I've read a fair amount of Cultural Revolution memoirs and novels. Like the others this story of Jiang's experiences in her early teens is pretty grisly: old folks humiliated and physically abused, children asked to turn against their parents, and a mob mentality ruling everything from the highest reaches of the government to the smallest minds of the neighborhood and school enforcers. The only different is that just a little bit I felt like Jiang doesn't truly get that her privilege (prior to the madness) was a bad thing. That she wasn't a star student because she was inherently good, and that the kids who ended up being red bullies hadn't previously been poor students because they were just stupid. She bemoans the negative effects of her family's wealth and history, but doesn't acknowledge that her family name and fortune had once been just as beneficial as they were now burdensome.
In the epilogue she gets at the big why of the Cultural Revolution and Mao worship:
Many friends have asked me why, after all I went through, I did not hate Chairman Mao and the Cultural Revolution in those years. The answer is simple: We were all brainwashed. p.265
This is the most frightening lesson of the Cultural Revolution: Without a sound legal system, a small group or even a single person can take control of an entire country. This is as true now as it was then. p.266
That's something I've been thinking about, that the people of China acted and believed the way I've seen people in religious communities headed by a charismatic figure do. It's really creepy that a country could be taken over by that type of sycophancy. Is there something to the culture of China that made them vulnerable? Could it happen here? And if it did, what would be the proper response, fight or flight? I'm thinking flight, but isn't one of the first signs that you should leave your country the closing of its borders?
JBeek (not verified)
Sun, 01/02/2011 - 12:16am
You draw out good points in
You draw out good points in your initial response that I think your end questions pull away from a bit. I'm not sure we can get a handle on what the full nature of the cultural revolution was within the broader context of the second half of the 20th century from here, at this time. The cult of Mao as sycophancy writ large is just part of the story, which too often overshadows the greater forces that he rode so successfully. China from Mao to Deng (to indulge in more of the same shorthand) is, it seems to me, the key story of the late 20th century in terms of setting the stage for where we are heading now. Every bit of primary source material is a piece of the puzzle - I think we have a lot more to go before we can tell what the picture is.
Also interesting is the "person of color" tag - presumably she is Han, writing of her time as a member of the dominant cultural/racial majority within her society. Do we really think this perspective is that of a "person of color"? I am interested to see how notions of whiteness adapt in the west in regards to the emerging economic/global-imperialist power of China and India. Already here in the US one hears more and more about "Whites and Asians" vs. "Blacks and Hispanics." But a Chinese girl in China, it seems to me, is "dominant color" or whatever the term would be for "person not of color." If the only definition of "person not of color" is "person of Northern/European descent" then the notion of "person of color" is going to lose meaning as the age of European hegemony winds down.
Sun, 01/02/2011 - 2:29pm
Hey John, Thanks for the
Thanks for the feedback on the nature of China and all that. I read a lot of novels and autobiographies but am woefully uniformed by reliable secondary sources.
As for the PoC tag--that's for my statistics, rather than a descripter. At the end of the year I like to know how many things I read in different demographic categories. I didn't realize when I was building the site that there wouldn't be a difference between how my thesaurus terms display vs. my free tagging.