Torture, mass murder, rape and cannibalism... the horror of Mao's Cultural Revolution; WHY CHINA IS STILL TRAUMATISED 50 YEARS ON.
THE first time she saw a human brain she thought it looked like a pancake as it spilled from a broken skull amid the barbarism of China's Cultural Revolution.
Still a young child, Xue Xinran stood just inches from the body as it landed.
It belonged to a professor who leapt to his death, broken by the brutal regime of persecution that gripped the country from May 1966 under Chairman Mao Tse-tung.
It is hard to believe that what is now the world's largest economy was 50 years ago plunged into a hell of murder, rape and torture, where millions were killed - some even eaten in a monstrous cannibalistic drive to purge any trace of the bourgeoisie.
Family members denounced one another as traitors and children were recruited to the Red Guard militia to help do Mao's dirty work.
At one school in Wuxan, in the south of the country, students beat to death geography teacher Wu Shufang then forced another teacher to rip out his heart and liver, which the pupils barbecued and ate.
Xue's earliest memory is seeing one gang of savage youngsters burn down her family home near Beijing.
"They were just teenagers," she says. "They were running in and out throwing things on the fire, I can still remember seeing all my dolls and toys in the flames.
"I remember them burning our furniture, books, and the radio. To them they were all 'foreign' influences.
"Our furniture was from the UK because my grandfather I wake in the worked for the British General Electric Company.
"Many of the books were also in English and people thought having a radio meant you were a spy.
"They told me my parents were bad people and my grandfather, who liked red wine, drank blood."
The hysterical crowd then turned their attention to little Xue herself.
"I remember a woman coming up to me with a large pair of scissors," she says. "She lifted up my long hair, which went down to my shoulder, then just cut it off. Women weren't meant to have long hair, high heels or make up. They said it was capitalist."
After this her family lived in a building with three other professors and their families. The first to commit suicide was the academic who landed at Xue's feet from a second-floor window. Within a month the two others had also killed themselves.
Xue's parents and grandfather were jailed as "traitors". Her parents have never talked about their experience in prison, night but her grandfather, who also survived jail, provided some insight.
"He said many people died because they put human waste in the food," she says. "Many refused to eat, but my grandfather was strong. One boy in the Red Guard stood in front of him and peed into his soup. My grandfather still ate that soup."
With her family locked up she became a "political orphan" and, at the age of seven, was sent to a school on a military base for 10 years with other children of traitors. They were regularly subjected to beatings.
"There were 14 of us in a house, and we were guarded by Red Guards," she says.
"Nobody would play with us or dare talk to us, as we walked to school people would spit on us, one boy even urinated on me."
Aged eight she attempted suicide for the first time, cutting her wrists. She tried again aged 11, drinking poison, but she was rushed to hospital and saved.
She went on to make two further attempts to end her life, driven to despair by horrors that no little girl should have to witness - and which still haunt her now.
"The Cultural Revolution destroyed my childhood," she says. "Even now I wake up in the night terrified, having nightmares about what happened.
"It will be the same for the millions who suffered in the Cultural Revolution."
Xue is now 57 and a writer living in London with a bestselling book, The Good Women of China (Vintage, PS9.99), telling others' stories of growing up amid the turmoil. She says: "I was one of the lucky ones, I survived without going mad. But still there is a national self-censorship going on. Even 50 years on people still won't, or can't, talk about what happened."
As many as two million people perished during The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution as Mao sought to consolidate control 17 years after taking power in 1949.
All professionals - doctors, teachers, lawyers - were targeted in the great purge of the middle classes. Millions of pet cats were killed too, because they were seen as a bourgeois affectation.
Even those with interests such as fashion or literature were seen as traitors. Friends, neighbours and even family members denounced each other, guilty or not.
China expert Frank Dikotter says: "There were several dozen cases of ritual cannibalism. It was about not just eliminating your class enemy, but devouring him."
Executions included beheadings, boilings, live burials, stonings, drownings and disembowellings. Professor Dikotter says: "In Dao County, thousands were eliminated by driving them over cliffs to plunge to their deaths - men, women and children. The fear was that if you killed the adults the children could return to reap revenge, so it was better to wipe out the family line. In one case a grandmother and her granddaughter were buried alive.
"Then, after 1968, millions were sent to the countryside after they finished school, some of whom were girls as young as 14. Thousands of young girls were left at the mercy of villagers and raped."
For Dikotter the Chinese Revolution cemented Chairman Mao's place among the world's most twisted tyrants.
"Stalin may have killed people, but he used his security forces. Mao, however, turned his own people against each other."
But by the time Mao died on September 9, 1976, the most frenzied era of the Cultural Revolution had already lapsed and the Red Guard was being dispersed.
Five years later the Communist Party denounced the decade as "the most severe setback and the heaviest losses suffered by the party, the country, and the people since the founding of the People's Republic".
Mao left behind economic ruin, stagnation and a country which, half a century later, is still too traumatised to come to terms with his cruel Cultural Revolution.
The Cultural Revolution: A People's History, 1962-1976 by Frank Dikotter (Bloomsbury Publishing) is on sale now.
"Even now I wake up in the night terrified, having nightmares XUE XINRAN ON HER TERRIBLE CHILDHOOD
PROPAGANDA A Communist poster in Mao's era
TYRANT Chairman Mao Tse-tung
ON THE M Children were recruited MARCH to Mao's murderous
VICTIMS Xue Xinran's family in China
Xue Xinran now and as a child SURVIVOR
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|Publication:||The Mirror (London, England)|
|Date:||May 21, 2016|
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