Red-Color News Soldier

Recently, a provocative poster started appearing around Berkeley, advertising a series of events which examined the legacy of the Cultural Revolution in China under Chairman Mao Zedong. Curious as to what the political slant of these events might be, I researched some of them and discovered that the presentations for the most part were designed to be "balanced," and that most of the lecturers took the annoying postmodern academic position of neither celebrating nor condemning whatever it is they're studying, looking at all sides of an issue before coming to no conclusion at all -- an amoral position that has become the de facto methodology for most contemporary scholarship.

But one event caught my eye -- a talk by photographer Li Zhensheng, who is in the unique position of being the only photographer to have personally documented the Cultural Revolution without official permission. So I decided to check it out.

Li Zhensheng, I discovered, could be considered the original "zombie," a subversive citizen journalist who did essentially what I do now but forty years earlier and in much more dangerous circumstances. Li was a young reporter for a small newspaper in northern China when the Cultural Revolution broke out in 1966, and he found himself assigned to photograph the soul-wrenching events as they unfolded. At the time, Li was a follower of Mao and considered himself sympathetic to the stated goals of the Cultural Revolution -- but with each passing day a sense of unease grew in him as he witnessed the dissolution of Chinese society. Risking his career and possibly his life, he began to squirrel away the most disturbing and shocking of his negatives, eventually developing a huge archive of forbidden images. After nearly four decades the best of these images were finally published in a book called Red-Color News Soldier, which was his official Communist title as a young photographer. Here he is (in the red shirt) speaking to the crowd in Chinese, as his translator (on the right) listens in.

Outside the lecture room, a small sampling of Li's 30,000 secret photographs were displayed in the hallway. All of the images below are of pictures taken by Li Zhensheng. (Unfortunately, the glass in front of the pictures reflected the bright windows on the other side of the hallway, making it difficult to get clear shots.)

Workers humiliate their boss and force him to wear a shame-hat.

Those who were accused of thought-crimes were forced to wear signs around the necks detailing their supposed misdeeds.

An ecstatic young Red Guard showing her love for The Chairman.

A former government official is dragged away after a public humiliation. Ink has been thrown on her face.

A peasant girl denounces a fellow villager who has been accused of not properly following Communist ideals (he loaned someone money and then expected it to be paid back).

More public humiliation and mass scapegoating.

(More of Li's photographs can be seen at the official Red-Color News Soldier page.)

Back in the lecture room, Li discussed his double life, on one hand taking official photos as a good Communist, while on the other surreptitiously hiding the most damning negatives as a record of the horrors he witnessed. Here he is pointing to the armband he wore as a "red-color news soldier" (a euphemism for "politically correct journalist") which gave him unprecedented access to some of the darker moments of the Cultural Revolution.

During his presentation, I noticed that some of the audience members were holding flyers that mentioned Communism. Curious as to what these flyers said, I went back out to the entrance and -- lo and behold -- found them stacked up on a case next to the exhibit:

Hmmmm -- what were these doing there?

As I came in closer I realized...

that they were pro-Mao flyers.

And not only were they pro-Mao, they also praised the Cultural Revolution! (If you want to read the whole thing, you can download a pdf version of this flyer here.) Obviously these flyers were not distributed at the event by the organizers (the U.C. Journalism School), but -- as was revealed at the bottom -- by Berkeley's own Maoist cult, the Revolutionary Communist Party.

A typical Berkeley moment. At a lecture by one of history's premiere eyewitnesses to the Cultural Revolution -- whose photographs provide an irrefutable record of the era's horrors -- a group devoted to propagating the Maoists' completely whitewashed and discredited version of events shows up and hands out its revisionist rantings.

After the lecture, I strolled across campus to the RCP's local headquarters, Revolution Books, and sure enough...

There was Mao himself in the window, mocking history.

Will this madness ever end?

(Click here to return to the main zombietime page.)