The Fortieth Anniversary of the Cultural Revolution

Here is the opening paragraph of the special feature articles in Asia Weekly (YZZK) (May 21, 2006 issue).

[in translation]  This year is the fortieth anniversary of China's Cultural Revolution.  The mainstream opinion is that the formal start of the Cultural Revolution was marked by the expanded Chinese Communist Party Politburo's document "The Notice From The Chinese Communist Party's Central Committee" dated May 16, 1966.  Although the Chinese Communists have labeled this "rebellious action" as "ten years of disaster" a long time ago, the murkiness and residual poison still persist.  Forty years have passed, and it is the right time to reflect on this epochal disaster.  Yet the Chinese Communist have issued orders for the media not to report on it and to cancel all related activities in case the unstable society may find an opening and cause irreversible changes.  Today, the control on the reflections about the Cultural Revolution is much more severe than the reflections during the thirtieth anniversary of the Cultural Revolution ten years ago.

The following is the translation of an essay from Chinese Independent PEN president Liu Xiaobo.

(ObserveChina)  Banning Discussion On The Cultural Revolution Catastrophe Is Another Catastrophe.  May 10, 2006.

[in translation] A few more days and it will be the fortieth anniversary of the beginning of the Cultural Revolution.  Like every anniversary of the Cultural Revolution since the reforms, China will again experience the sharp difference between coldness inside and heat on the outside.

The suppression and blocking by the Chinese Communist authorities are done mainly because conscience is lacking in the system and there is no avoiding the responsibility on that.  The major characters from those years do not dare to face up to their Cultural Revolution experiences and they don't want to bear the moral responsibilities.  It can even be said that thirty years after the Cultural Revolution has ended, the national self-examination about this "catastrophe" has still not yet begun today.

On one hand, the Chinese Communist authorities issued the "Resolution concerning certain historical problems of the Party since the founding of the nation" in 1981 and defined the Cultural Revolution as a "catastrophe" and this has been supported by mainstream public opinion.  But this only covered up the detailed crimes that were committed during the Cultural Revolution with an abstract negation.  Lin Piao and the "Gang of Four" were used as scapegoats for the crimes of Mao Zedong and the mistakes of the Party were used to cover up the flaws of the system.  Besides, the authorities permit discussion of the Cultural Revolution within an official framework and they will not permit unofficial reflections about the Cultural Revolution.

On the other hand, the major characters of the Cultural Revolution era have avoided talking about the Cultural Revolution.  Those who wrought violence either maintained silence or offered self-defense.  Most of the victims also used various excuses to bottle up their memories.  Those who persecuted others while also being persecuted are only willing to talk about the experiences of being persecuted.  For example, the fanatic Red Guard rebellious movement swallowed up almost every youth of the right age.  Yet, until today, except for a very few old Red Guards who had some reflections, the majority used "it's is not worth remembering" as the excuse to maintain silence.  From the literature of the young intellectuals of the 1980's to the various Cultural Revolution-related memoirs of the 1990's, they not only failed to face up to their own personal history during the Cultural revolution, they also missed the spirit of self-examination, humility and regret.  Instead, they were mostly righteously posturing on having no regrets about their youth!

During the early days of the Cultural Revolution, the greatest insanity was the Beijing-based Allied Movement formed by the children of the party cadres.  They openly used the slogan "If the father is a hero, the son is a good man; if the father is a reactionary, the son is a turtle egg" and they committed horrendous acts of violence, causing the deaths of Yu Luoke and many others.  These people bore undeniable responsibility.  But the memoirs of these rebellious vanguards of yesteryear only showcased their pure youthful passions and idealism, or else they spoke about the sufferings of their parents and themselves.  They will not mention their own barbaric acts of assaulting, vandalizing, looting, running kangaroo courts, and so on.  They will not discuss their privileged arrogance of "natural Redness."  They will not mention that they rebelled because they were strongly motivated to seize power.  And they will not express any remorse towards their victims.  Even if they have some self-examinations, they will evade individual responsibility, or they blame the crimes on a small number of scapegoats (such as the Gang of Four), or else they abstractly blame it on the inevitable trend of the era and the blind nature of the masses.

