During the Cultural Revolution, a main form of “discussion” was thru big-character posters (dà-zì-bào). They were wall-mounted posters filled with large-sized Chinese characters typically handwritten using Chinese brush. The authors used these posters to pledge allegiance, praise the leaders, display political views, and attack whoever was the denunciated enemy at the time (usually with a red-ink-cross over the person’s name). The following picture is from the website From Mao to Now to give an idea of what they look like.
In fact, a key trigger of the Cultural Revolution was the publication of a dà-zì-bào on May 25, 1966, by Nie Yuanzi and others at Peking University, claiming that the university was controlled by bourgeois anti-revolutionaries. The poster came to the attention of Mao, hence started the revolution.
My mom was in the university at that time, and these posters appeared all over the campus. Everybody had to write and post something, otherwise he or she would be accused of passive resistence. So, like everyone else, she ‘published’ a poster on the wall in the dining hall. Two days later, as she was preparing for a show, someone called her to a meeting. She asked if it could wait till after she performed, the answer was no.
The meeting room was filled with important people – university officials and security personnel and Party investigators. It must be something really bad but my mom didn’t have a clue. It soon came out that someone saw a big red-ink-cross over Mao’s name (!!!) on a poster. And the poster happened to be my mom’s.
She felt dizzy and her mind went blank. She was nervous and scared. This was no joking. If they decided that she was guilty, she would definitely be condemned as an anti-revolutionist and her future and life would be over. After the initial shock, she argued that the poster was already out in a public place and hundreds of people had passed by or stood in front of it, anyone could have done it (say, at night, when nobody was around). It was a good argument but the investigators couldn’t let it go so easily. So they kept asking her questions – her whereabouts the night before, if she had any enemies, etc. The meeting went on for three hours and didn’t go anywhere.
As my mom took a closer look at the trouble-making poster, she observed something interesting. The red-ink-cross over Mao’s name looked different from the other red-ink-crosses (over enemies’ names) that she herself put on the poster. The color was a little off, and the strokes were different (Chinese brush strokes show the forces/movements/directions quite clearly). After she pointed this out to the investigators, they were satisfied that it proved my mom’s innocence and let her go.
After hearing this story, I admired my mom’s ability to keep a cool head under the stress, and chuckled at the fact that her final argument was not really any stronger than her first argument. I was glad that they didn’t give her a hard time, but realized that in those crazy times, there must have been many many cases where the victim was found guilty in the end and his/her life became a nightmare ever since.