The dozens of people killed and injured in this canal-lined village four years ago were perhaps the last, sad victims of a 10-year madness called the Cultural Revolution, but scars remain.
Thousands of people apparently died violently in this isolated southeast province of Fujian, but only a few garbled reports reached the outside world. Some scholars and diplomats were skeptical of the huge numbers but an unprecendented foreign journalists' tour of the province indicates that the stories of collossal carnage were not far-fetched.
The bitter residue of those days seems still to pollute social life in Fujian's rocky, green mountains and rich coastal plains. Legal notices posted in Xiamen and Quanzhou west of here reveal at least seven executions in the last two weeks for a variety of grisly murders and one gang rape.
The unusual public notices, decorated with big red checkmarks, indicate that Fujian authorities feel they have a serious problem of social violence which requires stiff punishment and publicity.
The most vivid account of the Cultural Revolution in Fujian is found in the book "The Revenge of Heaven," published in 1972. A former Red Guard leader from Xiamen (Amoy) using the pseudonym Ken Ling, describes the persecutions and suicides at his middle school and bloody battles between Red Guard gangs whose principal weapons were machine guns and gang rapes.
Teachers and former students from another middle school here, the Number One School in Fuzhou, narrated an almost identical account of persecutions at their school. Two teachers took their own lives and at least two students died in subsequent battles. They said similar stories are repeated in schools throughout the province.
A provincial official said that just among prominent overseas Chinese living here or those working in overseas Chinese departments, at least 70 were tortured to death apparently because of accusations that they were spies.
Former students said teachers in Number One School were locked up together in classrooms for weeks, regularly beaten and had their homes ransacked and belongings stolen. When asked for more details about the tortures used, the teachers this week laughed and changed the subject.
Fujian authories declined to give total figures of deaths by violence during the Cultural Revolution, which began in the early 1960s when chairman Mao Tse-tung decided he had to rid offices, schools and factories of leaders too wedded to their privileges and too willing to try new methods.
But a provincial vice governor said one prefecture with a population of 2 million had 1,700 deaths. The prefecture, Longyan, is in a mountain area not thought to have been the most violent in the province, and so the figure suggests huge totals for casualties in Fujian and in the country as a whole.
Although authorities here still speak of "problems of social distorder," they say the last spasm of Cultural Revolution-connected violence occurred in 1976. This village and prefecture headquarters near the coast saw some of the worst fighting before and after the death of Mao.
The ringleader in Putian was Li Jingling, a former schoolteacher who escaped execution in 1977 by confessing his errors and pleading for mercy. He is now serving a life sentence in a labor camp. A deputy prefectural chief told the group of foreign journalists visiting here that Li organized his own militia troops and freed sympathetic prisoners to try to take over the prefecture in February 1976. Li had gained fame, and important allies in Peking, when he wrote letter to the Central Committee in 1973 complaining of financial difficulties because his sons had been sent to work on farms. Mao sent Li about $150 along with personal note. With encouragement from Mao's radical supporters in 1976, Li's personal army "killed innocent passers-by, Army soldiers, workers and peasants," the prefectural official said. He said that he knew of five killed and many more injured in one battle, and that there were further casualities he had no statistics on. Late in 1976, several thousand Fujian-based military troops were assigned to restore order in towns throughout the province, including here.
In "Revenge of Heaven," Ken Ling describes the steady beating with broomsticks and death of his favorite teacher: "He passed out several times but was brought back to consciousness each time with cold water splashed onto his face. He could hardly move his body. His feet were cut with glass and thorns. He shouted 'Why don't you kill me? Kill me?' This lasted for six hours. They tried to force a stick into his rectum. He collapsed for the last time."
The Xiamen Number Eight Middle School remains, much as Ling described it, but it was closed during a recent visit. At the number One Middle School in Fuzhou, the principal, Zheng Junshi, was beaten almost as badly, a former student said. He was removed from the school, sent to do manual labor, but returned to head the school again last November.
He is tall, stern with an admiration for the strict methods of Eton School in England, but he claims to have put the past aside. His former students tormentors "were all good students and youngsters but they were deceived. All have come back to me to apologize. They have learned their lesson."