China's Cultural Revolution, 1966-1969: Not a Dinner Party

By Michael Schoenhals | Go to book overview

I. Ordinary People Remember

Feng Jicai, the writer who took down the first story below--about a man whose lifelong suffering forces him to ask if the Cultural Revolution had not actually been under way for 2,000 years--insists, "We Chinese (women de minzu) forget far too easily."1 Perhaps Feng is right, though in all likelihood the Chinese minzu is no better and no worse at forgetting than people in general.

In China today, a tiny active contingent of oral historians is recording the memories of those who spent the better part of their lives living the Communist revolution, and the Cultural Revolution in particular. The belief shared by many of these aspiring Studs Terkels is that "one records the experiences of ordinary people because the essential reality of life is only found in the reality of the common grassroots."2 Li Hui, a journalist with the People's Daily who has published the anthology Bloodstained Innocence--The Cultural Revolution in the Hearts of the Young (Documents 65-69), maintains optimistically, "As long as our recollections are not wiped out, history not only will not be wiped out, but may even appear ever more vivid."3

Did the Cultural Revolution really have a meaning? If so, what was it? That is the question asked by many ordinary (and some not so ordinary) people. The relatives of members and supporters of the"15 August" faction killed in Chongqing are still grieving for their dead (Document 70)--buried in what is possibly the only remaining Red Guard cemetery in all of China--and asking, "Why?" Philosopher Zhang Zhiyang tries to come to terms with the Cultural Revolution by unburdening himself, not of a story that claims to be "real" in the usual sense (Document 71), but through introspective association that is both ironic and absurd. His aim is not to communicate historical knowledge

____________________
1
Feng Jicai, preface to Yibaige ren de shinian (One Hundred People's Decade) ( Nanjing: Jiangsu wenyi chubanshe, 1991), p. 2.
3
Li Hui, afterword to Li Hui and Gao Lilun, eds., Dixue de tongxin--Haizi xinzhong de wenge (Bloodstained Innocence--The Cultural Revolution in the Hearts of the Young) ( Beijing: Zhongguo shaonian ertong chubanshe, 1989), p. 318.

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