The Briton who was a Red Guard in 1966

Shanghai boasts a few laowai who are truly old China hands – some have been here since the 1970s, and some of them were even born here before the communists took over.

But I had never heard of any foreigners who were red guards in 1966 until I saw a brief article about Beijing resident Michael Crook in the Daily Telegraph:

Michael Crook, a Briton whose Communist father moved to China before the Second World War, was one of a handful of foreigners living in the country when Mao launched an all-out class war.

In May 1966, Mao ordered the young to rebel against the “four olds” – old customs, old culture, old habits and old ideas – and 15-year-old Mr Crook took the message to heart.

Far from worrying that he too could come under suspicion because of his Western background, he was among the first of his classmates to sign up for the Red Guard – the fanatical student group that became the revolution’s most devoted enforcers.

If you don’t mind reading in Chinese, there’s a longer article about Michael Crook here.

His father David Crook was an interesting character in his own right – he was a British communist who came to China after the Japanese invasion and stayed on after 1949. Crook senior’s belief in communism did not protect him during the Cultural Revolution, though; he was captured by red guards in 1967 and sent to Beijing’s notorious Qincheng Prison 「秦城監獄」– a fate that also befell other Mao-era foreigners, like Sidney Rittenberg.

David Crook’s autobiography From Hampstead Heath to Tian An Men is available in pdf format on the Crook family’s website.

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