’Monsters and Demons’ (牛鬼蛇神, niugui sheshen) was the term used to vilify specialists, scholars, authorities and ‘people who entrenched themselves in ideological and cultural positions’ during the Cultural Revolution. After the publication of the editorial "Sweep Away All Monsters and Demons" in People’s Daily on 1 June 1966, and after it was rebroadcast and reprinted, the Red Guards started a huge purge which swept the country, ‘dragging out’ and prosecuting all those ostensibly fitting the description. The editorial was written under Mao Zedong’s order by his political secretary Chen Boda, one of the members of the Central Cultural Revolution Group headed by Jiang Qing.
Niugui sheshen (cow monsters and snake demons) was the most recurrent supernatural metaphor used during the Cultural Revolution. It was rooted in Buddhist demonology and an especially potent weapon to demonize one’s opponents. Other terms included ‘devils’ (魔鬼, mogui), ‘demons’ (鬼怪, guiguai), ‘monsters’ (魔怪, moguai), ‘vampires’ (吸血鬼, xixue gui), and ‘apparitions and spectres’ (wangliang guimei). All these ‘evil spirits’ could be identified with the ‘demon-exposing mirror’ (照妖镜, zhaoyao jing) of Mao Zedong Thought.
Once people were ‘dragged out’ as ‘evil spirits’, they were forced to wear caps, collars or placards identifying them as such, as the representatives of the ‘Hunderd Clowns’ in the poster above. Being ‘cow monsters’, they were imprisoned in what was generally called a ‘cowshed’ (牛棚, niupeng). This did not have to be a genuine stable; it could be a classroom, storehouse, dark room or temple. In the absence of legal procedures, the length of stay in the ‘cowshed’ could be ten days or ten years.
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Guo Jian, Yongyi Song & Yuan Zhou, Historical Dictionary of the Chinese Cultural Revolution (Lanham: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2006)
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