A Memory of the First Battle

Xujun Eberlein

At first our city’s two Red Guard factions engaged in “civilized struggle”—using brush pens and words, big-character posters and leaflets, high-pitched broadcast and public debates, loud diatribes and, occasionally, fists to attack each other—until one side started to frequently parade the streets, shouting insulting and damaging slogans such as “Blah-blah is doomed,” and that nettled the nerve of the said faction, middle and high school and college students who had successfully forced the city government to stop classes, so they could carry on the Cultural Revolution, and so they charged into the city’s firehouses, where fire-fighters had been told not to resist the Red Guards, filled fire engines with sewage from big cesspools of communal toilets, drove to the streets, and sprayed their parading opponents—who might have been able to stand up against water cannons but ended up fleeing helter-skelter from the overwhelming foul smell—making the streets stink for days, so badly that stores stayed closed. That was how piss and shit and fire engines became the first real weapon in our city’s “armed struggle,” preceding steel rods and spears, which would, in turn, be replaced by rifles, machine guns, tanks, even warships, all supplies from arsenals stocked to aid Vietnam’s resistance of the U.S., and when those weapons drew blood we’d hear stories such as friends of an injured student tying a towel below his leg wounds, a first-aid method they thought they had learned from war movies, until the boy shed all his blood and stopped breathing.

Xujun Eberlein has lived half a life each in China and the United States. She is the author of Apologies Forthcoming, a prize-winning short story collection. Her essays have won a number of awards and honors, including a notable mention in the Best American Essays 2015. She writes from Boston.


  1. This was a very good piece. Reminded me of the memoir, red scarf girl, in a very condensed dramatic segment.

  2. Helena Qian says

    Vivid and so detailed story to remind me the time I grew up. Time flies by so quick. The story brought me back to 1966-1967. So much blood shed at that time, and so many young life lost in those fights. Do we learn from those days? I hope.
    Love this story

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