|The Man Who Slapped Mao Zedong Three Times|
When I was detained in a detention centre in the 1970’s, I met a man known as a ‘holdout’ because he refused to hand his land over to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as in 1953 many farmers, including himself had received land from the CCP regime.
In January, 1975. I was arrested for “counter-revolutionary crimes’, and was first detained at Changge County detention centre and then transferred to the Xuchang County detention centre in Henan Province. I was released in 1979 and vindicated soon after.
However, on my first day in the detention centre of Xuchang County, I got to know a man who had been there since1966.
I first saw him when prisoners were allowed out of cells for a toilet break and the reason he caught my attention was that he was a short, pale old man with unkempt hair and beard who looked as though he must have been kept away from the sun for a long time. He walked out of his cell in rags with a big hole in his pants through which could be seen half of his buttocks and his skinny thighs. His old shoes were completely worn out with his toes and heels exposed. His half naked arms dangled limply beside him.
Another prisoner in my told me that the man was the prisoner who had been detained the longest without trial, and that his arms were handicapped since he had been bound too tightly and the rope cut into his nerves.
I asked why he was in jail and the other prisoners said it was because he had slapped Mao, which puzzled me as I didn’t think it likely that a farmer who lived in Henan all his life had met, let alone slapped. Chairman Mao.
I gradually got more information about him even though the cell was tightly controlled and isolated, and I was told that the man’s name was Kou Xueshu who was a peasant farmer from Xuchang County, Henan province, and his family had never had any land. However during the revolutionary land reform by the CCP he was allowed to have three and a half acres of land. Because of this land gift he came to be a staunch supporter of the CCP and the land certificate came to be his priceless treasure.
According to the CCP ruling at that time, he would be the permanent owner of the land and would be able to pass it to his descendants which meant a lot to farmers who regarded land as their lifeblood. Kou Xueshu was so obsessed with his land certificate of title that he worried I would be stolen so he would tuck it into his bosom where he would keep on touching it even when he was working in the field.
However, once the CCP started to ‘collectivize’ the land given in 1953 to farmers and to force them to join in “Huzhu groups” or communes, he came to be constantly in trouble with the authorities.
Of course, it was said that the farmers were to “voluntarily” give up their land and Mr. Kou’s response to this request was “Voluntarily? No, I am against joining the commune and giving up my land.“
Under Mao’s ‘socialism of villages” in 1955, hundreds of thousands of farmers were forced to given up their fields “voluntarily’ and few dared to be against the “historical current".
Mao praised the “people’s commune" again and again, and almost all the villages across China ‘communed’ their land which means that the CCP ‘s rule of “socialist ownership “replaced individual ownership in just a few years. But somehow Kou's “three and half acre land” was still his while all the other land was taken away by the CCP, and it was said that he was protected by his status as a "poor farmer" who were regarded as the backbone of the CCP and so he survived for a while.
However, he came to be a target of the “four clean-up” movement which started in 1964 and was labelled as “stubbornly walking on the capitalism path." His land was surrounded by the ‘people’s commune” and was called a “small Taiwan” and he was constantly criticized and denounced.
However, Kou Xueshu was determined that no matter what happened, he would not hand back his land title certificate. A task force was assigned to “solve the issue” and was so frustrated that they issued an order, forbidding Kou Xueshu to walk on the path outside his home. They said: “Alright, we admit that the land is yours, however, the path outside your house belong to the People’s commune, so you are forbidden to walk on the path of the people’s commune.“ The path outside Kou’s house was guarded by the local militia day and night, and whenever Kou leftf his house, they would beat his legs with a wooden rod. But Kou Xueshu didn’t give up, he ran away one night with his precious land title certificate.
However there was nowhere for him to hide, as all of China was highly controlled, with household registers, visitors needing introduction and registration, buying food needed ration cards, so it was very hard for the penniless Kou Xueshu to make a living outside his hometown. Not deterred, Kou built a shed in the suburbs of Xuchang and made his living by collecting human excrement from the public toilets and selling it as fertilizer, which allowed him to survive.
At the Chinese New Year of 1965 he bought a half pig and put it in his wooden wheelbarrow and returned to his hometown. In order to show off the pig, he circled his village. Many villagers were jealous, as at that time, villagers could only have 2 or 3 grams of pork at the end of the year.
The party secretary was so annoyed that he refused Kou to use the water of his village and according to his words, though the pig was Kou’s, the well and its water belonged to the people’s commune, so he could cook his pig, but was forbidden to use the water of the village. So whenever Kou Xu tried to get the water from the well, he was beaten again with wooden rods and his home was monitored day and night.
One day, when the villagers were convening a meeting, and a huge picture of Chairman Mao was hanging on the stage for people to worship, Kou Xueshu rushed to the stage and slapped three times on the “face” of Mao, shouting “How dare you not allow me to work in the field, how dare you not allow me to get water, how dare you take away my land.”
Great Cultural Revolution
Kou Xueshu didn’t know that it was the spring of 1966, the beginning of an unprecedented political movement – the Great Cultural Revolution. Kou was pushed to the ground and beaten by a mob shouting “beat the counter-revolutionary to death.” He was badly beaten then was tightly tied and sent to the detention centre.
“Attacking the great leader “was regarded as a mortal sin, which could even be punished by death. He never received a trial as the mob had taken him there and therefore no-one had signed an arrest warrant, and the leaders of detention centre kept on changing during the cultural revolution.
I did spend some time with Kou Xueshu in the summer of 1976, though It was forbidden for political prisoners to be put together in the same cell. However, the detention centre got overcrowded, with 12 or 13 people locked in one 10 square meter cell and it was hard to for one to turn one’s body in sleep.
We were in the same cell for a while and I soon realized that he was psychologically damaged with very slow responses. It seemed that the only thing that could attract his attention was the whistle for meals, and as both of his arms were handicapped, he could not hold chopsticks so he would lie face down and eat with his mouth in the bowl. Sometimes he would talk to himself, and most of his topics would be relative to the land. For example, if it was a clear day he would say it is the time to be threshing the wheat!” If it were raining outside, he would say “this rain is very good, as it is the time for the corn to grow.” Once he said to me: “I’m the emperor now, and if every county of our country contribute one grain rice to me, I would be able to cook a pot of rice.”
When Kou Xueshu was sent to the prison he was 62-year old and in the 10 years he had been in prison he had never received a visitor or a letter. I remember the summer of 1976 was very, very hot, but there were more than 10 people squeezed together in our cell with only one window, the room was so smelly that almost nobody could fall asleep in that situation. One night I felt that there was something wrong with Kou Xueshu , as his face turned livid and he seemed to be unconscious. So I reached out my hand and found that he wasn’t breathing and his whole body was cold. So I shouted to the guard outside” Kou Xueshu passed away!”
The guard looked inside, then replied::”Stop shouting the cell is not allowed to be opened at night, so wait for tomorrow morning!”
It was during this sleepless night, beside a dead body, that as a scholar who grew up in the city and had been through many CCP persecutory ‘movements’, and had also been ‘re-educated’ in the farms of Henan province, that I came to seriously consider the hardship that Chinese farmers and Chinese villagers experienced during the CCP rule. The body of Kou Xueshu was thrown into a broken wooden wheelbarrow which reminded me of the wheelbarrow he used to return to his hometown before the spring festival of 1965.
Knowing that after spending 10 years in the prison, this 72 -year-old farmer ‘s body was finally going to be free, I was even a bit envious because I really didn’t know how long I was going to be there, but fortunately I was released two years later, and was unexpectedly vindicated, but Kou Xueshu, who passed away in prison, was never vindicated as far as I know.