When Yang Su was a boy, growing up in a Hakka village in Guangdong, he once watched buffalos being butchered. After one of the animals was trapped in the fields, a group of men with large hammers moved in and struck the buffalo until it sank to its haunches and finally collapsed, covered in blood. The term used in Hakka dialect to describe the killing was bol, meaning ‘strikes that produce a dull sound’. The same word was used to convey how victims were bludgeoned to death with a hardwood club in the villages of south China during the Cultural Revolution. Even when rifles were available, local farmers were reluctant to waste bullets, so they resorted to primitive farming tools instead.
Sha Kaichu, for instance, was rounded up in 1967 and denounced at a rally in the local town square. His father had been killed during the land reform of 1952 for being a landlord; Sha left the village that same year and volunteered to fight in the Korean