In May, Professor Orliski’s class on revolutionary China (Hist 426) was honored to have Hu Pu as a guest speaker. Although her presentation ranged from recollections of an essentially idyllic childhood in Mao’s China to an adulthood disrupted by her involvement in the 1989 Tian’anmen demonstration, she focused on her family’s experiences during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. Launched by Mao Zedong in 1966, in part to reestablish his dominance over the Chinese Communist Party, Hu Pu’s father, Hu Zheng, symbolizes one of the key targets of the Cultural Revolution: the intelligentsia. Yet even more than this, he represents those who had committed their lives to the revolutionary ideals espoused by Mao only to be falsely accused of betraying those principles.
Hu Zheng, a native of Shanxi province, joined the Red Army in 1937 when China was at war with Japan. By the early 1940s, he was with Mao in Yan’an, where his literary skill garnered him membership in what later became known as the “Potato School” writers (Shanyaodan pai). These authors gained fame for their heroic portrayal of rural Shanxi peasants, and their agitprop writings were used both to entertain and to educate the Red Army as well as recent urban arrivals to Yan’an. In 1949, with the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, Hu Zheng returned to Shanxi as the head of Taiyuan’s Department of Literature and Art, the propaganda arm of local government. Hu Zheng continued to write novels, plays, short stories, poetry, and commentary exemplary of the socialist realism for which the Potato School writers were admired until the early days of the Cultural Revolution. In 1966, however, all of these authors came under attack as “counterrevolutionaries,” their positions of authority having rendered them suspect by youthful Red Guards.
In relating the story of her father, Hu Pu observed that until that time, her life had been “like any other child’s. . . . I loved school, my parents, and of course, Mao.” Once the Cultural Revolution got underway, “my life was in constant upheaval, again much like everyone’s.” Initially, she was in Shanghai visiting her grandparents. She remembers them pouring over newspapers filled with critiques of local officials. Reading this as a sign of impending doom, they sent her back to Taiyuan. The city had already been transformed by numerous wall posters likewise attacking leading cadres, including her father. For the next two years, Hu Pu watched her father return home exhausted by long days engaged in “struggle sessions.” Red Guards soon assumed leadership roles in local government. They came to her house and removed all “black” books—Western literature. Finally labeled a “black” family—simply not “red” enough—in 1969 they were “sent down” to the countryside to work alongside peasants, thereby redeeming themselves through labor. Joining one million other urban expatriates, Hu Pu’s family was not allowed to return to Taiyuan until 1972. Although rural life was harsh, Hu Pu believes her family was “lucky,” because their exile was comparatively brief, and they did not suffer the sort of losses endured by many others. She noted, for example, that as her uncle—the head of the Department of Literature and Art in Hunan-hid at a friend’s house, his son was beaten to death by Red Guards, an event her aunt and uncle refuse to discuss to this day.
While the students who heard Hu Pu’s narrative appreciated her putting a “face” on a monumental historical movement like the Cultural Revolution, they remained anxious to know “what happened” when it ended in 1976. Hu Zheng was restored to his official position, and today he is lauded as one of Taiyuan’s most prominent citizens due to his literary output as a Potato School writer. Hu Pu immigrated to Bakersfield in 1995. She completed a degree in Accounting at CSUB and presently works for the city.