What makes this review special is that the reporter and his wife actually lived in Beijing throughout the Cultural Revolution and the review is infused with the passion of an eyewitness.
You had to be there – and, 30-odd years ago, we were, a Canadian foreign correspondent and family living in Beijing, bullied by the loudspeakers that poured forth Mao worship, day and night, to hundreds of millions of Chinese. It was laughable, and it almost drove us crazy.
Those mad times came flooding back the other day when leafing through Red-Color News Soldier, an extraordinary book of images by Li Zhengsheng (Phaidon Press).
The photos can be startling. Monks stand in embarrassment, forced to hold up a banner reading: “To hell with the Buddhist scriptures. They are full of dog farts.” Softcover books litter the floor of a ransacked library; Li notes all the hardcover books had been taken by rival groups for use as projectiles.
One which brings back memories shows a parade in which wax mangoes are carried reverently in glass cases behind a statue of Mao. This commemorated the great man’s gift of real mangoes to worker-peasant propaganda teams. I saw one of the originals when I visited a factory in Beijing; it was preserved in formaldehyde and exhibited like a sliver of the true cross.
This is one book I want to own. Maybe I can pick up a copy when I’m in Beijing next week…?
Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.