After four decades, memory of the Cultural Revolution is used on the Chinese internet to describe violent behaviors being shared online as a context for highlighting China’s social instability. Netizens are making comparisons between current violent acts of protest and extreme Red Guard behaviors, which evoke heavy emotions from the Cultural Revolution generation. This research argues that these tensions and reprisals among netizen groups arose from the disconnect between current uses of Cultural Revolution revivalism on the Chinese internet and the impact this has for individuals of the Cultural Revolution generation.
Specifically, this research engages with the implications and purposes of invoking memories of the Cultural Revolution on the Chinese Internet.
Analyzing recent trends of how the internet is changing communication, this study proves that the post-1980s generation, in drawing from the Cultural Revolution, is not aware of the implications that making such connections on the internet has. Lack of education and public historiography of this decade of Chinese history is due to the government’s efforts to sweep it into the dustbin of history, having labeled the Cultural Revolution a “dark chapter” in Chinese modern history. Netizens making these comparisons are merely calling out current events as being the same as the Cultural Revolution without delving into the larger context of what that period of history means for the generations who lived through it. As such, this Cultural Revolution revivalism and re-characterization of its social memory as seen through Chinese social media has complex meanings for how China’s post-1980’s generation defines that decade of events.