Morning Sun

Smash the Old World!

Huang Yongyu (see also the Enemies section of Living Revolution)

Artist and writer Huang Yongyu is one of China’s most famous cultural figures of the last half-century. He was a professor at the Central Art Academy, and became one of the principal targets of the Cultural Revolution. Mao Zedong's wife, Jiang Qing, helped organize the Black Painting Exhibition, which featured Huang's works. Huang was incarcerated in a makeshift prison referred to as ox-pens since the prisoners were called, in Mao's terms, "ox-demons" and "snake-spirits." He was later exiled to the countryside.

"A Can of Worms" is a collection of aphorisms and witty lines that Huang distributed among his friends; some of the writings made humorous use of Party jargon. In the summer of 1966, these private writings were declared to be counter-revolutionary. Huang was criticized, denounced in public meetings, and severely beaten.

MY "CAN OF WORMS" - an introduction by Huang Yongyu

I started writing these 'animal tidbits' during moments of boredom and frustration while in Xingtai in 1964. It was just before the earthquake and I'd been sent to a commune production brigade there as part of the 'Four Cleans' Campaign. Eventually, I found I had a collection of over eighty of them. Some comrades who saw them thought they were great fun, laughing so hard they couldn't stand up straight. I too was pleased with the result and thought I'd try and publish a small volume of them, with illustrations, when I got back to Peking.

The ten year holocaust started out with over one thousand comrades in the arts being rounded up and confined in the western suburbs of Peking. Although comfortable enough, we were in a state of intense nervous anxiety. It was a time when one could find little joy in life. After a month or so they read our names from a roll and shipped us off to "school" to attend our first exuberant and magnificent struggle meeting, all done in the style of a Roman triumph.

On the second day at "school", I was called into a classroom which was completely empty apart from a row of young people seated like a panel of judges. I stood before them in the middle of the room. I noticed that one of them was smiling. It was one of the fellows who had thought my Can of Worms such fun back in 1964, perhaps he was even one of those who laughed so much he couldn't stand straight... I was ordered to hand over the manuscript.

As a mentally stable person, I have been able to tolerate all manner of abnormality over the past decades. Yet even now, whenever I think of the smile on the face of that young man, a shiver of horror goes through me.

The great master Leonardo da Vinci painted that famous smile on Mona Lisa's lips, but I wonder if anyone would want to paint a terrifying, haunting smile as that young man wore? To paint the smile of a Judas, a Sha Wei (de Sade?), Iago or Haake, smiles that revel in murder, calumny and betrayal.

Over thirty years ago, I saw a film version of Eric Maria Remarque's novel Arch of Triumph . It starred Ingrid Bergman, and Charles Boyer played her lover Dr. Ravic. That marvelous actor Charles Laughton was Haake, the head of the Nazi secret service. He would smile while he tortured Ravic, licking his lips in pleasure.

I must have been too young and innocent then for I thought that evil would have to appear ugly, instantly recognizable for what it was. How could they possibly portray such a terrible man smiling like that? And who would have thought that one day I would come across that very same smile in real life; or that I would have ten long years in which to reflect on their similarities and differences?

These eighty or so epithets were once a cross which at first I had to bear and upon which I was eventually nailed. But at last I was taken down from it. My release, however, meant that some people would not be smiling any more.

Nonetheless, it is my heartfelt wish that soon these people too will be able to smile or even laugh as other healthy and normal people do; to live like human beings and not as I had to, like a wild beast or an insect. How I hope they will never again attempt to feed off the lifeblood of others or even stir up trouble.

The original copies of my epithets were all lost, yet thanks to the efforts of friends and strangers they have been collected and preserved for me - some people had copied them from posters used to denounce me. The amusing thing is that some of "my" epithets that were thus collected were not by me at all. Although one could tell at a glance that they were written better than mine, as they are not my work, I have had no choice but to leave them out of this collection, albeit with the greatest reluctance.

11 April, 1983
Preface to a work done in 1964.
written by Huang Yongyu
translated by Geremie R. Barmé

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