September 29, 2016: At the start of China’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in 1966, a young man wrote a self-published political tract criticizing the prevalent view that class characteristics ran in families.
This idea, based on a throwaway political slogan, had already led to the automatic persecution of immediate relatives of those judged by late supreme leader Mao Zedong’s Red Guards to be “class enemies.”
In an era of factional violence and social chaos, Yu Luoke’s “On Family Origin” was alone voice speaking out against the relative senselessness of the endless political purges of the time.
But in March 1970, Yu Luoke was executed because of his book, and the idea of political “guilt” affecting the way that members of dissidents’ families are treated by the authorities is still mainstream in Chinese politics to this day.
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His brother Yu Luowen told RFA in a recent interview that his brother’s “crime” has dogged the family’s fortunes ever since the Mao era.
“Great harm came to our family … because of what my brother wrote during the Cultural Revolution,” Yu said.
“But this is a result of the [ruling Chinese] Communist Party’s policies towards class divisions today, not just during the Cultural Revolution,” he said.
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“Yu Luoke was opposing the idea that people can be divided into different social categories and ranks, turning some people into criminals for the rest of their lives,” Yu said.
“He was against all of that.”
He said public calls for his brother’s posthumous rehabilitation resurfaced during the Democracy Wall movement of 1978-1979.
“People felt that Yu Luoke had put his finger on the worst harm done by the Communist Party,” Yu said. “This was about equality and human rights.”
He said an official party newspaper, the Guangming Daily, had even written an article in support of overturning Yu Luoke’s conviction. But the article was never printed.
“The debate over inherited class identity was really a big thing in the Cultural Revolution,” he said.
Later, the article appeared in a Beijing-backed newspaper in Hong Kong, leaving party elders with no choice but to run the article in the Guangming Daily as well.
“But after a while they still thought it wasn’t in their interest [for the topic to be publicly debated], and so people weren’t allowed to mention it again,” Yu said.
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He said the overturning of mass miscarriages of justice that followed the end of the Cultural Revolution was more of a bureaucratic exercise than a fundamental shift in party ideology, however.
“They repudiated the Cultural Revolution but they never broke with Mao Zedong, nor with his methods,” Yu said. “This was very muddled logic, and so it was unsurprising that some people who asked to be rehabilitated at this time of chaos, were.” (BBG Direct)