Cultural Revolution Diaries

The Chronicle of Higher Education has an interesting piece on: Hu Jingbei, an economics professor at Tongji University in Shanghai. Professor Hu kept a diary during the Cultural Revolution, and now looks back on his youthful entries with a combination of horror and wonderment. From the interview with Professor Hu:

“If we don’t work on this problem, on understanding how this brainwashing occurred, we will have another Cultural Revolution,” Mr. Hu says while eating dinner in a student restaurant at Tongji. He is a wiry man who finishes every scrap of the oversized portions then eats the leftover pizza on others’ plates.

Through a fellowship, Mr. Hu spent January and February at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution doing research for a Chinese-language book that will examine the impact of Communist ideology on Chinese children. In the long term, he hopes, his research will help pave the way for greater tolerance and freedom in China.

But in the meantime, Mr. Hu has put online the diaries he kept as a teenager during the Cultural Revolution — diaries that he now compares to those kept by Hitler Youth members in Nazi Germany. And he is on a personal mission to understand how, as a young man of 18, he was so absolutely convinced that Mao Zedong was a hero worth putting all his faith into.

The CHE piece is worth checking out for the excerpts from Professor Hu’s diaries. I’m trying to get a link to the actual site, but the Great Fire Wall is being uncooperative. Anyone who has a link, feel free to post it in the comments section, I’d be interested in reading what Professor Hu has to say in context rather than excerpted.

The Discussion: 26 Comments

Can’t find a link anywhere – pity! Let’s hope Hu gets his book published and that it reaches its target audience.

He is a rarity – a Chinese citizen not bound by either conformity or the chains of denial; it’s almost enough to restore my faith in human nature.

March 13, 2007 @ 12:23 am | Comment

Sometimes I wonder whether today’s “upstanding Chinese patriots” – aka, rabid ultra-nationalists – are the modern-day equivalent of the Red Guards. If they see people make a comment they don’t like on the internet, they will swarm in and attack the very fabric of that person in a co-ordinated effort. And people (not on the receiving end) rarely seem to want to stand up to them.

March 13, 2007 @ 12:59 am | Comment

Nice article, Jeremiah – thanks. It is indeed hope-inducing to see a Chinese citizen willing to call Mao exactly what he was. It is equally distressing to read his plaintive observation that opportunities for free discussion of what actually took place during the Cultural Revolution are contracting, not expanding.

March 13, 2007 @ 1:01 am | Comment

There were some victims in the Cultural Revolution yes. But we cannot judge on it yet, because it is still too close to us in time, and many people who were involved are still alive. So the current evaluation of it is not objective. Too many victims of Cultural Revolution are in power in the Chinese gov’t today, so they control how the Cultural Revolution should be evaluated.

Maybe after another 50 years, it will have a more objective evaluation. Same thing with many recent historical events.

March 13, 2007 @ 11:13 am | Comment

HongXing you’re a real wackjob. I can’t wait for the eventual Chinese re- revisionism..of course …that would have to be after they admit that anything ever happened in the first place. HongXing, you could be the Chinese David Irving..if you play your cards right. How cool is that?

March 13, 2007 @ 11:41 am | Comment

Red Star is so cute. As though we have to wait for everybody to die before we can assess an event they were involved in. We knew the Holocaust was bad long before the camps were liberated. We knew the Cultural Revolution was bad within a year after it started. No one defends it because it is and always will be indefensible, just like Stalin’s terror was inexcusable. By Hong King’s perverted logic, we can’t criticize Bush and the iraq War either because we are “too close to it.” Bad is bad, HX – some things are non-negotiable and unargumentable. The CR was bad, 100 percent, and anyone who says the jury is still out on this topic is either mind-numbingly stupid, thoroughly brainwashed or lying through his teeth. Maybe you also think the jury is still out on Pol Pot because, after all, many of the victims of his evil are still alive. It’s nice to see you back on my site, but it seems you’ve actually become more crazed than when you went away the last time.

March 13, 2007 @ 3:51 pm | Comment

“The CR was bad, 100 percent, and anyone who says the jury is still out on this topic is either mind-numbingly stupid, thoroughly brainwashed or lying through his teeth”

If you are so utterly convinced that the legacy of Cultural Revolution is the same one hundred years from now, I ask you then, what about French Revolution?

200 years ago for France it was a period of disorder and chaos as well as Reign of Terror. The period directly followed is the Napoleonic Era which is characterized by war, conquest and eventually defeat. Afterward, the monarch was restored and all was the same once again.

