Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Children of the Storm

by Jess Row

New Republic
November 9, 2010

China’s Cultural Revolution—the murderous political and social upheaval initiated by Mao in 1966 and concluded by his death ten years later—is sometimes described as the most perplexing historical event of the twentieth century. The world outside China is still, forty years later, only beginning to understand it. The problem is not a lack of available evidence, but the absence of a single narrative frame—a problem that goes all the way back to Mao himself, who kept changing his mind about what kind of “revolution” he wanted, with catastrophic consequences every time he opened his mouth.

The plainest solution, which most observers in the West have adopted by default, is to focus, and quite properly, on the Revolution’s horrific results: the tens or perhaps even hundreds of thousands killed, maimed, or driven to suicide; the innumerable cultural relics destroyed; the denial of education and a meaningful childhood to an entire generation of citizens; the outbreaks of mass savagery, including the well-documented cannibalizing of “class enemies” in one province, comparable to the worst state-sponsored crimes of the Khmer Rouge or the Rwandan Hutus. This impression is largely amplified by the novels and the films about the period that have found a wide audience in the West, from Farewell My Concubine to Xiu Xiu, The Sent-Down Girl to Ma Jian’s recent Beijing Coma.