(p. A5) A fur coat that kept a family’s three children warm at night, seized and still in the home of their tormentors. A 5-year-old’s finger, broken while fleeing from the scene of a terrifying beating. A stone memorial in a village to a “good” family that was largely wiped out.
These are some of the things readers recalled when asked how their families were affected by the Cultural Revolution, a decade of political upheaval unleashed by Mao Zedong half a century ago that left a million or more in China dead and many more traumatized. In dozens of responses, the message was clear: People remember. Families talk. The imprint of old fears remains. Those who suffered teach their grandchildren that it is safer to work hard and keep quiet. “The Cultural Revolution is over,” wrote Huang Xin, a reader from Hohhot, Inner Mongolia. “But the Cultural Revolution is never far away.”
Here is a selection of the responses. Some have been condensed and edited for clarity, or translated from Chinese.
. . .
Jonathan Yang, 32, New York
As a first-generation Chinese American, I heard at great length about my mother’s struggles to survive her “bad upbringing” (wealthy) and how her family was decimated when she was 8 years old. Growing up in work camps, her adolescence was robbed and although she was lucky enough to escape China under political asylum under Nixon’s open-door policy, the trauma of the revolution lingers in her to this day.
Her stories captivated me. However, they did not seem real because we were never taught how horrendous China’s history was in school. We were taught relentlessly about atrocities such as slavery and the Holocaust, but somehow China’s dark past never seemed to be part of our education. To say this is a disservice is an understatement. Americans for the most part have no idea how heinous Mao’s regime really was. The sheer numbers as compared to slavery and the Holocaust are at least tenfold. Yet there is no memorial, no education. It is almost as if this history does not matter.
For the full story, see:
“After Half a Century, the Imprint of China’s Cultural Revolution Is Still Deep.” The New York Times (Tues., MAY 17, 2016): A5.
(Note: ellipsis added; bold and italics in original online version.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date MAY 16, 2016, and has the title “Readers Respond: The Cultural Revolution’s Lasting Imprint.” Where there are differences in the versions, the passages quoted above follow the online version.)