We all know about China’s meteoric growth and super-duper-dramatic change and yada yada. Still, this article by a former China Daily reporter who worked here in the 80s and returned for the first time in a quarter of a century makes for splendid reading. Here, for example, is his description of the Workers’ Stadium, now surrounded by haute cuisine eateries:
Back then, the stadium had a much more sinister role: as a giant courtroom for show trials for criminals and subversives. The men – almost all were men – were rounded up during regular nationwide ‘crackdowns’ on crime. I saw them, shackled, handcuffed, heads shaven and hung in shame, being paraded through the streets in open lorries. Each had a placard hanging from his neck announcing his crime: murderer, rapist, thief. They were driven to the stadium where they were jeered at by thousands of workers bused in to witness the trials.
There were, in fact, no trials at all. The men’s alleged crimes were read out, they were declared guilty and the crowd bellowed, ‘Kill the criminals!’ The offenders were driven to a field outside Beijing where they were ordered to kneel, before being shot in the back of the head. As a final punishment, their families were sent a bill for the bullet. The next day, on posters around the city, a grisly red tick was placed next to each of the men’s names and photographs, signifying that they had been executed. I asked a Chinese friend how the authorities could be sure that these men were guilty. ‘They would not have been arrested if they were not guilty,’ he replied, surprised by the naivety of my question.
(In a few days I’ll be moving to a new place three blocks away from the stadium. I hope the ghosts don’t wake me up.) Lots of other good images in the article. Sobering to think that Beijing has changed that much, and even more so to remember that there are still plenty of places in China here where the exact same stuff is still going on.
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.