The Afterlife of Memory in China: Yang Jiang's Cultural Revolution Memoir

By Gewurtz, Margo | ARIEL, January-April 2008 | Go to article overview

The Afterlife of Memory in China: Yang Jiang's Cultural Revolution Memoir


Gewurtz, Margo, ARIEL


I. Memory and Trauma in China

The study of the collective and personal memory of historical trauma has taken the Holocaust as the paradigm, but in recent years scholars have turned to other cultures and events such as the Chinese response to the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. Millions perished in that upheaval in the decade between 1966 and Mao's death in 1976. Because the ferocity and scale of the violence that gripped China in the early phase of the Cultural Revolution seemed unprecedented for the People's Republic of China, even when compared to the elimination of the landlord class that occurred during land reform in the early fifties, some Western scholars have used the Holocaust as an analytic and comparative category in their studies. (1) Chinese scholars rarely make such direct comparisons out of regard for the uniqueness of these two disparate events, but some intellectuals have seen a similarity between the two in the aspects of trauma and survivor guilt. (2) These discussions formed part of a larger discourse on remembering and reevaluating the Cultural Revolution that occurred prior to the events in Tiananmen in June 1989.

Lowell Dittmer has surveyed the phases of the re-evaluations of the Cultural Revolution undertaken by the Chinese as they attempted to learn from this "trauma" within the context of post-Mao politics. He makes a distinction between two types of national trauma or what he called "particularly devastating formative experiences" (19). The first type is usually "limited to national elites responsible for guiding future national policy" and he cites Munich and Vietnam as examples. The second type is rarer and requires that its "lessons" be "propagated intensively among all members of the national political culture." This type he calls "cultural learning" and cites the Nazi Holocaust's impact on the Jewish community as "the paradigm case." He believes that the Chinese efforts since 1976 "to review and reassess the Cultural Revolution experience" are an instance of such cultural learning (19-20).

This type of cultural learning was always fraught with danger as the regime that initiated the Cultural Revolution remained in place. In a society like China "control over the discursive realm is fundamental" (Watson Memory 11), so that a key issue was how the unofficial or oppositional past is transmitted: "how people remember what is meant to be forgotten" (Watson Memory 7). While the Cultural Revolution was thoroughly discredited within China following Mao's death and the trial of his widow and her colleagues in the so-called "Gang of Four," (3) the evaluation of Mao's historical legacy remained problematic. Chinese intellectuals have had a long tradition of the role of "daiyan ren" or carriers of the word from the culturally dispossessed below to the wielders of political power above. The rediscovery of that role in post-Mao China has been described by Vera Schwarcz as part of the intellectuals' "recovery of memory," an issue that is fraught with tension. So difficult is this act of "remembering" by the educated elite in China that Schwarcz argues that it can only be done from the "periphery" and this sometimes means from outside China itself (Schwarcz Strangers 58-59).

The first wave in this recovery of memory took the form of literary accounts of the "Ten Lost Years" in what became known as the "Literature of the Wounded," a term later translated as "scar literature" (Barme & Lee 1979)- However, many intellectuals found fiction a problematic genre for remembering and learning from those traumatic times. They displayed not only misgivings similar to those expressed about Holocaust fiction (4) but also a deeply rooted Confucian cultural preference for the "truth" or substance of historical narrative as opposed to xiao shuo or "small talk"--the Chinese term for "fiction." Jaroslav Prusek noted in a perceptive essay, "Reality and Art in Chinese Literature," that "what was always most highly valued in Chinese literary works was 'truthfulness,' that is, the accurate recording of facts [shi] . …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

The Afterlife of Memory in China: Yang Jiang's Cultural Revolution Memoir
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.