You Xiaoli was standing, precariously balanced, on a stool. Her body was bent over from the waist into a right angle, and her arms, elbows stiff and straight, were behind her back, one hand grasping the other at the wrist. It was the position known as "doing the airplane." Around her neck was a heavy chain, and attached to the chain was a blackboard, a real blackboard, one that had been removed from a classroom at the university where You Xiaoli, for more than ten years, had served as a full professor. On both sides of the blackboard were chalked her name and the myriad crimes she was alleged to have committed. She was accused of being a bourgeois academic authority and a follower of Liu Shaoqi--the former chief of state of the People's Republic of China, now labeled a traitor and a scab and a lackey of the imperialists, the Soviet revisionists, and the Chinese Nationalist Reactionaries. She was accused of being a spy and a counterrevolutionary, and opposed to Party Chairman Mao Zedong.
The stool on which You Xiaoli stood was balanced in turn on an ordinary wooden chair, and underneath the chair was a heavy wooden desk, the kind professors in China stand behind while lecturing. Both chair and desk had also come from a university classroom.
The scene was taking place at the university, too, in a sports field at one of China's most prestigious institutions of higher learning. In the audience were You Xiaoli's students and colleagues and former friends. Workers from local factories and peasants from nearby communes had been bused in for the spectacle. From the audience came repeated, rhythmic chants. "Dadao You Xiaoli! Dadao You Xiaoli!" "Down with You Xiaoli! Down with You Xiaoli!"
"I had many feelings at that struggle session," recalls You Xiaoli. "I thought there were some bad people in the audience. But I also thought there were many ignorant people, people who did not understand what was happening, so I pitied that kind of person. They brought workers and peasants into the meetings, and they could not understand what was happening. But I was also angry."
After doing the jet airplane for several hours, listening to the endless taunts and jeers and the repeated chants calling for her downfall, the chair on which You Xiaoli had been balancing was suddenly kicked from under her and she tumbled from the stool, hitting the table, and onto the ground. Blood flowed from her nose and from her mouth and from her neck where the chain had dug into the flesh. As the fascinated, gawking audience looked on, You Xiaoli lost consciousness and was still.
"They left her there to die," says one of her colleagues.
"They thought she was dead," says another.
Zhao Shuli, one of China's leading twentieth-century novelists, had died as a result of a similar incident. A rib had broken and punctured his lung when the chair had been knocked from beneath the stool on which he had been standing. Accused of being a counterrevolutionary, he was not eligible for medical treatment. Instead, he was dragged to another city to face yet another struggle session against him. He died several days later.
It was dark when You Xiaoli awoke, and she was all alone on the field. The pain in her back was excruciating. Her legs were numb. She could not stand or walk. Her apartment, located on the campus grounds, was a mere three-minute walk away, but it took You Xiaoli hours, crawling, her jacket and trousers tearing to shreds, the skin ripping off her flesh, to arrive at the entrance to her three-story garden-style apartment