If you ever have to teach about the end of Maoism, Ai Qing‘s poem “On the Crest of a Wave” is a good thing to use. Ai was one of China’s best known modern poets, who was arrested and tortured by the GMD, (which is why he changed his surname from 蒋 to 艾) then wrote poetry in service of the war effort, then moved to Yan’an. He was purged in the 1957 Anti-Rightist Movement and spent the Cultural Revolution cleaning toilets. He was rehabilitated in 1979, and in 1985 French president François Mitterrand was made a Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters. Quite the career. He also had an interesting son, who’s work you can use later in the class.
This poem is good to use because it gives you the fervor of the CR, lots of campaign type language, the disgust with the results, and the continued loyalty to the party and the revolution. (Now with Zhou Enlai!). You would have to do a bit of background with them on the first Tiananmen Incident and the Fall of the Gang of Four, but the poem itself should not present huge problems.
On the Crest of a Wave
- Written for Han Zhixiong and young friends
of his generation
I. “I Am Only Han Zhixiong”
Let me introduce you to the others:
“This is a hero.”
You laugh and protest:
“No hero. I’m only Han Zhixiong.”1
A self-seeking hero might prove embarrassing,
The people paid you their most glorious compliment –
Still, you could, quite without embarrassment,
Consider yourself the hero of “The Tiananmen Incident”.
When the wolves bared their teeth, flashed their claws,
Right away, you dared to go up and pluck their whiskers,
You were brave in the fight,
Enough to bolster the pride of a generation!
And you were clear-headed,
Like an island steadfast against wind and wave,
Under the blue dome of the sky,
Silently watching ten thousand waves ….
2. What Kind of Fight Is This?
It’s almost no fight at all,
Yet everyone brandishes knives and guns,
Claiming they are “Probing to the Very Soul”,2
Inflicting deaths by the millions;
“Understand, and then execute;
You don’t understand; you must still execute.”
One hundred percent lies,
The most ruthless oppressions,
The most outrageous monopolies;
More absurd than religion,
More treacherous than assassination;
Some say: “Attack with culture, defend with arms !”23
Some say: “Light the fires, burn down the wilderness !”34
One side yells : “Down with law and order!”
One side urges: “Attack! Plunder! Loot!”
They announce: “Limit the Rights of the Bourgeoisie!”
They confiscate property by “Ransacking People’s Homes”;
Behind the smokescreen of “Down with Restoration”
They carry out their deranged pi1laging.
Reason is strangled by instinct,
Presumptions hoodwink the people;
Cunning shows off by flexing its muscles,
Against uprightness, false witness is sworn;
Savage hearts puff up) in the dark of night,
Lusts of the flesh grow along with power,
Self-interest and conceit compete,
Conscience is put up for auction;
The bright become the cunning,
The honest turn into dullards;
Unchecked, rumor runs rampant,
While truth gets the third degree.
Is destruction the means
Or is destruction the end? –
As if someone were playing tricks,
Someone were putting on a carnival;
“Anti-Lin Biao, Anti-Confucius, Anti-Premier Zhou!”
“Down with Rightist-Deviationists Overturnrng of Correct Decisions!”
Whoever has authority must be toppled,
And contemptible clowns show supernatural powers;
Justice, trussed up, is put on public display,
Truth is exhibited, with blindfolds on,
Even the Commander-in-Chief is not spared trumped-up
And the Premier, already dead, is falsely accused.
From the age of ten to the age of twenty –
The ten years of the Cultural Revolution –
Han Zhixiong was swept up by great wind and wave
Into the year 1976.
3. A Day of Tragedy
Beloved Premier Zhou
You have bid your farewells –
But the enemies hadn’t expected
You would stir a grief so widespread.
The world has never seen one man
The recipient of so many poems;
There has never been a man in history
Who has received so many flower-wreaths!
A mountain of flowers, an ocean of flowers,
An ocean of poems, an ocean of tears,
A limitless, vast and awesome tide,
A tumultuous outpouring of the people’s grief …•
How many treacherous schemes,
How many rumors, how many slanders,
How many frame-ups, how many false witnesses?
