Cultural Revolution

'My greatest relief is that I was not tortured to death' during Cultural Revolution, says former sent-down youth

Madam Liu Xiaolong, 71, with her elder son Yu Cong at her younger son Yu Bo's apartment in Changsha city. She is holding up her household registration booklet, which she updated in 2014 as a Changsha resident again, some 50 years after she was sent d
Madam Liu Xiaolong, 71, with her elder son Yu Cong at her younger son Yu Bo's apartment in Changsha city. She is holding up her household registration booklet, which she updated in 2014 as a Changsha resident again, some 50 years after she was sent down to the Lingling county.ST PHOTO: KOR KIAN BENG
Madam Liu Xiaolong, 71, with her elder son Yu Cong at her younger son Yu Bo's apartment in Changsha city. Till this day, Madam Liu believes she would never have married a village teacher in 1971 if not for the Cultural Revolution.
Madam Liu Xiaolong, 71, with her elder son Yu Cong at her younger son Yu Bo's apartment in Changsha city. Till this day, Madam Liu believes she would never have married a village teacher in 1971 if not for the Cultural Revolution. ST PHOTO: KOR KIAN BENG

CHANGSHA, HUNAN - Madam Liu Xiaolong, who was sent down to the countryside in 1964 when she was 19, decided she would remain single until she could return to Changsha city.

She knew that marrying a local man would kill any chance of her ever leaving the village, where living conditions were harsh. That was why she kept rejecting the affections of village teacher Yu Shuming whom she met in 1968.

He finally gave up after two years and decided to find a wife through matchmaking. Mr Yu was on his way to meet someone when he was involved in a serious car accident, which left him comatose for 40 days and in hospital for six months. His injuries left him unable to return to teaching or take on any heavy work. He was reduced to doing odd jobs.

Besides feeling a sense of guilt towards Mr Yu, Madam Liu was despondent over the Cultural Revolution and the fiece class struggle that ensued. Given her “bad” family background – her uncle was a general of the Kuomintang, the Communist Party's civil war enemy – she despaired of being able to go back to Changsha.

Says Madam Liu: “I told my husband that since my heart was hurt and his body was also hurt, I would not despise him anymore and he should not despise me too. So we got married.”

She married Mr Yu in 1971, and they have two sons, Yu Chong, now 43, and Yu Bo, 41.

“But till today, I am stumped whenever my childhood friends ask me why I married him,” Madam Liu told The Straits Times.

She became a village teacher and later worked in a cooperative until she retired in 1995. Her husband died of cancer in 2005.

She lived in Lingling county until 2008, when she moved back to Changsha to look after her younger son who was working there.

In 2014, she became a Changsha resident again. The reason was that when she was sent to Lingling, her hukou, or household registration, was changed accordingly. This applied to all educated youth like Madam Liu who were sent to the countryside.

“If there was no Cultural Revolution, my life would have turned out differently. I’m sure I would have made some contributions to the country,” says Madam Liu, 71, who aspired to be a doctor or novelist.

“My greatest relief is that I was not tortured to death and that I have survived until now,” she adds.

Her own experiences led her to teach her sons to think critically about issues and not be too trusting of anyone.

“The problem with the youth of my generation was that we believed whatever the authorities told us.”

Seeing the positive side, her elder son Yu Chong jests that he would not have had Madam Liu as his mother if not for the Cultural Revolution.

“All thanks to Chairman Mao!” he exclaims, as his mother turns her face away in mock disgust.