Last week I got a call from a local radio station that said they wanted to interview me about expat bloggers in China. I went to their studio to tape the interview, and when I was asked what I thought about life in China today, I said, more or less, “Considering where China was thirty years ago, after the Cultural Revolution, the progress that’s been made is nothing short of astonishing.” And on and on. After the 30-minute taping, the reporter told me how good my answers were (so polite), and noted matter-of-factly, “Of course, we’ll have to cut out that sentence where you mention the Cultural Revolution.”
This was a bit surprising since I hadn’t made any statement about the CR itself, but simply used it as a reference, a point in time. The most that could be inferred from what I’d said would be that a.) the Cultural Revolution existed and b.) since it ended much in China has changed. Now, those aren’t exactly state secrets – in fact, those are commonly heard talking points among party defenders. So why the censorship?
Which brings us to this short but worthwhile article , the main point of which is that the CCP’s policy when it comes to the CR is omerta. Like it never happened. Here’s how the article starts.
“What is your name?” the Great Helmsman asked a young student as she pinned a Red Guard armband on him in front of the Gate of Heavenly Peace. “Song Binbin,” she responded enthusiastically. The name her parents chose meant “properly raised” and “polite,” qualities that Mao Zedong found unappealing. “Be violent!” he ordered the girl. A short time later she changed her first name to Yaowu, or “Be Violent.”
It was Aug. 18, 1966 and the 72-year-old Chinese leader had called male and female students to assemble on Beijing’s Square of Heavenly Peace to launch his Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. Hundreds of thousands waved Mao’s little red book and cheered the old man.
Mao’s call to violence fell on willing ears among many young people. Thirteen days earlier Song, 19 at the time, was presumably present when the female students at her school, which was part of the Beijing Teachers University, killed their teacher, Bian Zhongyun. The girls brutally beat the 50-year-old woman to death using wooden sticks spiked with nails. On the day before the killing, members of the Red Guard had already maltreated the teacher, who was the party leader at the school — they suddenly viewed her as a “counter-revolutionary revisionist” who they believed had gambled away her life.
The rest of the article is about the denial of history that became the party line after the CR ended. A film about Bian’s murder was recently banned in China and a request to hang a memorial plaque in her schoolyard denied. I suppose the fact that the film maker merely had his work banned and wasn’t arrested is proof of progress of sorts, but it’s a pity the party can’t face up to its own past. We all know what Santayana had to say about forgetting the past….