John Paton Wu Ningkun
INT: Was that a more frightening period, the images one sees of the huge numbers of people caught up in the Red Guard movement have a...
WN: [Interrupts] For the nation it was, the Cultural Revolution was a much more frightening image, 'cos it involved so many people, implicate so many people. But for me it wasn't, because I'd been through it all. I said, OK. At the time I was the only bad guy, now all my colleagues were bad guys. I had a sort of satisfaction!
INT: A very stoical view! Can we just move on a little bit now towards the rapprochement with the United States, the Kissinger visits, the Kissinger talks and the Nixon visit in the early seventies. Can you remember when you first heard about that and what was your reaction to that news?
WN: I think I was still in the countryside, on the farm, receiving re-education from lower middle and poor peasants. I was very pleased that this would turn over a new page in our diplomatic history, as I had said before!
INT: And were you unique in that feeling or did other colleagues think so?
WN: I think most people felt better about it, 'cos China was getting out of isolation, and probably would have in effect domestic policies. English was taught again, to begin with. You know, Russian was required before the falling off, but now English was taught again and I was allowed to teach English again. In 1973, I was recalled to teach at the An We Teachers' University to teach English again.
INT: Were there new slogans at this time, were there friendly US...?
WN: [Interrupts] No. The slogans remained almost the same and it was a kind of... well the government had to take time to really turn about.
INT: And do you think in the broader sweep of Chinese history that what happened with the rapprochement and Nixon's visit and so on was, to put it simply, was it a good thing for China?
WN: I think the rapprochement with the United States is definitely a good thing for China, even though the relations have not always been very smooth. I believe Beijing still considers US not really a great enemy, but... what would they say? A friend to win. Sometimes they do try very hard, but the Bolshevik thinking still very strong. When I first returned to the States in 1982, Den Xiaoping was the cover man of Time Magazine, Man of the Year and all that, they asked me about this. I said, well,... China probably won't change for the next five or ten years, but you can never tell. [inaudible], never forget, Den Xiaoping is the die-hard Bolshevik.
INT: You told us at the beginning that you went back to China in 1951 with the highest of national ideals. You told us some of the suffering that you then had to endure. Do you regret having gone back to China in 1951?
WN: I have never regretted going back to China because I didn't do anything wrong. I was not to blame. Whatever happened cannot be attributed to me. Whatever happened to my family cannot be attributed to me, cannot be blamed on me. And furthermore, when a man takes a decisive step, it doesn't happen casually, it's the merging of all the factors that have been coming since you are a child. So if I had to choose again, I would still choose the same thing.
INT: Thank you very much indeed, let's cut there.
INT: Could you tell us about the personality cult surrounding Mao. Was that there from the beginning or did it come in the late fifties and sixties?
WN: The Mao personality cult developed in China slowly at first, 'cos in 1951, when I first returned to China, we always shouted 'Long live Chairman Mao, long live great leader Chairman Mao' already. But this personality cult did not fully blossom...
INT: Can you tell us a little about the Mao personality cult, was it there from the beginning or did it develop in the later fifties and sixties' period?
WN: The Mao personality cult developed from the very beginning, but very slowly at first. We just shouted 'Long live the great leader Chairman Mao' but it did not come to full blossoming until the Cultural Revolution, when he became the so-called Four Greats - the Great Leader, Great Helmsman, Great Supreme Commander, Great Teacher, Four Greats, see, so that was obvious, he has replaced Stalin and Beijing has become world... the center of world revolution. And his portraits, his picture photos appeared in every paper every day. the Red Guards were frantic about him.... I thought it was bizarre and stupid! And even Marshal Yia had said Chairman Mao would live to a hundred and twenty five years old and would be the greatest happiness of the Chinese people. it sounded very stupid and his closest comrade in arms, Ling Piao who took the lead in a new personality cult and he issued the Little Red Book, quotations of Chairman Mao, and you had to carry it all the time, whatever you do, you had to shout 'Long live Chairman Mao'. That was a bizarre time in Chinese history. I don't think any emperor had that honor before him.
INT: Was it your impression that Mao manufactured this consciously to take the lead in the international Socialist movement, consciously to say to the Russians, I am now the leader of international Socialism?
WN: I'm pretty sure Mao took the lead in making up the image himself as the great Marxist. Therefore, the great leader of the world Socialist movement and of course the greatest leader in Chinese history. and emperors didn't have to say things in so many words. The minions would immediately know what he wants and do it... better.
INT: Finally - and thank you for talking to us so powerfully and evocatively today - finally, I'd just like to ask you a general question for our series on the Cold War. The Cold War is usually seen as a struggle between the two super-powers, the Soviet Union and the United States, at the core that's what the Cold War is about. From what you've lived through and from China's experience, how does China fit in to that into that bipolar world?
WN: During the early years of the Cold War, China was on the side of the Soviet Union, because Beijing felt it wasn't powerful enough to claim independence, so it had to rely on the Soviet Union, not only its economic aid, but also its military powers. But after the Korean War, China felt it had already flexed its muscles, defeated the US army [clears throat] I believe came to claim greater independence. But it did not really feel independent until the falling off with Moscow. So from then on, China, the United States and the Soviet Union became a triangular relationship. China tried to win the United States, the United States tried to win China, so that's history that sent Kissinger to Beijing and Mao sent out signals to welcome... a rapprochement with Washington.
INT: So, in a sense, the Cold War, from your perspective, was not a two-way struggle, but a three-way struggle, would you agree with...?
WN: [Interrupts] Of course. The Cold War, as I see it, was a three-way struggle. That if the Cold came back, that it would still be a three-way struggle. That's why Beijing has been trying to establish closer ties with Moscow. It may not Moscow that much, but it needs that to counter-balance theUS pressure.
INT: And from your perspective, living in China, what did you feel was the most dangerous moment in the Cold War?
WN: Oh... I don't think I can recall any real dangerous moment in the Cold War, 'cos China never really wanted to fight either Soviet Union or the United States.
INT: Did it ever feel, from your perspective again, that a direct confrontation with either party would happen? I'm thinking of either the Taiwan Straits crisis with the United States, the border disputes with the Soviet Union, did you ever get to feel that confrontation was around the corner?
WN: The confrontation with the United States and the confrontation with the Soviet Union on the border was more or less for domestic consumption. It was the Cultural Revolution, it needed greater national unity. And the crisis in Taiwan Straits wasn't much of a crisis really, not even the recent one. It was bluffing. But the Chinese people in general are not concerned with the reunification with Taiwan. How would that affect our own lives? Nothing.
INT: Right, let's cut there. Thank you very much indeed.END OF INTERVIEW