If you are a commentator at 1800s, alot of people would certainly agree with you that French Revolution is a terrible waste of human life with absolutely no redeeming value for France. Basically I think all the rhetorics you hear today about Cultural Revolution can be applied to French Revolution. You can then further assert that anyone thinking differently at the time or future is a “revisionist”, crazy or lying through his teeth.

Nobody doubt the destructiveness of Cultural Revolution. But I think in its warpath of destruction the essence of “Chinese” is fundamentally transformed, for better or for worse. Exactly what these changes are and what are their effect is really a story that is not over yet and won’t be over for another 50 years or more. In that sense, I think, yes, it is still too early to tell.

March 13, 2007 @ 5:10 pm | Comment

Interesting analogy Falen. However, i disagree with your arguement that it is too early to engage the cultural revolution, purely on the basis of how long ago it was.

During, and prior to the French revolution, europe was wrapped with commentations – marx used it as a basis for much of his work, bourke demonised it, and paine advocated it – the french revolution a monumental occasion that marked the birth of liberalism and the enlightement values that undermine ‘the west’ today. Tell me – if people were too afraid to look at the french rev. on the basis that the terror was abhorent, then the important lessons of that event would have been lost. the west as it is would not exist in its current incarnation.

The cultural revolution sprang from the mind of a deranged lunatic obsessed with consiracies and maintaining legitimacy. its wholsesale destruction of cultural treasures, traditions, and lives has no precedent. much of the ideas of the french revolution continue to exist today, and there is a general consensus that they are benificial to society. the cultural revolution say so much.

I would argue that the french terror under robespierre and mao’s cultural revolution have some similarities, but the ideologies behind them are polar opposites.

It is essential that the cultural revolution be understood in context – before revisionism distorts it, and there are no living participants left to contribute. to understand the mentality and ideology of those in power, look to the past.

March 13, 2007 @ 7:58 pm | Comment

I agree Cultural Revolution didn’t produce any new ideas. However, in that French Revolution is about new ideas, Cultural Revolution is about destroying old ideas.

One of those thing that was utterly destroyed during the Cultural Revolution was the old Confucian orthodoxy. Was this destruction necessary? Was it necessary for young people to denounce their teachers and parents for holding certain widespread old beliefs?

What if Cultural Revolution just never happened?

It is possible that if Cultural Revolution never happened China would just be under another dynastic cycle between different dictators. I think there would be a stagnant paralysis as to how to proceed. Nobody would want to rock the boat yet without rocking the boat you can not change.

Contrast that with today, we do have a consensus of determined resolution to reform. Would this consensus exist if Cultural Revolution never happened?

Mao certainly is going to go down history infamously as a “bad guy”. Just like nobody is going to sing songs about the “contribution” of Robespierre.

“It is essential that the cultural revolution be understood in context – before revisionism distorts it, and there are no living participants left to contribute.”

I don’t really understand this attitude. Are you worried somehow our descendant 50 years or 100 years from now will draw a different conclusion about Cultural Revolution, when all the living participants and victims are dead?

March 14, 2007 @ 5:22 am | Comment

I personally don’t know know what is going to be the legacy of Cultural Revolution in 100 years. However, of the conclusions of “lost time”, “no redeeming value” and “terrible waste of human life”, the former two are too simplistic and is going to be wrong.

March 14, 2007 @ 5:30 am | Comment

The answer to that will be how China deals with the legacy.Ignoring it will not help. Germany dealt with their guilt and came out on top. Hiltler’s murder of millions of people was never a good thing. It took a lot of work and courage for Germany to rise up from their past. The qusetion is: Do the Chinese have the Courage?

March 14, 2007 @ 8:45 am | Comment

I believe that the question of whether or not the chinese have the courage has already been answered – the fact that this dude wants has studied the cultural revolution is evidence of this. I a question more pertinant is whether the administration and education system will open itself up to revisit key issues; not be constrained by idiologies such as ’30/70%’, or victimization narratives of history.

I only hope research such as Hu Tongji’s continue. I suppose the point i was trying to make is that is as important to chronicle the events as it is to research them from a majority of perspectives – you’re obviously coming from the issue from a marxist perspective Falen, which has validity, yet it is not the only way it can be understood.

A question such as whether the cultural revolution was necessary to destroy the confucian orthadoxy is only valid from a marxist perspective – or whether a sweeping and destructive redistribution of power is necessary to rebuild a chinese attitude to reform. If the issue is only studied from this attitude, then this is all the perspectives there will be. And it’ll be a pretty narrow outlook on the issue.

