I’m more than a little annoyed at that article. I was born in West Virginia, grew up in Florida, and even half way around the world, I couldn’t escape the effects of the Cultural Revolution. I grew up in a world without aunts and uncles, and to this day, my view of the world consists of dividing people into a small number of inner family members you can trust, and the rest of the world who is trying to get you. Part of the reason I spend so much energy in academia (and people in Mainland China are spending so much energy in economic development) is that he helps deal with the pain, and there is a lot of pain.
Having said that. The problem with history is that people see things in different ways. During the Cultural Revolution, power was in the hands of the Red Guards, and most of the officials of the CCP were put in jail. The people who led China in the immediate aftermath of the Cultural Revolution were people that had suffered during it, and what they learned (and what I believe) is that the Cultural Revolution is an example of the dangers of a mob, led by one evil man, unchecked by the limits of law and bureaucracy.
If you want me to give a current example of a Cultural Revolution, look at Iraq where there is lawlessness and death squads unchecked by any central power, and where “neoconservative ideology” that we are going to magically create a perfect paradise right now, is playing the same bad role that “Maoism” did in the 1960′s. The lesson I take from both the Cultural Revolution and Iraq is that if you believe in a utopian ideology and are unwilling to listen to other people or the facts, you will create a hell on earth.
What I learned was that social change must be gradual, that strong ideologies are dangerous, that institutions are important, and most importantly *different views must be respected*, because it’s only by debating the issues that you get answers. I have major problems with some Chinese democracy activists because they are remarkably intolerant people. We are right, you are wrong. We are good, you are evil. By contrast, the Communist Party of China really doesn’t believe in anything much in terms of ideology, and is willing to do pretty much anything to stay in power (even if it happens to be the “right” thing), and this means that you actually get real policy debates in the system. To get wikipedia unblocked, all you have to do is to find the “right person” in the Chinese bureaucracy and convince them that wikipedia isn’t a threat to Chinese social stability or the Communist Party (and I don’t think that it is).
These are radically different lessons than the one that Orville Schell takes, and I have great difficulty with his article because he assumes that his view of history is the *right* one, and gives no sense that there are other interpretations with radically different consequences. One nice thing about wikipedia is that the wikipedia article on the Cultural Revolution does go into the different interpretations (and I know since I rewrote the article to include them).
Personally, I’m satistified with the line that the Communist Party has taken on the Cultural Revolution. Something really bad obviously happened to Hu Jintao during the Cultural Revolution, that he doesn’t want to talk about, and the fact that he is quietly dealing with that, is more conforting to me than a loud showy (and meaningless) show of pentience, and it would be just cruel to have him to take responsiblity for whatever that bad thing was. Same for Deng Xiaoping. He was “sent to the countryside” and his son was left a cripple because of the Cultural Revolution, and you want *him* to take responsibility for that. That’s insane.
The really bad people high up, ended up in jail. All of the mid- and low-level people…. Well I think if you talk to them you see in their eyes, guilt and shame, and I’m willing to leave things at that. No one in China dares say anything good about the Cultural Revolution.
For the most part, people don’t want to talk about the Cultural Revolution because no one wants to talk about being in hell. Talk to anyone of that generation and you will quickly notice major scars from that era. Even if they don’t talk directly about anything that has to do with the Cultural Revolution, you see something in their eyes and the way that they move their face. People don’t like to talk about really bad things that happened to them. People *especially* don’t like to talk about really bad things that happened to them if it means that someone else is making some political points.
This worries me a bit since people not talking about the Cultural Revolution will lead to amnesia in the next generation. Part of this involves an issue that I’m working on. I’m a massive bundle of neurosis as a result of the traumas I’ve suffered, and I’m wondered about how to present this all to my children. Part of the reason I’m writing these blogs is that when and if they want to find out, they can.
I’m also writing these blogs because I’m a little tired of “know-it-all” outsiders (like Schell or person who commented on my article “Waiting….”) who come in and try to tell me how I should grieve and how I should deal with the situation. Schell is entitled to state his own opinions, but there is a really strong element of condescension in his article. It’s as if he is saying, I know how to deal with historical trauma better than you Chinese because I’m smarter.
And how does he?