SimonWorld on the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution:
American reporting on China, by Simon: ...It is the 40th anniversary of the launching of one the biggest pieces of state-run lunacy in history: the Cultural Revolution. While Communists generally love their anniversaries, even Beijing can't bring itself to commemorate the beginning of "great disorder under heaven". Which leads to an interesting reminiscence from AP hack John Roderick on how American reporters covered China in those days and the somewhat surprising revelation that one of their key sources of information was the U.S. Government.
Here's part of the article he refers to:
AP Blog: Remembering China's revolution , AP Special Correspondent John Roderick reported for the AP for 39 years, mainly in Asia: Forty years ago, Chinese communist chairman Mao Zedong launched the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. It's an unpleasant anniversary that official Beijing will not celebrate and most Chinese would rather forget.
Mao's objective: to purge the party of its moderate, pragmatic faction, which he said was leading China away from Marxism and toward capitalism and to make himself unassailable leader. The bloody, chaotic decade between 1966 and 1976 which ensued was among the most violent, divisive and shameful in China's long, illustrious history.
It erupted in the summer of 1966 when Mao called on the youth to mount a new revolution. Before it ended with his death in September 1976, untold thousands died and millions were tortured, imprisoned or humiliated, mostly by those young shock-troops, the Red Guards.
China was at its most isolated. The fewer than a dozen Western correspondents in Beijing were hobbled by fear of expulsion if they displeased their communist hosts. Americans were excluded due to Cold War enmity.
The daily reporting of these events by a small band of American "China watchers" in Tokyo and in the British colony of Hong Kong was a product of resourcefulness, imagination and hard work. I was one of them.
We were assisted in separating fact from fiction ... by an unlikely source: the U.S. government. At the same time that the U.S. was feeding American correspondents truths, half-truths and lies at the daily "five o'clock follies," the Vietnam war briefings in Saigon, it made available to China watchers a vast store of information on the turbulent state of Chinese affairs.
It arrived sporadically by mail. Inside the packets were page after page of reports culled from radio broadcasts, newspapers and secret agents operating inside the mainland. They were translated by scores of interpreters in the enlarged U.S. consulate in Hong Kong. ...
With Europeans, Canadians and Australians in Beijing when the cultural purge broke, Americans were the odd man out. Being excluded turned out surprisingly to be a plus. Unlike our Western colleagues in Beijing, we were free to write what we pleased without worrying about official displeasure and had ready access to the valuable consulate files and other information, which they did not.
It was a heady experience. We would write stories about purges of senior politicians and other unreported events three months old in China but new to the rest of the world and see them lead page one of American newspapers the next day.
The raw news was often readily available. Each side in the chaotic struggle published pamphlets, put up wall posters or went on the stump in the war to win the minds of the masses. If one side suppressed the news, the opposition dug it up and broadcast it. Interpreting it was the challenge. ...
The tragedies of the Cultural Revolution touched me personally. Allowed back into Beijing in 1971 ... I was dismayed to learn some of my Chinese friends had been punished for knowing me, now a hated American.
Even from afar, when I learned that leaders such as President Liu Shaoqi, former defense minister Peng Dehuai and the colorful general He Long were tortured and killed, my heart sank. I had gotten to know many of them in the 1940s, during seven months reporting for AP in Yanan...
The author Ji-li Jiang, whom I met recently, had been a teenager in Shanghai when Mao launched his radical movement. She and her family suffered because of their landlord origins, but still she kept her faith in Mao, until after his death.
"We finally learned that the whole cultural revolution had been part of a power struggle at the highest levels of the Party," she wrote in her 1997 memoir "Red Scarf Girl." "Our leader had taken advantage of our trust and loyalty to manipulate the whole country. This is the most frightening lesson of the Cultural Revolution."