Hearts Still Scarred 40 Years After China's Upheaval

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NIE YUANZI was an ambitious college professor whose "big character poster," displayed on the grounds of Beijing University, was said to have ignited the Cultural Revolution, a prairie fire of violent purges and denunciations that quickly spread across the nation.

Wang Rongfen was a student of German at Beijing's elite Foreign Language Institute who was imprisoned after writing a bold letter to Mao challenging his judgment in unleashing the self-destructive frenzy of his young vigilantes, the Red Guards.

Even today, the history of that time has been shunted into a dark corner. There have been no news reports or public memorials of the catastrophe, in which hundreds of thousands of people were killed and China's economy was devastated. Yet four decades after the start of the Cultural Revolution in May 1966, there remains a compelling symmetry to the experiences and reflections of the two women who played such prominent roles at the outset of this disastrous era, and had their lives tragically derailed as a result.

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