Some of the western blogs about China are touting a photo exhibition about China’s Red Guards.

You can find it on Facebook, or HERE. :

Quick: what’s wrong with this description:

 A 20-year-old barely out of high school, Solange Brand took a job at the French Embassy in Beijing at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution in 1966. Armed with a color camera, Brand went around the city and photographed what she saw. A rare historical record (there are few documents from this period outside of official propaganda) of an extraordinary time…

The photos are nice, and a valuable addition to Chinese history.

The exhibition is in Shanghai, where people know the full story, so one wonders how this is being viewed by those who suffered during that period, or if it will be used to re-propagandize Chinese children into the glories of their history, wiped clean of the horror stories of those years.

Of course, too often it is westerners are so naive that they believe the official line.

For the Red Guards were patsys for Mao.

Mao’s radical reforms were stopped by his fellow revolutionaries, who saw how Mao’s decrees had resulted in the great famines of the “Great Leap Forward”.

So to get rid of his “enemies”, Mao stirred up the children of the more radical revolutionary families to lead his heavily propagandized middle and Junior High school students to renew his revolution.

The result was closer to “Lord of the Flies” than “Utopia”: children turned against their teachers, some of whom were killed or committed suicide; they destroyed books, tormented intellectuals and other “enemies of the state” and destroyed China’s cultural heritage.

And the worst part of the movement? When their usefulness in reestablishing Mao’s political power was over, the gangs of power hungry youth were too dangerous to keep in urban areas, so millions were sent to work in rural communes.

Mao’s use of the policy sent-down the Red Guards who had risen up at his beck and call, sending China into chaos. Essentially, Mao used the “up to the mountains and down to the villages” to quell unrest and remove the embarrassment of the early Cultural Revolution from sight. … Some commentators consider these people, many of whom lost the opportunity to attend university, China’s “lost generation”.

Without the context of what happened before, and what happened to these children later, the photos are not much more than propaganda photos for nostalgic westerners, who are unfamiliar with the story.


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket. 

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