In the Shadow of 1911

Three generations later, political persecution in China continues.
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Moviegoers walk past posters of the film "Beginning of The Great Revival" at a cinema in Shanghai, June 25, 2011.
Moviegoers walk past posters of the film "Beginning of The Great Revival" at a cinema in Shanghai, June 25, 2011.

When China's Kuomintang (KMT) government fled to Taiwan in 1949 after losing a civil war with Mao Zedong's communists, Li Shixiong's father, a KMT officer, got off the evacuation aircraft, changing his mind at the last minute.

Little did he know that he was plunging his young family into a lifetime of political persecution and hardship.

"I was only two or three, or four at the time, but ... I still have a pretty clear memory," said Li Shixiong in a recent interview. "He was taken away in 1955 during the Anti-Rightist campaign, and sentenced to eight years as a counterrevolutionary spy."

"Everyone was quite happy after he left; we felt that the house was much quieter... but after a while, there was gradually less and less food to eat."

"We waged a daily battle with hunger. That's all we thought about, every day ... We would be hungry at home all day ... we would mostly eat congee with salted vegetables, and of course you can't get full on that."

"Sometimes we would all huddle together and cry together, because there was nothing to eat at all ... later, my father got a job in the labor camp, so we all went there to live."

"I was happy at first because I was going to be with my dad, but I never did get much love from him."

Li's father was among the soldiers in a major uprising that toppled China's Imperial Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) in the 1911 Revolution, masterminded by KMT founder Dr. Sun Yat-sen, who is still revered in both communist China and nationalist Taiwan.

Social stigma

Those who made it to Taiwan took with them the entire national gold reserve and countless imperial treasures. Those who stayed were subjected to waves of political persecution and social stigma as "rightists" that still resurface three generations on.

"My father sent me to school ... where I was put in the same class as the son of the Party chief of the entire commune," he said.

"Whenever we saw him we had to bow our heads by 90 degrees ... I bowed, but I always raised my head a bit early."

This year, China's ruling Communist Party is sponsoring a series of events aimed at marking the 100th anniversary of the 1911 Revolution.

Chinese movie stars gathered in June to launch a blockbuster movie celebrating the 90th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party, "The Beginning of the Great Revival."

The movie, starring some of the biggest names in Chinese movies, including Chow Yun-fat and Andy Lau, tells a story based on the 1911 revolution and the founding of the Chinese Communist Party on July 31, 1921.

Director Han Sanping said he hoped it would fare better than the 2009 box-office smash hit "The Founding of a Republic," which told the story of the Communist Party's 1949 victory and made U.S. $61 million, unusual for a propaganda film.

Movie theaters are still largely subject to Party control, however, and put on multiple screenings of any offerings that win Beijing's backing.

Purely political

Pro-democracy activists say the Party's celebrations are purely political, however, and aimed at shoring up its version of history, and thereby its hold on power.

"Commemorating the Xinhai [1911] Revolution; this is entirely a production of Communist Party, as a way of denying the Republic of China," said Belgium-based historian Chiang Hsue-ying.

Chiang specializes in the history of the Republic of China, which lasted between 1911 and 1949 on mainland China, but which still technically controls Taiwan.

"They have to call it the 'Xinhai Revolution', and then say that it was a failure," Chiang told a recent historical forum on the topic. "This is complete nonsense!"

"In fact, the Republic of China was set up with the Wuchang Uprising (Oct. 10, 1911)," he said.

Taiwan, now a parliamentary democracy, has been under separate administration since the evacuation planes landed in 1949.

China still claims sovereignty over Taiwan, and has threatened military force should the island ever declare formal independence.

Reported by Bei Jing for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.





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