On 16 May, the fiftieth anniversary of the start of the Cultural Revolution, the People’s Daily 人民日报, the mouthpiece of the CCP, published a rare commentary acknowledging the decade-long movement’s errors and costs. Putting quotation marks around the phrase ‘Cultural Revolution’ (a longstanding practice since at least the 1980s), it described the period as ‘a major complication in the development of our Party and country’. The commentary concluded that ‘We must certainly fix in our memories the historic lessons of the “Cultural Revolution” ’.1 Yet attempts online to deliberate those historic lessons, or examine the legacy of the period’s terror and violence — it swept up an entire generation in ideological-driven turmoil, scarring communities, and creating deep rifts in society — met with swift censorship. A Baidu keyword search for ‘Cultural Revolution’ 文革 in May turned up the odd slideshow or piece on historical nostalgia, but no critical discussions or detailed histories of what transpired. The silencing of discussion has affected historical memory — which is, surely, one of the objectives, given the Party’s culpability in the abuses of the period.
Forum: Managing the Past
For Lijiang Old Town 丽江古城, 1 June 2016 was not a happy day. More than 800 hostels, guesthouses, and shops refused to open their doors. They had made a collective decision to protest against the local government’s insistence that they collect an eighty-yuan ‘conservation fee’ 维护费 from foreign and domestic tourists. The shop owners, mainly migrants from other parts of China, complained that the seemingly arbitrary nature of the request was hurting business. The three-day protest resulted in a dramatic decrease in tourist numbers — transforming this popular vacation spot into a ghost town.
In late September 1941, Japanese forces in Hebei surrounded a detachment of the Eighth Route Army and thousands of local inhabitants on Langya Mountain 狼牙山. One company was tasked with drawing enemy attention to allow the main force to slip away along with the civilians. They left a single squad to defend the peak. In the end, five men gallantly held their position to the last bullet, and when the bullets ran out, they threw stones. When they were sure the others had gotten away safely, they chose to leap off the mountain rather than surrender. Three perished, but two survived and made good their escape.