This memoir of Ma Bo’s sent shock waves throughout China when it was published and was even first banned by the Communist Government. This passionate story paints a clear picture for what the Great Chinese Cultural Revolution was really like. Many Chinese living today can attest to similar if not identical ordeals as expressed in Ma Bo’s story. The toils of being a young Red Guard in inner China were experienced by many if not millions. The horrors and atrocities were wide spread throughout the country, not just in Inner Mongolia.
The experiences illustrated in Blood Red Sunset uniquely belong to Ma Bo’s entire generation of mislead Chinese. As expressed in the books dedication the Cultural Revolution produced victims, people who suffered from unspeakable wrongs, not limited by any criteria but all segments of society. All parts of China were turned completely upside down. Along with the turmoil came more than just suffering, but pure tragedy. Even the strongest unit throughout all of China’s millennia’s of history, the tight knit family unit, was broken.
Particularly profound is the exhibited brutality, victimizing, and sheer loss of humanity that the common people of China subjected each other to during this tumultuous period. This sad theme was seen over and over again throughout the memoir. The devastation Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution inflicted on China has the country still in recovery today. The oldest still standing civilization in history became lawless and un-secure for an entire decade. This resulted in millions of atrocities and injustices taking place throughout the country.
Injustice ran rampant everywhere and humanity itself struggled to survive. It awakened the most malicious side of mankind ever seen on such a large scale. To truly appreciate the Communist China 1966-1976 national aberration known as the Great Cultural revolution it is necessary to read an account of a person who actually lived in and survived it. Ma Bo’s autobiography gives a real account of what really happened. As Ma Bo’s story tells this nightmare was very real.
His insight into this Inner China cultural conflict is just a taste of the reality at the time, but even this small yet detailed taste is quite bitter. Early on as an idealistic, young, and naive student Ma Bo set out on an epic journey to answer the call of China’s Great Leader, Mao Zedong. Even before this journey he had a history of answering such calls with great enthusiasm. This very overzealous student while in middle school even responded once by attacking his own mother to answer Mao’s call for ideological vigilance.
He denounced her in public many times and even put up propaganda posters denouncing her, as well as taking part in searches of his own house. Then when Mao Zedong called for China’s youth to gain revolutionary experience in the new Cultural Revolution by going up to the mountains and down to the countryside making revolution. With that the young Red Guard fervently answered the call by joining the Production and Construction Military Corps, which was indeed a branch of the Chinese military.
From that point he and his friends set out to Inner Mongolia to seek happiness from hard work and gaining revolutionary experience along the way. They did this by the reclamation of hundreds of thousands of acres of grassland. Through reclamation which involved harsh and exhausting labor, he and his friends at the time managed to lay to waste thousands of acres of grasslands completely desolating the countryside. Also during this period of time Ma Bo and company attacked the very status quo that had been raised under.
The authorities and elders they once would have respected and admired were under attack by the young mislead yet educated Red Guards. All with the Communists Party’s or more specifically the Gang of Four and Mao Zedong’s blessing. Irrational thought and actions were excited by the Red Guard almost every day. Besides just persecuting the local party leaders and land or business owners because they were so called capitalist Chinese under the Maoist principle of class struggle, but regular peasants who kept to themselves and were the very base of the Communist Party became under attack as well.
Ma Bo even admits to answering Mao’s call to revolution by playing an extensive role in their suffering. Through fulfilling Mao’s class struggle theories he was a brutal abuser of the people when as a member of the Red Guard attempted to reeducate the so called class enemies. This type of experience describes the lives of hundreds of thousands of supposedly educated youth and how they answered the call to go out and make revolution by Chairman Mao and the Gang of Four.
After this experience of being an idealistic and brutal abuser of the people of Inner Mongolia Ma Bo goes through a very painful disillusionment with his revolutionary ideals when he is betrayed by his best friend and squad leader Lei Xia after a seemingly careless critique made by Ma Bo about Jiang Qing who was a major Communist Party leader. After being falsely accused and unfairly tried as a counter-revolutionary, everything that Ma Bo believed in was shattered. His life was shattered, just like many of the lives he had destroyed during his time in the Red Guard.
Upon his one chance of getting a fair chance by Director Fang he was stabbed in the back as a result of his long time best friend Lei Xia’s testimony against him. On top of being stabbed in the back by his so called friends and being wrongly convicted and imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit he also experienced a long series of vicious denouncements by former friends and acquaintances which deepened the pain even further. After only being accused they treated him horribly, to them he wasn’t even human anymore.
He was severely beaten by people who at one time were his friends and it was considered a very acceptable form of behavior by his fellow workers since Ma Bo was labeled a counter revolutionary. No one believed his innocence and he was abused many times. He appealed his trial over and over again with no results for years. Ma Bo had become an outcast, and as punishment he was sentenced to hard labor on the harsh Mongolian steppes. It wasn’t until after eight long years that he was finally vindicated. From those bitterly harsh eight years Ma Bo suffered over and over again.
Not one single person ever came to his aid, he was neglected repeatedly. Ma Bo’s very predicament was a result of his best friends, who he had been loyal to for years, testimony against him. Everything he had ever believed in was now challenged by reality. His trust in the government, in friends, and in his family was all destroyed by one falsity. Injustice plagued him for the vast majority of his Cultural Revolution experience. Even his own parents disowned him as a consequence of his false counter revolutionary status.
This had a profoundly hurtful effect on Ma Bo especially because of everything else he was going through. Family ties in China were the foundation of Chinese society and to be disowned was one of the biggest disgraces anybody could suffer. After everything he had been subjected to and years of trying to appeal his case he was finally rehabilitated and back in functioning condition. But the scars still remained. Ma Bo’s story is one of unique importance in understanding what the Cultural Revolution was really like from this disenfranchised Red Guards view point.
Even though many people suffered much more severe atrocities during the Mao Zedong’s Great Cultural Revolution The Blood Red Sunset gives a wide spectrum of incidents experienced by the same person. From his involvement with the Red Guard, to his imprisonment and false conviction of being a counter revolutionary, to his disownment and rejection by his friends and family Ma Bo experienced and in some cases inflicted many of the wrongs people suffered during those ten dark years of China’s past. These horrible occurrences we would consider unthinkable anywhere in the world took place in the country with the largest population on the planet.
The enormous scale and sheer colossal magnitude of the occurrences’ during that time still have not yet been fully realized. But it is a testament to the mistakes humanity is capable of making and even worse than the Holocaust in some instances. Normal people turned into simple minded brutes ravaging each other until what were once normal lives were in utter turmoil. All of China was ravaged with millions dead and imprisoned for counter revolutionary crimes against the state. In light of this relatively recent history, the age old debate still rages on: can man ever truly rise above the level of a mere beast?