Maple 枫

By Zheng Yi 郑义[1]

Translated by Lena Henningsen and Joschua Seiler

Introduction to the Text by Lena Henningsen

MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright July 2021)

After the short story of the same title by Zheng Yi, edited and illustrated by Chen Yiming, Liu Yulian, and Li Bin.

[1] October 1967, the leading cadres of the Central Cultural Revolution Group showed a clear-cut stand at the briefing in Beijing and declared themselves in support of our faction, the Rebel Headquarters. They equally stressed the doctrine to fight with words and defend with arms from Jiang Qing’s 5th of September speech: “If someone attacks me with arms, I will surely defend myself, I will surely strike back.”

[in the image] Jiang Qing’s speech: When the class enemies attack us, how can we afford not to have an inch of iron in our hands? If someone attacks me with arms, I will surely defend myself, I will surely strike back.

[2] Yet, the Jinggang Mountain Faction also proclaimed to have obtained firm support from the Central Cultural Revolution Group. The dispatch of their troops was escalated, and the situation was extremely critical. The general headquarters of the Rebel Headquarters decided to tear out the nail that had been hammered in at the broadcasting station of the No. 6 Middle school. On the order of Li Honggang, the head of the avant-garde, I went investigating once again.

[3] Trembling with fear, I had just finished a very peculiar watercolor painting, when I suddenly heard a brawl behind my back: “Don’t move, hands up!” For a moment, my heart stopped beating.

[4] The girl in charge gave me a scrutinizing look. Suddenly, she turned her head to her classmates: “You do your job, I’ll take him to the main building!” After we had taken two turns, she suddenly spoke to me in a lighter voice: “Teacher Wang, don’t you recognize me? …… I’m Lu Danfeng.” My memory came back.

[5] She had been secretary of the Youth League branch of her class in senior high and was the most active in the whole school in studying Mao’s Selected Works. She was an exemplary student.

[6] At the beginning of the movement, she was among the first to join the “rebel factions.”

[7] At the general assembly to expose and criticize the leadership of the school for their resistance to studying the Selected Works of Mao, she could recite from memory every single sentence from the Quotations in front of everyone, so that each and every one of those from the faction in power lowered their heads…

[8] I had heard that she and Li Honggang were pretty close. After the start of the movement, they were inseparable. I never expected that they would later join two diametrically opposed factions. Originally, Li Honggang was called Li Qian’gang. But because “Qian” consists of the characters “black” and “today,” he changed it to Li Honggang.

[9] Now the attack was about to begin, led by Li Honggang who commanded the advance guard. “Did you really come here to paint from nature? … I’ll let you go then! …”

[10] Out of nowhere, she plucked two leaves from a maple tree next to her and said: “Deliver a letter for me…” She quickly scribbled down a note, folded it, and handed it to me with the maple leaves: “Don’t let anyone see it, hand it to Li Honggang personally, will you?” The flaming red maple leaves had grown from the same base and were joined together.

[11] I followed the direction in which she was pointing and quickly ran eastward. Suddenly, I fell into a ditch. Fighting a sharp pain and risking my life, I crawled out…

[12] When I had climbed out with great trouble, I discovered their main building. At that moment, fierce fighting broke out. Over the sound of gunfire, I could hear that Danfeng was ordered to break the siege and head out to look for their headquarters.

[13] Amid the dense machine gun fire, someone was crawling, carrying a corpse, attempting to cross the closely-surveilled open terrain, and dashing forward to the main building.

[14] Through the rain of bullets pouring down, the person finally managed to climb into a blind spot the machine guns couldn’t reach—it turned out to be Danfeng.

[15] She had evidently responded to the order to fight to the death. Those attacking the adjacent building had all retreated to the main building, preparing to concentrate their resistance efforts… But in the end, our people broke through.

[16] I heard Li Honggang’s voice, opened the door, and dashed out. One floor after the other, our faction attacked. The main building was taken. Li Honggang ordered to use explosives to blow up the floor slabs. With a loud shout, he stood up and jumped onto the roof. Within a minute, the fighting was over.