None of them could soil his image;
He is an immense, massive mountain –
The enemies find him hard to overcome;
His loftiness brings out their lowliness;
His radiance pierces right through their hearts;
The enemies won’t let the people wear black veils,
The enemies forbid the people from sending wreaths,
The enemies crumple the lotus flowers,
The enemies trample down the noble orchids;
Still, the mountains far away,
The trees in front of the window,
The clear spring by the roadside,
All remind people of Premier Zhou;
Premier Zhou is like the air,
Like sunlight, like water,
It’s as if he were everywhere,
No one gets very far from him;
The Premier belongs to everyone,
The air belongs to everyone,
The sunlight belongs to everyone,
The earth belongs to everyone.
4. The Qingming Festival, 1976 5
There has never been a Qingming Festival
Like the Qingming Festival of 1976 , with so many tears,
When he was a alive, no one was more selfless,
The devotion of the people never more steadfast.
Han Zhixiong, in front of Tiananmen –
Listened to the poems being recited day after day
Felt a sorrow so deep tears never ceased to flow,
Felt a fury that scorched dry his tears;
A million verses,
A million torches,
One torch lighting up yet another torch,
Shining into the early spring night;
In order to protect the truth,
One must join the battle –
Where thoughts are banners,
And words are bullets;
The poems that Han Zhixiong wrote
Were pasted on the east face of the Heroes’ Monument
Like the flames of a torch, ‘
Like the shimmer of a swift sword;
“History has its memorial tablets,
History has its scaffold for villains,
History is a judge,
History takes the people’s loyal ministers
And pays its respects on a memorial plaque –
to remain forever in memory,
History takes the people’s evil ministers
And shoves them up the scaffold – and executes them
How does history tolerate these poisonous traitors?
The people pluck out the peacock feathers on these black
And tear off their outer vestments of Marxism and Leninism.
In front of the Heroes’ Monument,
In the midst of the people shouting,
The sentence on them was passed without pity –
On a handful, on the dregs of the Chinese people!
History’s Heroes’ Monument is bequeathed forever,
Reaching out to the heavens from this earth;
It blares out in brave, stentorian tones : ‘
‘If the devils spew forth noxious fumes,
Then the people will seize the wicked, and lay the
… . . .. ……
. . ……… .
On the tablet, the Premier shows his spirit,
Called forth numberless masses to expel the villains.”
Listen, Han Zhixiong’s poem,
Splits the heavens like the sound of thunder.
5. “I’d Rather Rot in Jail a Thousand Years!”
This young worker was arrested,
Rio-ht in front of the portrait of Lenin,
T;o days before the Qingming Festival –
At twelve, midnight.
He was shoved into prison
And immediately stripped naked of his clothes,
Repeatedly pummeled and kicked,
He was then whipped all about his face and chest!
Those who interrogated him, were they countrymen?
They bound him up in “Maximum Security” to make him
“Why was he mourning for Premier Zhou?
Why was he supporting Deng Xiaoping?”
There was in this another kind of “law”,
Revolution was turned into “Counter-revolution”,
Patriots were converted into “criminals”,
All to carry out the orders of the “Empress”;
Listen! What kind of language do they speak?
“This bureau is the guardian of law and order,
Where counter-revolutionaries are crushed,
How does one get out? Wishful thinking! Don’t talk
Han Zhixiong responded, steadfast and firm:
“I’d rather rot in prison a thousand years!”
It was as if he had fallen into the Middle Ages,
And was awaiting trial by the Inquisition!
6. “The Tiananmen Incident”
The people’s Premier is dead,
Why aren’t they aIIowed to mourn him?
Why are the memorial poems ripped away?
Why are the flower wreaths aII removed?
Why are plainclothesmen sent out
To stir things up among the masses?
Who sent out lackeys to bark out anti-revolutionary slogans,
So that the anger of the masses could be diverted?
And who was it, cowering in some dark corner,
Spent their energies plotting “The Tiananmen Incident” –
Flogging a fourteen-year-old boy all the while,
Trying to force a confession of “arson” out of him?
And who decided to replay “The Reichstag Fire”6
In front of Tiananmen Square?
And who downgraded the revolution of the masses
As just another “Hungarian Incident”?
