Joe McKendry

The communist party branch secretary of the biology department at Peking University was immediately singled out as a capitalist roader at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, and had been a target of the first June 18 struggle session, in 1966, so he had ample experience of class struggle. On a July or August day in 1968 when the sun was at its hottest, I caught sight of the party secretary staring at the noonday sun. A guard, a biology student, was sitting nearby in the shade. At the time I was puzzled by the sight, but later I heard that the guard had devised the following punishment: Open your eyes wide, look straight at the sun, and don’t blink or you’ll get a beating. I shuddered. From ancient feudal societies built on slavery to modern capitalist societies, has anyone devised a punishment like this? Is it even humanly possible to look at the sun for longer than a split second without going blind?

Adapted from The Cowshed: Memories of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, by Ji Xianlin, published by New York Review Books in January

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