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

Video Indiana Controversy Points to Divergent Notions of Religious Freedom

Gay-marriage opponents are looking for ways to maintain their beliefs in face of changing culture, one writer says More

UNICEF Denies North Korean Measles Outbreak

Agency dismisses Russian media report after government, WHO assurances More

Turkey Seen Taking Harder Stance Against Militant Kurds

Stance comes as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is being seen as moving closer to generals More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedomi
X
Jerome Socolovsky
April 01, 2015 1:41 AM
Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedom

Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Nigerians Welcome Buhari's Return to Power

Crowds of jubilant Nigerians nationwide have celebrated the return to power of former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari. The retired army general won this year's presidential election with more than 2 million votes more than incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan. Buhari's supporters hope he can strengthen the country's economy and security once he takes office in late May. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Report: State of Black America a 'Tale of Two Nations'

The National Urban League has described this year's "State of Black America" report as a "tale of two nations." The group's annual report, released earlier this month (March), found that under an equality index African Americans had only 72% parity compared to whites in areas such as education, economics, health, social justice and civic engagement. It’s a gap that educators and students at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College are looking to close. VOA's Daniela Schrier reports from the school.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Gamma Ray Observatory to Open Soon in Mexico

American and Mexican scientists have completed construction of the world's largest gamma ray observatory, situated high in central Mexico’s Sierra Negra Mountain. The observatory's huge array of water-based detectors will soon start discovering secrets about black holes and supernovas. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials Underway in West Africa

Ebola has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people in West Africa. Since last summer, researchers have rushed to get anti-Ebola vaccines into clinical trials. While it's too early to say that any of the potential vaccines work, some scientists say they are seeing strong results from some of the studies. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More