The Cultural Revolution and the Boxers
The mythologization of the Boxers during the Cultural Revolution ( 1966-1976), as compared to that of the early decades of the twentieth century, was distinctive in a number of respects. First, it was different in content, answering to the specific thematic needs of the period. Second, as the requirements of historical understanding yielded to those of political correctness, the Boxers as myth completely displaced the historical Boxers, to the point where even historians, when they wrote on the Boxers, wrote as mythologizers. Third, Cultural Revolution mythologization of the Boxers was orchestrated to an unprecedented degree in the officially controlled press as part of the state's overall effort to establish "ideological hegemony" over society. 1 No longer was it possible, as in the 1920s, for private individuals to mythologize the Boxers in divergent ways. A single standard was imposed on all.
The last point requires further comment. During the first half of the twentieth century, Chinese mythologization of the Boxers had taken place within a generally pluralistic environment. In such an environment the standard for judging "good" mythmaking was how persuasive it was, how effectively it made its point in comparison with competing evocations of the Boxer experience. In an authoritarian setting, such as existed in China in the 1960s and 1970s, it was a quite different matter. The standard for judging good mythologization now was how correct it was politically, how closely it adhered to the government's line. The fact that the state, in these circumstances, became the sole arbiter of how the Boxer movement was to be interpreted and that this interpretation became compulsory fare for everyone in society did not, however, mean that the substantive content of Boxer mythologization during the Cultural Revolution was uniformly objectionable to all Chinese. On the contrary, although some unquestionably did find it repugnant, many others, especially perhaps among the young, found it both credible and highly compelling.