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 Rubio Looks to Surge in New Hampshire

    Republican presidential candidate has moved into second place in several recent surveys and appears to be gaining ground on longtime frontrunner Donald Trump

    UN Calls for Global Ban on Female Genital Mutilation

    Recent UNICEF report finds at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in 30 countries

    UN Pilots New Peace Approach in CAR

    Approach launched in northern town of Kaga Bandoro, where former combatants of mainly Muslim Seleka armed group and Christian and animist anti-Balaka movement are being paid to do community work

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.