Sunday, May 31, 2009
The Unknown Cultural Revolution by Dongping Han
Despite his persecution in the period after Mao Zedong's death, Lan Chengwu, one of the middle school rebels who initiated the Cultural Revolution in Jimo, remains undaunted. In South River Village he is still dreaded by the village officials because of his political skills. In fact, Lan continues to publically denounce the village party secretary for accepting bribes, and warned him that one day he would go to the party secretary's door to intercept the bribes. One day in March 1996, at a village mass meeting called by county and township officials, Lan Chengwu embarrassed the village party secretary by exposing his practice of demanding bribes in allocating building lots. The county and township officials were forced to investigate the matter, and had to dismiss the party secretary when the allegation was confirmed by the investigation.
Village leaders call people like Lan Chengwu a "ding zihu" (defiant household). By ding zihu they refer to people who pose obstacles to "normal official business". It seems there are two kinds of ding zihu in rural China. One kind of ding zihu bully both their neighbors and defy village leaders because they have large and powerful families. This kind of ding zihu resorts to force rather than reason. Law enforcement is very weak in rural China today and they can usually have their way, because they have big families and strong clans behind them. This kind of ding zihu is dreaded by village leaders, but even more by ordinary people. These bullies know that the state is behind the village leaders and if they go too far in their defiance the state can intervene. But it is a different story with ordinary villagers. Ding Zihu can beat up villagers without serious consequences, because it is costly and time consuming for victims to bring them to court, and arbitration frequently only requires that the bully pay the medical bills of the victim. The sad thing is that in some villages, these ding zihu bullies often usurp village power.
People like Lan Chengwu are a second kind of ding zihu. They do not have big and powerful families. But they have a daring spirit of popular resistance and effective political skills. They do not bully their neighbors, but they cause a lot of headaches for village party leaders. To local villagers they are an important political resource. They understand China's political process and operations. When it is necessary, they are not afraid to confront village leaders because they believe they have nothing to lose. They have also found that higher government leaders often cannot openly protect guilty village leaders.
How much does the phenomena of the second kind of ding zihu have to do with the political empowerment of villagers during the Cultural Revolution and with the educational reforms of that period? The second kind of ding zihu share a common background: they went to high school during the Cultural Revolution and were active participants in the movement. Lan Chengwu and Liu Zhiyuan, the two most prominent ding zihu in South River village were both educated during the Cultural Revolution. They acquired their political skills during this era, and they have a good grasp of the declared values, philosophies and codes of official conduct of the Communist Party...people like Liu Zhiyuan and Lan Chengw are a democratic force in rural areas. They represent a legacy of the political empowerment of ordinary villagers brought about by the Cultural Revolution.