For years I have seen the trendy books that have out of China with horror stories of the Cultural Revolution, Mao’s (Mao Zedong/毛泽东) rule and Mao’s China. Almost everything I read is about people being killed, losing their property or being mistreated. So I found it interesting that someone is writing about her experiences in Chana and it isn’t horror stories.
We all know that history is written by the winners. Since the era of Deng Xiaoping (邓小平)has never really ended, it is not surprising that Western presses and Chines presses are collaborating on books that make the Cultural Revolution look like a living hell. And there must be those who wonder how China survived so long under Mao since ALL his policies have been reported to be disastrous.
We no longer have such authors as Edgar Snow, who wrote Red Star Over China, Today’s trendy authors not only spew out countless horror stories of the Maoist years, they try to discredit such authors as Snow. - សតិវអតុ
So it was a breath of fresh air to see this blog article about a modern author giving her story of her years living in Maoist China. This article is from Democracy and Class Struggle:
Wang Zheng: “We had a dream that the world can be better than today”
The following interview with Wang Zheng was conducted by the Set The Record Straight (SRS) project.
Wang Zheng is a professor of women’s studies at the University of Michigan.
She is the author of Women in the Chinese Enlightenment: Oral and Textual Histories and numerous research papers, including State Feminism? Gender and Socialist Formation in Maoist China. Wang Zheng brings a feminist perspective to her work.
Wang Zheng is an editor of and contributor to Some of Us: Chinese Women Growing Up in the Mao Era (Rutgers University Press, 2001), a collection of memoirs.
The nine contributors reflect on family relationships, school, neighborhood, workplace, popular culture, and going to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution, and the impact of, as the introduction puts it, “the Mao era’s gender equality policies.”
The essays challenge what the editors call the “dark-age master narrative” of Chinese socialism and the Cultural Revolution in particular.
As the book jacket describes, these writings “shatter our stereotypes of persecution, repression, victims, and victimizers in Maoist China.”
SRS: There are many memoirs being written by people who lived in China during the socialist years, or “the Mao era” (1949–1976), especially about the Cultural Revolution decade. What compelled the writing of Some of Us?
Wang Zheng: This book is collective memoirs by nine authors, all from the People’s Republic of China. We were all graduate students in this country, and then most of us got teaching positions here. The motivation to do this is that we were amazed by many memoirs published by the Chinese diaspora, people from China.
Those memoirs that were promoted or that achieved the most market success were the ones depicting Mao’s era in China as the “dark age”: terrible, nothing but persecution and dictatorship and killings, all the horror stories, just a one-sided voice. Even though I cannot say they are telling lies, a lot of the stuff is fictional.
Like Anchee Min’s Red Azalea, which was widely used here, even in universities. She claimed it’s autobiographical when she was in the U.S.
But when she went back to China, among all her friends and relatives, all the people who knew her, lived there in that setting, when people asked her about this book, she said it’s fiction. So that’s one point.
That type of autobiography achieves the most market success due to the politics of publication in this country. What kind of books are they promoting in this country? You see that pattern there. They play into this Cold War mentality, still in the U.S., in the West, that capitalist countries are wonderful lands of freedom, socialist countries are terrible,
Communist China, red China was awful, like hell. So they are telling all these horror stories to you. Those books always have the widest circulation, always receive a lot of media attention.
My point is not that persecution disasters did not happen. Our point, I just want to say, is that China is so big, with a population of one billion. We have different social groups, and different social groups experience even the same historical period differently. As Chinese, when we read those memoirs, we don’t share a lot of their experiences.
Whatever their experiences, even if it’s true, it’s not our experience. I found out in my peer group of all these Chinese women that we shared the same sentiment towards those memoirs. So we wanted to do something. At least we can raise our voices. If they’re telling their stories... what about our stories and our experiences? But our experiences didn’t get told.
So we feel, especially I myself as a historian, that the important thing is not to vindicate anybody; rather, it is to present a complicated picture of history. Also if you look at who wrote all this “condemnation literature,” they are usually people from elite classes.
You really don’t hear the voices of workers, peasant class, those who are in the lower classes, the bottom of society.
How did those people experience Mao’s China, or Communist China? The Communist Party was very complicated, with different factions with different visions of China, different visions of socialism even. People had different visions in the Communist Party. In those years, there were all kinds of people involved in different things and the policies proposed by different people within the Party had different effects.
It was an extremely complicated situation. But in this country, what you hear is just one single voice, condemnation—how the people from the elite classes suffered during those years. That’s a terrible distortion of the larger picture if you believe that’s the truth, the only truth.
SRS: Why did this “condemnation literature” get such play?
Wang Zheng: There was a mass movement to produce victim narratives in the late 1970s and early 1980s in China, a line that was later largely transported to the West along with those Chinese who found an especially lucrative market in the capitalist “land of freedom” to claim the status of “victims” emerging in the post-Mao era. “Thoroughly negate the Cultural Revolution” was a scheme by Deng Xiaoping1 to pave the way for his dismantling of socialism while consolidating political power. It was a way to whitewash or shift attention from his and his associates’ crimes.
After Deng Xiaoping’s call to thoroughly negate the Cultural Revolution, being a victim of the Cultural Revolution was a hot status symbol in China. Chinese intellectuals jumped on this bandwagon to produce narratives of victims. This was sanctioned by Deng Xiaoping, and helped him clear the ideological ground for staging neo-liberalism and social Darwinism to accompany the rise of a capitalist market economy.
In the process, they have retrieved their power and privileges that had been reduced in the Mao era, especially in the Cultural Revolution. Those who dare to deviate from the design of the new architect Deng Xiaoping have been excluded from the privileges enjoyed by the new elite if not punished with imprisonment.
SRS: One of the stories in your memoir is about when you first came to the U.S., you heard a woman describe her daughter as a cheerleader and your reaction to that.
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