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Chinese author calls Red Guards a 'lost generation'

By KAREN LOWE

WASHINGTON -- Author Nien Cheng, who spent 6 years in solitary confinement during China's Cultural Revolution, professed sorrow Thursday for the Red Guards who imprisoned her, describing them as the 'lost generation.'

Speaking at the National Press Club, the 72-year-old author of the memoir 'Life and Death in Shanghai' said the Red Guards, radicals who carried out Mao Tse-tung's 10-year revolution that began in 1966, sacrificed their own futures.

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'I feel very sad about the Red Guards,' said Cheng, a diminutive woman with a delicate voice. 'I think they have been sacrificed by Mao. They are the generation that we could call a 'lost generation.'

'They missed the opportunity to go to the universities to get a higher education. Many of them killed people and carry the burden of guilt to this day,' she said.

Cheng is promoting her book, published by Grove Press, that has become a bestseller in the United States but has been banned in China. Only when her story reached the June 8 cover of Time magazine, which she said is widely read in China, did the story become known in her native country.

The book is an account of the cultural revolution's violent upheaval and of personal suffering from more than six years of solitary confinement. During that time, her daughter was killed and Chinese authorities tried to force her to confess to being a British spy.

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Before her imprisonment, she was a special adviser to British Shell Petroleum. She took the position after the death of her husband, who had been a Shell general manager and a diplomat for the Kuomintang regime, overthrown by the Communist revolution in 1949.

Red Guards arrested her in 1967 her, accusing her of being a 'class enemy' and spy and sent her to prison where she said she endured physical mistreatment, hunger and pneumonia but refused to confess.

'(The revolution) destroyed my home, put me into prison in solitary confinement and made me a non-person -- No. 1806 -- and it murdered my daughter,' she said. Cheng, now a U.S. citizen, left China in 1980 for Canada and came to the United States three years later.

She said she was originally told her daughter, Meigping, committed suicide but was later told unofficially that her 24-year-old daughter was abducted by the Red Guards and beaten to death, presumably trying to force her denounce her mother.

Cheng said thousands of people were killed and tens of thousands were wounded in the cultural revolution, but despite the losses 'some good' came out of the bloody process.

'Had it not been for the Proletariat Cultural Revolution and the destruction inflicted on China, both physically and on the spirit of the people, perhaps the Chinese Communist Party leaders would not as quickly have realized that their own policy was not workable.'

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