Monday, January 27, 2014

Cultural Revolution Memory

The New York Times recently ran an op-ed piece titled, Confessions of the Cultural Revolution which ties in greatly with my Master's research on the subject of the social memory of the Cultural Revolution in present-day China.

Within the piece, writer Xiao Han reflects that due to the country's strict censorship of Cultural Revolution material and research and reflection into the subject matter, the period's memory is gradually receding from public memory, creating nostalgia by those who contrast the decade with China's rapid, capitalist rise.

The article mentions one woman who recently came forward and apologized for witnessing an attack on her vice principal during the height of violence, and not doing anything to stop it. After her apology spread through the internet, netizens were quick to target her as "grandstanding" and called her apology "insincere." Xiao Han comments on this and wonders how any other former violent individuals will be encouraged to come forward and apologize for past actions when facing the backlash and criticism of the internet, and calls for the younger netizens to reflect on the apologizes of their elders (see the third excerpt below).


Some excerpts:

Attempts by intellectuals to publicly address the Cultural Revolution have been suppressed; only a smattering of research by state-funded scholars has seen the light of day. The result has been a gradual receding of memory. The economic surge of the past 30 years has even led some deluded souls to look back on the period with nostalgia. But given the authoritarian nature of today’s leadership, many people fear the prospect of a return of the terror that marked the Cultural Revolution.

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Can China continue the momentum and create a framework for wider public acknowledgement? Are the Chinese people ready for such a mass reckoning?

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We Chinese need to build an appropriate environment for the wrongdoers to come forward. First and foremost, this requires that people who were fortunate enough not to experience the Cultural Revolution put themselves in the place of the perpetrators. While they have a right to criticize perpetrators of past crimes, they should repress the impulse to harshly condemn those who come forward. We should not be making excessive demands on this process. Chinese people should try to consider what they themselves might have done under similar circumstances.

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