March 14, 2007 @ 11:05 am | Comment

“It is essential that the cultural revolution be understood in context – before revisionism distorts it, and there are no living participants left to contribute.”

yeah, not sure i worded that one correctly – my bad

March 14, 2007 @ 11:06 am | Comment

Balian, Your American cuteness belies your sense of self!

March 14, 2007 @ 1:33 pm | Comment

I’m not American – i’m Australian – a very different thing.

I’m a new contributer, so cut me some slack.

March 14, 2007 @ 9:41 pm | Comment

Balian, a very small handful of people doesn’t seem like a national healing ceremony to me. P.S. Many of my Aussie friends complain that Australia is like the 51 st State.

March 15, 2007 @ 5:07 am | Comment

I believe that there are tons of publications about cultural revolutions in China already.

March 15, 2007 @ 7:08 am | Comment

My friend showed me his parents copy of the Catholic Churches Guide to good sex. Essential reading.

March 15, 2007 @ 7:38 am | Comment

You guys do not even speak Chinese. How can you say you understand such a big event as Cultural Revolution? No investigation, no right to speak.

As time goes on, the evaluation of events will change. For example, Napolean or King Louis 14 in France had very bad reputation within 50-100 years of their time. But today, their reputation is neutral, or you can say it’s positive. Same with Qing Shi Huang, same with many “dictators” and “kings” in the world.

I went to Germany 3 years ago. I met a old German guy. He told me that in 100-200 years, Hitler’s reputation will improve. This I agreed with him very much. I said even the entire WW2’s evaluation will change. Germany reputation in WW2 will also change.

Time will change everything.

March 16, 2007 @ 10:26 am | Comment

Shit man..In two hundred years…Britney Spears will have a good reputation….. Now go lock yourself in a room with a can of Zyklon B and a can opener.

March 16, 2007 @ 10:40 am | Comment

Hong Xing,

You guys do not even speak Chinese. How can you say you understand such a big event as Cultural Revolution?

(Let’s leave out for a second that your own English swings wildly between bad and laughable but that has never stopped you from offering your “informed opinion” on world affairs or, say, American coffee habits…)

You are hopelessly naive if you believe this. MOST Lao Wai in China now speak Chinese, many of them very well. I for one, and I’m not alone on this board, do research in the Chinese archives where the materials are exclusively in 文言. Oh yeah, and you might want to check out Brendan’s little site, too…

If you’re resorting to the **sniff** You **sniff** just don’t **choke** get CHINA!!!! ***waaaahhhhh!**** defense, then you must really be out of arguments.

Also–and I know reading comprehension in English is not your strong point, but bear with me–if you look at the original post, you’ll note that it discusses a diary kept by a Chinese professor (who I assume does speak Chinese.) He was actually alive during the GPCR. Given the level of maturity you display in your comments, I’m guessing that– despite your moniker–you were not.

Now post your usual whiny little comment as a “rebuttal” and go cry to your Ma(o)ma. I’m done with you.

Ps. The pinyin for 秦 is “Qin” not “Qing.”

March 16, 2007 @ 10:57 am | Comment


That’s the second time you’ve made me laugh out loud in two days. Do it a third time and I’m sending the PSB after you.


March 16, 2007 @ 11:07 am | Comment

I hope they know how to swim…..

March 16, 2007 @ 11:10 am | Comment

Well, now we all know about Hong Xing. He’s a brilliant foreign policy and world history analyst. Yes, I’m sure one day Hitler will be cast in a whole new light, as a sweet little man who loved dogs and children. All that film footage of the slaughtered millions will be forgotten, and all we’ll remember is his adorable smile.

Hong Xing has confirmed he’s a pure troll. I’ve never deleted or banned him but he is pushing the envelope. Jxie and CCT and others argue with intelligence. HX, like Math, is simply here to drive everyone crazy by making the most idiotic pronouncements possible. Fine. But never expect anyone to take seriously a single word that you say.

March 16, 2007 @ 11:18 am | Comment

HongXing, I’m sorry that you missed the first one.

March 18, 2007 @ 6:14 am | Comment

First, fairly innocuous post : )

I missed where HongXing mentioned that he was a French scholar.

Perspective IS necessary… I get slapped in the face by my inherent Western DOYPOV every day by my eager yet culturally obtuse students.

Let’s keep HongXing … thinking about WHY we disagree is useful, even if it only takes a second.

March 21, 2007 @ 6:15 pm | Comment

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