The Corner

On the Cultural Revolution

At the beginning of Impromptus today, I quote a sentence in Max Frankel’s review of Henry Kissinger’s new book, on China (called, in fact, On China). Here is what Frankel, a former executive editor of the New York Times, wrote about the U.S. and the PRC: “Both nations were exhausted from war (Vietnam, clashes on the Soviet border) and domestic strife (antiwar protests in Nixon’s case, the Cultural Revolution in Mao’s).”

I say in my column, “That sentence will sicken anyone who knows about the Cultural Revolution. It was not ‘domestic strife.’ It was one of the most horrifying outbursts of dictatorial cruelty in history. Children were made to beat, torture, and kill their own parents.” Etc.

Would like to share one letter from a reader:

I had a Chinese professor who was the only one in his family of four to survive the Cultural Revolution. When his sister was executed under some political pretense, his parents were presented with the bullet that killed her along with a bill for the bullet. Both parents ended up killing themselves after years of persecution for being part of the educated class. The son, who was intellectually gifted, spent the next eight or so years digging ditches.

He was lucky. Ten years ago, I wrote a piece about an amazing woman named Youqin Wang, who dedicated her life to memorializing the Cultural Revolution. If you’d like to read it, go here. Also, I reviewed a book called Gang of One: Memoirs of a Red Guard. That was in 2004. (For the review — which comes after two others, in a single piece — go here.) The author is a man named Fan Shen. Frankly, his memoirs are among the best I’ve ever read.

I feel like I know a secret — like I know about a masterpiece, hidden from the world. Gang of One is the kind of book that might be read hundreds of years from now. Really. Odd to say, but I feel it true. The publisher is a humble one, the University of Nebraska Press. As far as I’m concerned, they are in possession of a literary, and human, diamond.

I’ve said this many times over the years, but don’t no one listen . . .

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