“The Tiananmen Incident”
Saw a conflict pitting brightness against darkness,
Democracy against autocracy,
Where bayonets were crossed between Revolution and
“The Tiananmen Incident”
Was a bolt of lightning flashing in the darkest cloud,
Lighting up the true face of evil,
Outlining the figures of hatchetmen;
“The Tiananmen Incident”
Tolled the deathknell of the Gang of Four,
It hastened the downfall of the Gang of. Four –
It brightened the eyes of the people;
“The Tiananmen Incident”
Is the most brilliant sheaf of poems,
It’s the river-fork, where revolutionn and counter-revolution
divide; . . . .
It’s the turning point in Chinese history!
7· Revolutionary Fervor Burns Brighter
the More It’s Tempered
Having undergone eleven months in pitch darkness,
Han Zhixiong once again saw the sun.
Even if his body was riddled with injuries,
His revolutionary fervor burned the brighter.
Why oh great motherland,
After, the “Three Big Mountains”7 were destroyed,
Should the likes of Lin Biao and the Gang of Four appear?
Leaving wounds that are deep even now.
Where do these vipers come from?
What kind of soil nurtures these vermin.
For those who still survive today,
Is it enough to make them wonder?
The struggle is far from over,
Our eyes have to be burnished bright –
We must replace superstition with science,
And break out of our mental prisons!
We must never let ourselves be swindled again,
Never let ourselves be cheated again,
What we want must be the truth,
What we want must be the light of the sun!
We must not rely on the pity of the gods,
Nor wait upon the mercy of the heavens,
The people must protect their own rights,
For the people’s rights are the weapons of revolution.
All Government policies must be carried out to the letter,
All injustices must be redressed,
Even if they have lain dormant for so long,
Reputations besmirched must be restored!
8. Fly Bravely Over ….
Now, you young drivers,
Drive your bulldozers,
Get on with the job,
Dispose of all the garbage that has piled up –
Dispose of all the obstacles –
Of everything that is feudal or fascist,
Superstitious or corrupt,
And clear the ground for the Four Modernizations!
Han Zhixiong underwent trial by fire,
Tested by the worst kind of typhoon,
He was a youth of the era of Mao Zedong,
A sea swallow on the raging crest of a political wave!
“Struggle for the benefit of the people”
That was his magnificent oath –
Han Zhixiong soaring up there bravely,
Look, the Party is beckoning to you.
If someone were to ask:
“What, in the end, did the Cultural Revolution mean?”
The answer would be unmistakably clear:
China saw a new generation of youth emerge.
November 16, 1978
(Translated by Eugene Chen Eoyang)8
Chinese text (not corrected) I may end up doing a handout version with the two texts together, and if I do I will post it here.
郗涌着人民的悲哀. . ….
把爱囡者常作“罪人”, 精心策割“天安阿事件” 一一
/\、 “天安凹事件” “天安阿事件”
There is a pun in Chinese impossible to preserve in English. The Chinese for “hero” is yingxiong; Han’s name is Zhixiong, which means “will-to-be-a-hero” – Ed. ↩
A slogan coined by Lin Biao, which provided the pretext for repeated acts of extortion and forced confession – Ed. ↩
A slogan coined by the Gang of Four, which in time became the rationale for all sorts of verbal as well as physical a buses – Ed. ↩
This slogan was directed particularly at the People’s Army, which Jiang Qing wanted to destroy because it would not follow her mandate – Ed. ↩
1 One of the 24 solar periods of the year, which fell on April 5th in 1976, a festival on which people traditionally sweep the graves of their ancestors – Ed. ↩
The Reichstag Fire” of 1933 was the fire set to burn down the seat of government in Germany, which Hitler staged and attributed to his enemies so that he could seize the opportunity presented by the crisis and assume control over the government – Ed. ↩
The “Three Big Mountains” are associated with the Nationalist government Of Chiang Kai-shek and refer to imperialism, Feudalism and exploitation by the ‘compradors’ – Ed. ↩
Ai, Qing, and Eugene Chen. Eoyang. Selected Poems of Ai Qing = [Ai Chʻing Shih Hsüan]. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1982. ↩
Worthwhile mentioning that his son is Ai Weiwei. Good stuff even if we’re not teaching it.