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China. The government forbade a full examination of the Cultural Revolution, sending socialism into a useful oblivion.

The Cultural Revolution, collective memory and economic liberalization

Oblivion, unrepeatable, a memory shared but probably not “collective.” Resurgence stuck in successive lives, pain, anger, misunderstandings, fights, collisions, strongholds, wounds, victims and many dead. The ways to define the world rotating around the Cultural Revolution are many, yet China still hasn’t contributed to creating that “collective memory” mechanism necessary to ensure that the event can be understood and discarded by future historic solutions.

This has happened because the Party has placed a stone over the events, throwing an entire population forward head first because the “New China” had to be created. And today there’s a lot to consume, buy, develop and forget. Move forward, it doesn’t matter how. The important thing is that the Party is unified, that the chaos is not repeated.

China advances. The “Chinese dream” doesn’t need memories. The document “Resolution on some issues related to our Party’s history, from the foundation of the Chinese People’s Republic” approved in the plenary session of the 11th Central Committee of the CPP on June 27, 1981, indicates the way to interpret, from there until today, those events gathered around the ‘Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.”

It’s an interpretation that will contemporaneously become “collective memory” and historical information. The Communist Party’s decision establishes a few key concepts: In the first place, the events we call the Cultural Revolution has been cataloged as the “lost decade.” The Party has decided that the duration of the phenomenon was until 1976 (and we will see why the temporal choice will become a strong position in interpreting the facts); in second place, the Cultural Revolution was what Mao wanted.

It includes an “excuse”: Given the fact that Mao, during those years, was already old, the document allows understanding that the old leader was no longer able to distinguish between friends and enemies; finally, the Cultural Revolution was a mistake and a period of chaos that must never be repeated.

What interests us is the evaluation of the Cultural Revolution. Associating the two periods, the one between 1966 and 1969 and the one following them (which goes up to 1976, to Mao’s death and to the successive elimination of the “Gang of Four” and Deng’s return to power) means to superimpose two totally different historical moments. In fact, those who interpret the Cultural Revolution as the extreme attempt to save the party — and the country — from the bureaucracy (that would have, after that, supported the capitalist process, besides restoring Mao at the center of the Party’s political scene), sets it in a precise period: from 1966 (particularly from May 1960 until when Lin Biao, in 1969, sanctions the end of the Cultural Revolution). This is also because, as observed by a few historians, traces of trials against former Red Guards could still be found even after 1976, and even in 1983.

But another process is underway. The 1981 document ends up sanctioning an imposed reading, which has influenced the entire production after it, from the “scar literature” up to the wide range of interpretations present today on the web, in spite of the fact that the argument is among those “censored” by the Party’s diligent officials. There’s much talk about a removal of what has happened, but it’s not exactly like that. There’s a historic literature in which the victims, the torments and the injustices are mixed, including the millions of young people sent to the countryside, where the farmers didn’t even want them.

The memory is fresh, but a collective reflection, guided by politics and intellectuals, capable of allowing a reflection over the events of the past, as happened with Nazism in Germany, is lacking. The Chinese oblivion, if we want to define it that way, seems to be functional for today’s Chinese capitalist development, dominated by the Communist Party’s centrality. In a book titled Landscape of the Chinese Soul: The Enduring Presence of the Cultural Revolution (Karnac, 2014), the interviews with various generations of Chinese people and their representation of those events confirms it.

The Party’s official position has ended up marking any interpretation related to the events, weakening the memory of all the elements that might have allowed overcoming that period. The interpretation becomes univocal and represents an oblivion, instead of a conscious reflection.

It means canceling the past, as if by putting it away it might disappear.

As the authors observe, according to sinologists and expert psychologists who examine the oblivion of historic events and their impact on the successive generations, “the 1981 document was an attempt not only to legitimize the new leadership but also to put an end to the internal conflicts afflicting the country. The explanation of the ‘10 chaotic years’ as a conflict between the internal elites and the masses was so convincing that it was perpetuated in popular history, in literature and in autobiographical works. The image was convincing also for the West, because it immediately appeared as being ready to confirm the assumption of the failure of socialism and the Orientalist approach in considering an irremediably despotic East.”

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