Monthly Archives: August 2015

Excerpt from “Wild Swans” by Jung Chang ~~Mao~~

picture-WildSwans-ChangThere had been an earthquake at a coal-mining city near Peking called Tangshan. I realized it must be an unprecedented disaster, because the media normally did not report bad news. The official figure was 242,000 dead and 164,000 badly injured.
Although they filled the press with propaganda about their concern for the victims, the Gang of Four warned that the nation must not be diverted by the earthquake and forget the priority: to ‘denounce Deng.’ Mme Mao said publicly, ‘There were merely several hundred thousand deaths. So what? Denouncing Deng Xiaoping concerns eight hundred million people.’ Even from Mme Mao, this sounded too outrageous to be true, but it was officially relayed to us.
There were numerous earthquake alerts in the Chengdu area, and when I returned from Mount Emei I went with my mother and Xiao-fang to Chongqing, which was considered safer. My sister, who remained in Chengdu, slept under a massive thick oak table covered in blankets and quilts. Officials organized people to erect makeshift shacks, and detailed teams to keep a round-the-clock watch on the behaviour of various animals which were thought to possess earthquake-predicting powers. But followers of the Gang of Four put up wall slogans barking ‘Be alert to Deng Xiaoping’s criminal attempt to exploit earthquake phobia to suppress revolution!’ and held a rally to ‘solemnly condemn the capitalist-roaders who use the fear of an earthquake to sabotage the denunciation of Deng.’ The rally was a flop.
I returned to Chengdu at the beginning of September, by which time the earthquake scare was subsiding. On the afternoon of 9 September 1976 I was attending an English class. At about 2:40 we were told that there would be an important broadcast at three o’clock that we were all to assemble in the courtyard to listen. We had had to do such things before, and I walked outside in a state of irritation. It was a typically cloudy autumn Chengdu day. I heard the rustling of bamboo leaves along the walls. Just before three, while the loudspeaker was making scratching noises as it tuned up, the Party secretary of our department took up a position in front of the assembly.
She looked at us sadly, and in a low, halting voice, choked out the words: ‘Our Great Leader Chairman Mao, His Venerable Reverence [ta-lao-ren-jia] has . . .’
Suddenly, I realized that Mao was dead.


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