For example, on December 2003, Ye Xiangzhen, the daughter of Ye Jianying, discussed her family's Cultural Revolution experiences on Phoenix TV.  During the early stages of the Cultural Revolution, she had a dual role -- the daughter of a Chinese Communist Field Marshall and the leader of the rebels at the School of Art in the capital.  This made her a very famous person.  Even she admitted that she was "too famous," "too active" and "too stressed" at the time.  But she only had a few simple sentences to say about her career as a Red Guard leader.  There were no details, just a total of 58 words.  She did not explain how she joined the Red Guards, or which activities she participated in, or whether she was involved in "assaulting, vandalizing and looting" and "physical struggles," or whether she persecuted others.  Obviously, sorrow and regret are irrelevant here. Yet, she provided extensive lively details about how Jiang Qing persecuted the Ye family and how the Ye children went to prison.  We get the causes, the process and the details and thoughts of her three years in jail, and the damage to her mind and body.  About 5,300 words were used, which was more than 25% of the entire 18,000+ word interview article.

This fierce storm swept all the people into it.  There were so many people who suffered, to the point that it is hard to come up with any accurate numbers.  This means that the number of persecutors must be several times bigger than the number of victims, and yet very few of them reflected and apologized.  The red terror of the Red Guards, the armed fights between the rebellious sects, the teams to cleanse the social classes and all the blood massacres such as in Daqing county (Beijing), Dao county (Hunan), 422 in Guangxi, the case of the Inner Mongolian People's Party (Inner Mongolia) and so on -- there have been no remembrances or apologies from those who inflicted the violence.

In this sense, the negative forces that have prevented the people from facing the catastrophe of the Cultural Revolution are not just the official ban, but also the fact that those participated and enabled the Cultural Revolution catastrophe did not want to confront their own histories.  This popular tradition to refuse to self-examine and repent is the most effective popular foundation for the official ban.  In this Internet age, if those people who used violence and persecuted others during the Cultural Revolution wanted to self-examine and repent, the officials would not be able to blockade those thoughts among the people.

To call for those people who applied violence and persecuted others back then to self-examine and repent is not intended to mete out legal responsibility and moral judgment, but it is only to (1) restore the truth about the Cultural Revolution catastrophe and, through this restored truth, summarize the lessons of the Cultural Revolution in order to avoid the repetition of this type of tragedy; (2) shed off slowly the traditional instinct to blame all disasters on external reasons while evading personal liability, and thereby create a healthy sense of personal responsibility; (3) turn this catastrophe that affected the entire population into a spiritual wealth for the people by lifting the spiritual quality through the voluntary self-examination and repentance of each person.

Sadly, the erroneous theory (with Chinese characteristics) of the Cultural Revolution has continued until now: as a "catastrophe" that was so recognized by both officials and civilians, it is now a restricted zone that is guarded by both the victims (such as Deng Xiaoping and others) and the persecutors.  The officials do not permit open discussion, the victims do not want to remember and the persecutors are not willing to repent.  Most of the documents about the Cultural Revolution are locked away in the black boxes of officialdom, or else they are rotting in the memories of the participants.  The person with the most responsibility for the Cultural Revolution catastrophe is Mao Zedong, who is still the "big savior" of China.  The children of the senior cadres who enjoyed the greatest fame during the Cultural Revolution are now the principal beneficiaries of the lame reform today.

For the participants who were involved in a major public catastrophe, when the majority of individuals refuse to confront the historical truth, then the costs of silence or lies are transferred to society as a whole.  These negative costs will continue to accumulate as a social crisis, which will be inherited from one generation to the next.  As one generation after another continues to lie, the lies will corrode everything.  The Chinese people will no longer know what is personal honesty or what is historical truth, and therefore repeatedly abuse, miss or forsake historical opportunities.  Therefore, as long as the Cultural Revolution catastrophe does not get a public accounting and debate, the catastrophe has not passed over yet.  All it did was to become a more secret "catastrophe."  If the historical truth is not restored, the lessons cannot be summarized.  Then the implementation of the reforms cannot be healthy as the heavy debt to history will be borne by China for the future.