatted’,” Zhang told the Beijing News last week.
“I hope that from my self reflection other people can understand what the situation was like at that time.”
The 1966-76 Cultural Revolution, unleashed by then leader Mao Zedong to reassert power after the famines caused by his disastrous Great Leap Forward, inflicted myriad personal tragedies and threw society into chaos.
“Red Guard” youths abused their elders officials, intellectuals, neighbours, relatives dragging them into “struggle sessions”, ransacking their homes and driving some to suicide.
Many targets were jailed or killed, and while no official figure has been issued, one Western historian estimated half a million people died in 1967 alone.
Zhang reported his mother in 1970 for criticising Mao, and military officials came to their home, assaulted her and took her away.
But as the political winds changed a few years after the Cultural Revolution ended, a court in his native central Anhui province recanted his mother’s sentence Zhang began to rethink as well.