STATE TERROR NOT ONLY hugely raised the level of violence, but was much more horrific than the factional fighting itself. The clearest illustration of this came in the southern province of Guangxi in summer 1968. There, one faction refused to recognize the authority of Mao’s point man, General Wei Guo-qing (who had helped direct the climactic battle against the French at Dien Bien Phu in Vietnam in 1954.) Wei was determined to use any degree of force to crush his opponents.

This involved not only using machine-guns, mortars and artillery, but also inciting gruesome murders of large numbers of people designated by the regime as “class enemies.” As the boss of Binyang County, an army officer, told his subordinates: “I’m now going to reveal the bottom line to you: in this campaign, we must put to death about one-third or a quarter of class enemies by bludgeoning or stoning.” Killing by straight-forward execution was rated not frightening enough. “It’s OK to execute a few to start with, but we must guide people to use fists, stones and clubs. Only this way can we educate the masses.” Over a period of eleven days after the order was given, between 27 July and 6 August 1968, 3,681 people in this county were beaten to death, many in ghastly ways; by comparison the death toll in the previous two years of the Cultural Revolution had been “only” 68. This bout of killing claimed some 100,000 lives in the province.

The authorities staged “model demonstrations of killing” to show people how to apply maximum cruelty, and in some cases police supervised the killings. In the general atmosphere of fostered cruelty, cannibalism broke out in many parts of the province, the best-known being the county of Wuxuan, where a post-Mao official investigation (in 1983, promptly halted and its findings suppressed) produced a list of 76 names of victims. The practice of cannibalism usually started with the Maoist staple, “denunciation rallies.” Victims were slaughtered immediately afterwards, and choice parts of their bodies – hearts, livers and sometimes penises – were excised, often before the victims were dead, and cooked on the spot to be eaten in what were called at the time “human flesh banquets.”

Guangxi is the region with perhaps the most picturesque landscape in China: exquisite hills rising and falling over crystal-clear waters in which the peaks look as real as they do above. It was against these heavenly double silhouettes, by the purest rivers, that these “human flesh banquets” were laid out.

An 86-year-old peasant who, in broad daylight, had slit open the chest of a boy whose only crime was to be the son of a former landlord, showed how people had no trouble finding justifications for their actions in Mao’s words. “Yes, I killed him,” he told an investigative writer later. “The person I killed is an enemy… Ha, ha! I make revolution, and my heart is red! Didn’t Chairman Mao say: It’s either we kill them, or they kill us? You die and I live, this is class struggle!”

SOURCE: Mao: The Unknown Story by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday, Anchor Books, 2006, (ISBN-13: 978-0679746324, ISBN-10: 0679746323)

Image courtesy of a TOB Czar. Associated rank accoutrements featured (armband, pins, punitive implement) indicating training in and graduate of Commissariat-level clandestine organizational rank ordeals.