"I endured because from the age of two until 24 I lived in the Soviet Union," he says. "My father worked in the underground with Chou when it was very dangerous. In 1928 my father was sent to the Sixth Party Congress in Moscow, and a year later my mother and I were sent there to join him. Two bodyguards went along to protect us. When Kuomintang [Nationalist Chinese] soldiers searched the train at the border, the bodyguards hid me in a basket and covered me with many old and dirty things. At first they were afraid I would cry. When I didn't cry, they were afraid I had suffocated, but when we were across the border, they found I was merely asleep. My mother always says, 'Even then you liked to sleep.'
"World War II was very hard in the Soviet Union. Everybody was hungry. So I am well-suited to any bad situation." Huang points to a small scar in the crook of his left elbow. "I gave blood every month to get money and a ration card. What most attracted me was that with the ration card I could get canned meat from America, which was delicious. I was very young, and to me the United States was famous only for this meat."
In the early 1930s, Huang's parents returned to their work in the revolutionary underground in China, leaving him to be raised at the International Children's Garden, outside Moscow, with other orphans of revolutionary storms. He was a good-natured but unruly boy who loved sports. In 1938 Chou, who had been wounded, went to Moscow for medical treatment, and he paid a visit to the Children's Garden. When the great man asked the children what they wanted to be when they grew up, Huang, who was 11, had no answer. "I was ashamed because I had never thought about the future," he says. "Then all the children shouted, 'He's an athlete!' When I heard that I thought maybe it was right, but I didn't know what Chou would think. To my surprise, he said, 'I like sports, too. When I was doing underground work, the enemy couldn't catch me because I could run fast and far.' "
That was all the endorsement Huang needed. After graduating from a Soviet sports high school, he taught physical education at a Soviet agricultural institute. By studying nights on his own he gained entrance to the Moscow Physical Education Institute, and in 1951, degree in hand, he was ready to return to China, which was knee deep in Soviet experts in the early 1950s. With his Moscow training, Huang soon became the leading track coach. His greatest successes were his high jumpers—a woman, Cheng Feng-jung, and a man, Ni Chih-chin. Cheng set a world record in '57, as did Ni in '61, but his mark was never officially recognized because by then China had dropped out of the IAAF, the world governing body of track and field.
Today Huang lives with his wife and two cats in a small apartment in a Beijing building reserved for the coaches of national teams. The hallways and stairwells are dark and grimy, but the interior of their apartment is tidy and filled to overflowing with souvenirs of his eventful life. Stuffed toy animals, painted Russian dolls, photographs and trophies line the shelves in the foyer.
Huang counts himself lucky. "Looking back, I think my experience wasn't the worst," he says. His father, for instance, was jailed for eight years. Huang's best performer now is another high jumper, but he's injured, so Huang cannot hope for a medal in Seoul. "We have some good women in the shot put," he says, "but in other events we can get maybe a sixth or an eighth."
And how does he feel about the 10 lost years and the friends who turned against him? "Most of them regret what they did to me," he says. "People were forced to do it out of fear and pressure from other people. I look at it with historical perspective, and I forgive them."
The Cultural Revolution is now referred to in China as the 10 Years of Chaos. Its survivors are like aging veterans of an unpopular war: They tell their stories—sometimes, as Huang does, with humor—to a younger generation already growing weary of the recounting. For the time being, until the political pendulum begins its next swing, the young adults of China have put the pursuit of material comfort ahead of political idealism and revolutionary virtues. Still, the Cultural Revolution was a traumatic national experience, and its psychic scars linger even in the young.
Yu Daihua, a 33-year-old translator for the All-China Sports Federation, expressed a sadness that his elders, Zhang, Yuan and Huang, had avoided putting into words. "If you live in the community, it's difficult to speak; you can only feel. I think earlier it was man against nature, man against animals. Then man got guns, and it was no longer man against animals. I think it is now man against man." Yu paused to think. "We could have been much faster in reform."