Breaking the silence on China's 'Great Revolution'

The 1966-76 Cultural Revolution is a history too long and too tragic to fully conceal.

    A subway passenger stretches as she waits in front of a poster showing a Cultural Revolution-era image [Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images]
    A subway passenger stretches as she waits in front of a poster showing a Cultural Revolution-era image [Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images]

    Being honest was my mom's biggest regret. It was her truth-telling that cost her the only chance to attend university. 

    It was in the midst of the "Great Cultural Revolution" when school and university were practically halted, but not completely. My mom had just finished two years of senior high school. Chinese, math, physics, political science and English were taught.

    But for most of the time, students were told to toil in the fields alongside farmers, or to weld away in the factories next to "great proletarians". 

    When Fudan, one of the best universities in China, came to recruit freshmen from her commune, my mother was recommended and thrilled. She was so caught up in the excitement that she didn't realise she wasn't exactly qualified, since she had only just graduated from high school. Fudan wanted candidates to have two years of work experience before enrolment. 

    In such a chaotic era, she could have easily lied - but she didn't and as a result, lost the chance at higher education forever. 

    READ MORE: Remembering China's Cultural Revolution

    My parents were both from the countryside. Their peasant blood vaulted them to the top of the caste system back then. High-ranking officials and intellectuals were targets of the persecution at that time.

    Chairman Mao Zedong wanted the masses at the bottom of society to challenge their teachers, superiors and, most importantly, those who were well-educated. 

    My parents and their parents didn't go through the inhumane torture seen in the books and movies. All they did was chant slogans on public class struggles and recite excerpts from Mao's Little Red Book.  

    However, they were no less victims compared with those who lost property and freedom - they lost the chance to receive an education. When the late Chairman Deng Xiaoping decided to reverse the revolution, it was 1978. I was born that year. Colleges and universities started to enrol new students again, but it was too late for my mom.

    Cultural Revolution: An anniversary China wants to forget 

    My father, meanwhile, in order to change his fate of forever ploughing the rice paddies, chose to join the army and was stationed in one of the coldest provinces in China. He is a very intelligent man, but again he had no chance to receive a higher education.

    Joining the army was the only way to change his life. However, this meant that my parents were separated for 14 years. They saw each other twice a year. I still don't know how they did it, in a time without smart phones or computers. They didn't even have a regular phone. 

    That's why most of my friends and I grew up in the shadow of "tiger moms" - they cherish the idea of being able to go to school and receive formal education for their only children. (China's one-child policy started in 1978).

    To achieve and hold on to their long-cherished dream, they made sure their kids stay at the top of the class.

    The Great Cultural Revolution is only part of the Communist party's rule. After 10 years, suddenly Deng Xiaoping moved everything back on track. He did thiby opening up society and reforming it, but the mindset influenced by decades of communist reign remains, especially in my parents' generation. 

    My parents are great optimists at heart but they still worry about a lot of things. When I was in college, my mom feared that one day the party would send all the young students to the countryside, like they did in the 1950s.

    She sometimes worries about my safety because of my job even though I've reassured her constantly that there is nothing to fear. When I was writing this blog, she told me: "Are you writing something? If so, do not mention my name."

    As a matter of fact, "do not mention my name" is something that I've heard a lot during my work. People in China are afraid of talking publicly, even about non-political topics.

    They always fear someone is going to retaliate for what they say, or they are at risk of being summoned by government officers. They cannot be blamed for living in a country that had so many people persecuted for speaking their minds.

    When a country has an untold number of people victimised for expressing their thoughts - that becomes a scar on all who live in China. I hardly blame their reluctance.

    Fifty years have passed since the Communist party's central committee passed the "May 16th Notice", which was drafted by Chairman Mao. The notice is considered to be the official starting point of the Cultural Revolution.

    Unlike the bloody Tiananmen Square crackdown on student pro-democracy protests on June 4, 1989, 10 years of the "Great Cultural Revolution" is a history too long and too tragic to fully conceal.

    Plenty of books, studies and films exist on the subject.

    Still, there's no official statistics on exactly how many people died or were persecuted, and there are no national memorials or museums to commemorate the deceased.

    May the people of this land remember - and be remembered.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera



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