Morning Sun: Documenting the Cultural Revolution


I just read an intriguing review of Morning Sun, a film that humanizes and gives a face to the victims of the Cultural Revolution. It sounds absolutely extraordinary, and it’s frustrating to know that such films rarely if ever make it to Singapore.

At its close, the writer observes:

The speakers temper today’s orthodoxy that Mao was pure evil with their own memories of the sublime, innocent beauty of their faith. And they think of this blighted time with a regretful, humane spirit that probably has more to do with who they are now than with who they were then. Morning Sun succeeds because it gives its speakers—many of whom went from being culprits to being victims—the space to grieve, and preserves, rather than judges, their exuberant hopes. For many, the burden of seeing the grand experiment’s magnificent, arching failure was punishment enough.

Sublime, innocent beauty…. Somehow, those aren’t the words I associate with images of the Red Guard beating teachers to death. And yet I understand the description. It is always a joyous feeling to act from true belief and faith, to know that what you are doing is great, and that it is blessed by the high power whom you were taught from birth to venerate as a god, be it Mao or Hitler or Kim Jong II. To those children, they weren’t beating an innocent teacher, they were carrying out a glorious mission. Only later did they come to realize the full extent of the evil they were doing. It sounds as though Morning Sun manages to capture this terrible knowledge in all of its irony.

Update: I just found another review that’s worth reading for those who are, like me, amazed at all the havoc wrought by the Cultural Revolution and the madman who engineered it:

One describes the Revolution in grimly elegant fashion: “It was an age ruled by both the poet and the executioner; poets scattered roses everywhere, while the executioner cast a long shadow of terror.”

One particularly transfixing interview comes from a former Red Guard member whose features are obscured by shadow; his recollections of violence inflicted in Mao’s name are darkened by shame. He, like many others, can never quite forgive himself for being sucked into the stream of propaganda; it was a force that, as “Morning Sun” reminds us, molded a new generation into killers without any sense of the long and tortured history of a China that existed before Mao brutally eliminated all traces of it.

And therein lies a big clue as to why China is the country it is today. Its ramifications are everywhere, in the way students learn and the way workers work and in everyday manners. What Mao hath wrought remains today, nearly two decades after it officially ended, one of the great blights on the history of civilization.

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