News / Asia

    Cultural Revolution Memories Resurface in China

    Visitors walk past a portrait of the late Chinese leader Mao Zedong at the Cultural Revolution Museum in Shantou in China's southern Guangdong province May 15, 2006.
    Visitors walk past a portrait of the late Chinese leader Mao Zedong at the Cultural Revolution Museum in Shantou in China's southern Guangdong province May 15, 2006.
    VOA News
    Almost 40 years after the death of Mao Zedong ended the Cultural Revolution in China, some aging survivors are ending decades of silence and going public about their actions.
     
    Mao remains a political icon in China, largely immune from public criticism. But in recent years more Chinese have been publicly recounting the horrors of his Cultural Revolution through memoirs, interviews and public apologies.
     
    Notably, some of those accounts have been published in Chinese media, a sign of an increased willingness to revisit painful memories that are still very much alive for both victims and their tormentors.
     
    From student to teacher
     
    One of the first such accounts was an apology from a student to a teacher that was published in Chinese media in 2010.
     
    Chen Bi is a 90-year-old retired teacher who worked at Beijing Foreign Language School.
     
    In August 1966, during the first peak of violence of the Cultural Revolution, she was targeted by students who had been encouraged by Mao’s speeches to antagonize teachers, intellectuals, parents and other authority figures.
     
    “For those of us who were persecuted it was a nightmare,” she recalled.
     
    Shen Xiaoke, 17, was a student at Chen Bi's school when classes were suspended and intense political indoctrination began.
     
    “Students would compare between themselves who was more revolutionary," Shen explained. "If you did not hit others then you would be considered a rightist. So some people who normally would not dare hit others, they also would raise their hands and hit."
     
    At public meetings, Shen saw many of his classmates denounce and criticize teachers deemed counter-revolutionary. The persecution was so intense two school managers committed suicide. Shen now says everyone targeted was in fact innocent.
     
    “They were all good people, but they got tortured to the extreme, they suffered beatings, abuses and humiliation," he said. "Although I never hit them, I have always felt distressed by what happened to them.”
     
    In 2010, Shen decided to face his troubling memories, and wrote Chen Bi an apology letter on his and other classmates’ behalf.
     
    “It [what happened to her] was a mistake, and as a mistake, I think we needed to apologize to our teachers,” he admitted.
     
    ‘Red Guards’ seek atonement
     
    Since then, other former student leaders known as “Red Guards” have come forward expressing remorse.
     
    On a rare talk show program about the Cultural Revolution, broadcast earlier this year by Hong Kong TV channel Phoenix, Zhang Hongbing told his story and asked for forgiveness.
     
    In 1970, as a radicalized red guard, he denounced his own mother for using insulting language at home while talking about Mao Zedong.
     
    As Zhang stood looking, police beat and arrested his mother. After a few months she was executed as a counter revolutionary.
     
    In another case, Li Bin, who worked as an art director at a red guard publication, told the magazine Southern Weekly that he too felt responsible for the mayhem brought about by the Cultural Revolution.
     
    “I drew so many revolutionary pictures, I acted as a machine propagandizing violence,” he said.
     
    Wang Youqin, a lecturer at the University of Chicago, has been documenting the crimes committed during the Cultural Revolution and talked with hundreds of eyewitnesses to the violence.
     
    She said that despite the trauma of remembering scenes of extreme cruelty, the people she interviewed wanted their stories to be recorded, so that history would not repeat itself.
     
    “Chinese people always say that history is like a mirror,” she noted “If we can see ourselves in the mirror, then we can correct ourselves.”
     
    Although more people are openly discussing their personal experiences, the government has shown little interest in revisiting the period.
     
    A highly public trial after Mao's death shifted all the blame on the gang of four - which included Mao's wife and other radicals - and pronounced the Cultural Revolution a mistake. In the early 1980s Deng Xiaoping offered his appraisal of Mao's rule, and famously said the leader had been 70 percent right and 30 percent wrong.
     
    More recently, party leaders have avoided the subject, in part because criticism of Mao or his tenure could threaten the legitimacy of the Communist Party. 
     
    Cultural Revolution largely remains off limits
     
    Although Chinese media have published some personal stories from the Cultural Revolution, broader examinations of the period remain largely off limits.  
     
    Professor Wang Youqin's website where she has been posting interviews with victims and related documents collected over the years, is blocked in China.
     
    In April, a former Red Guard called Wang Keming finished editing a collection of essays written by 32 fellow red guards titled “We confess.”
     
    Wang recently told media that attempts to publish the collection failed, with publishers telling him: “This is not the time yet” for such accounts."
     
     

    You May Like

    Post-White House, Obamas to Rent Washington Mansion

    Nine-bedroom home is 3 kilometers from Oval Office, near capital's Embassy Row; rent estimated at around $22,000 a month

    Red Planet? Not so much!

    New research suggest that Mars is in a warm period between cyclical ice ages, and that during Ice Age Maximum over 500,000 years ago, the red planet was decidedly ice, and much whiter to the naked eye.

    Taj Mahal Battles New Threat from Insects

    Swarms of insects are proliferating in the heavily contaminated waters of the Yamuna River, which flows behind the 17th century monument

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    X
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.
    Video

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora