When I was back in Munich recently, I met an old friend whose father worked at the Hungarian embassy during the Cultural Revolution. His matter-of-fact account of what he could see from his apartment window was only out of the ordinary because it came from someone who no longer has any active, or academic, interest in that period, but who could, nevertheless, relate events as if they had happened only yesterday.
His window looked out onto Tiananmen Square and he recalled how he watched trucks full of Red Guards rolling past with an occassional hapless individual, with a sign around his or her neck, in the middle of them. Interesting information from someone who had been there and got the t-shirt, but had never read the book.Should the historians tell the story, their credibility might suffer somewhat should their narrative be substantially different. At least for as long as people like my friend are around. Of course, similarly it might be thought that it is difficult for someone to tell all and sundry that they are living in their own house, when some old lady can hold up the keys to that house, which she was forced to leave at gunpoint. The reference there is obvious, but back to the China narrative and fast speed forward to 1989.
At the moment, I am reading Louisa Lim’s ‘The People’s Republic of Amnesia’ . Her narrative is based on testimony given by people who directly experienced the events of May and June 1989 and who were affected by them. An ex-PLA soldier talks about his first deployment to Tiananmen and how they had to return to barracks because their paths to the square were blocked by students and citizens who “tried to employ reason against the use of force” (Lim:11). And then it is fast forward again, but this time to 2011 and an English colleague in China telling me why he likes living in Beijing. The
Of course, that was in 2011 and, as my recent stint in China informed me, in four years a lot can change and there is evidence to suggest that today the truth narrative is as unwelcome in China as it was during the Cultural Revolution and that the ability or willingness to deal critically, not only with the ten years from 1966 to 1976, but also with the preceeding and following years, has actually decreased. History is, once again, being re-written, it is being selectively and subjectively sourced, and everything is just hunky-dory in a pseudo-Marxist country which apes a growth model that is completely based on the most blatant contradictions in capitalism, and which inevitably lead to the pursuit of ridiculous geopolitical goals that are based on a mythical past.
As indicated in the second paragraph, the phenomena of re-writing history and conjuring up some mythical past in order to achieve Machiavellian political goals is not unique to China and elsewhere there also exists some very strange concocted notions to give the state its “raison d’État”. Moreover, the oxymoronic “Jewish Democracy” founded on a mythical “land without people for a people without land” might be at least as absurd as China’s Xi Jinping contending that China is a Marxist country.
Nevertheless, it is with China that this post began and it is where it will end by returning to Lousi Lim’s book which is a welcome countermeasure to the “2 + 2 = 5” version of history being pursued by Beijing today. Moreover, while it might also serve as a wake up call for those followers of myths elsewhere, it is what is happening in China that might push us all into the abyss sooner rather than later. The first step, therefore, is to provide a voice to those isolated by the truth, and Ms Lim’s book does that.