[17] Unexpectedly, in the corner of the rooftop, a person carrying two grenades slowly stood up and walked toward us, shaking. Everyone panicked, except for Li Honggang whose piercing call could be heard: “Put down your weapons. Quickly, or I will shoot!”

[18] The person came to a halt and slowly lowered the grenades. She took off her steel helmet and threw it away. —“Danfeng!” Li Honggang was petrified.

[19] She slowly walked toward Li Honggang and, with a voice full of hatred, said: “Why did you have to come here? Why?… Your hands are both stained with the blood of the Jinggang Mountain Faction members –– slaughterer! slaughterer! Slaugh––ter–er!” She stumbled and fell to the ground.

[20] Li Honggang took one step forward and embraced her. Slowly, she regained consciousness; she wearily straightened her disheveled hair and said with a bitter smile: “Back then, who would have thought that this would be our last meeting.”

[21] “If I could only see the final victory of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution with my own eyes, how great would that be… Honggang, wake up quickly! Quickly return to the revolutionary line of Chairman Mao! Quickly turn your muzzle around!” Li Honggang had to fight back tears. He turned away his face: “You – you, you – surrender!”

[22] Suddenly, Danfeng struggled free from Li Honggang, put her old military uniform, all stained with blood, in order and laughed at him with cold contempt: “I’d rather die than become a traitor! — Coward, shoot!” Li Honggang’s entire body was trembling.

[23] “Danfeng! Danfeng! Danfeng!!!” Li Honggang’s horror-stricken shouts were drowned in Danfeng’s lofty slogans: “Members of the Jinggang Mountain Faction won’t be exterminated! Defend to the death Chairman Mao! Defend to the death Lin……”

[24] “Ah” Li Honggang cried out hysterically, and fired an entire battery of bullets into the magnificent evening sky.

[25] She lay silently on a pile of maple leaves that had been torn down by the flames of war. Only after a long while, I remembered to pass the letter and the pair of maple leaves to Honggang.

[26] “Qian’gang, how is everything? I miss you and I hate you! I know your heart, on the day of victory all our wishes will be fulfilled. … But before you return to Mao Zedong’s revolutionary line, there can be no personal happiness for us. You have to turn against your own side and quickly come to your senses …”

[27] He opened the Quotations of Chairman Mao Zedong and took out another pair of maple leaves that were also joined together, but had dried out already. Last October, when the Rebel Headquarters and the Jinggang Mountain Faction hadn’t split yet, … Danfeng had given them to him.

[28] He abruptly dropped to his knees next to Danfeng. With his tears falling to the ground, he muttered: “I didn’t die by your bullet, you…it’s you who…” He fell silent and broke out in bitter tears.

[29] A maple leaf landed gently on Danfeng’s lips, as if, for the last time, she were ardently kissing the evening wind and love, as if she were kissing springtime and life, as if she were kissing goodbye to everything forever!

[30] The rumble of gunshots came closer, as the Jinggang Mountain Faction began their attack. The whistle to assemble resounded in the schoolyard. Li Honggang barely managed to stand up, wiped the tears from his face, threw a last glance at Danfeng, and stumbled over to the fire where everyone had assembled.

[31] Two years later, the Jinggang Mountain Faction finally took over power. Someone revealed that Li Honggang had forced Danfeng at gunpoint to jump from the roof. Even though Li Honggang had long-since broken with the rebel group, roaming around for a long time, he was brought back, sentenced to death, and executed immediately.

[32] That day, the vehicle carrying Honggang to the execution ground drove through the crowd. I didn’t go to look, I just strolled along a quiet and remote road, lost in thought. The maple trees on both sides of the road were red again, like a vigorously burning fire. Those blazing red treetops looked just like blood flowing from a wound, like brightly-colored drops of desire…


[1] For this translation, we acknowledge the support of the ERC-funded project “The Politics of Reading in the People’s Republic of China” (READCHINA, Grant agreement No. 757365/SH5: 2018-2023). We thank Li Bin for granting permission to publish the original images along with this translation. Source: Zheng Yi 郑义, Maple 枫 (adapted by Chen Yimin 陈宜民, Liu Ninglian 刘宇廉 and Li Bin 李斌), in Lianhuan huabao 连环画报 8 (1979). Images from:, last access July 18, 2021.