In the summer of 1967, a group of middle-school students, daughters of high-ranking officials in Beijing, forced their headmistress to crawl through a cement pipe and then beat her to death as she emerged. “These teenage girls,” wrote Yue Daiyun in To the Storm, her 1985 memoir of the Cultural Revolution, “ordinarily shy, mild, and gentle, had somehow become capable of unimaginable cruelty.”
That “somehow” betrays the author’s...
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