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我對「文革/紅衛兵」的看法
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0.  前言

老同學陳雍兄寄來一段文字(他的筆名是:陳思永);電郵的標題是:《楊渡看怎麼寫文革》(請見本欄第二篇文章)。由於思永兄用了引號,想來那段話是楊先生的觀點。讀了楊先生高見,禁不住把我過去一些看法略加整理,草成此文。

我對「文化大革」有一定的興趣,但沒有研究過它。事件一開始發生時,我是即將畢業的大學生;忙於申請獎學金和入學許可,以及準備留學考之外,當時台灣的資訊和新聞管道有限;在報紙上看到的報導,多多少少都經過藍色眼鏡過濾或加工。出國後也沒有太多機會關注它。

後來每當看到有人提及「文革」或「紅衛」,我總有些不成熟的想法浮上腦海。它們當然缺乏研究工作的支撐(1)。以下看法綜合了:2006年在【中時電子報】 >> 【新聞對談】上,我就一位James網友《文革四十年,平民與貴族》系列所做回應(2)2012年在【保釣論壇】和朋友的對話;以及多年來斷斷續續就這個議題進行的思考。在此跟大家分享,也請指正。

1.  
「文革」與「紅衛兵」

有些人認為:以時間長短而論,紅衛兵和文化大革命是兩個事件,應該分開討論。我沒有功力判斷這個看法是否成立。我的淺見是:相對而言,「紅衛兵事件」時間雖然不長,但沒有它鋪天蓋地的聲勢,和深、廣、與嚴重的破壞和傷害,本質上屬於宮廷鬥爭的「文革」,可能不至於給大家留下今天的深刻印象,也可能不至於有它今天的歷史比重。我的意思是:一般人對「文革」的刻板印象,其實來自早期的「文革 + 紅衛兵」,而不只是後期或單純的「文革」。從而,本文將以「文革/紅衛兵」做為討論對象。

2.  
分析的層次/角度

「文革/紅衛兵」這樣一個全國性、大規模、深入基層的浪潮,主要動因自然不會僅僅是毛主席的魅力或號召。當時還沒有手機和社交媒體呢!楊渡先生列舉了以下四項因素:

1)  
「領袖的指示」
2)  
「上層的政治鬥爭」
3)  
「民間的內部矛盾」
4)  
「各地派系的衝突」。

我相信它們很可能概括了所有「結構性」因素。

「文革/紅衛兵」事件源自毛澤東奪權的「陽謀」殆無疑義,但到了紅衛兵騷動後期,或它普及/上綱到大規模武鬥,自然是楊先生以上列舉的2-4三個因素起了作用。我在一篇中曾談到「文化大革命」,摘錄於下(該文「附註」30)

從政治社會學的角度分析,「文化大革命」可看成是「中國共產黨」內的「左傾盲動主義」者,在被打成「非主流派」後,勾結「槍桿子」和利用群眾來發動「人民民主政變」的奪權行為。但它所以弄得風起雲湧、不可收拾,成為「嚴重錯誤」,一部分原因是民眾「打著紅旗反紅旗」,為自己的反抗或宣洩取得「正當性」。在字面上看起來自相矛盾的「打著紅旗反紅旗」,卻如實的描述了「文化大革命」的本質 -- 「兩面紅旗的故事」。也就是:「群眾打著『文化大革命』的紅旗,反『人民民主專政』的紅旗」(3)

以下進一步補充一、二。

2.1 
行動能力

我接受「個人觀方法」;因此,我相當注意:個人以及她/他的「行動能」在社會現象和/或歷史事件中,所扮演的角色(4) 

就紅衛兵來說,大部分青年在響應毛主席號召以外,應該有不在少數的青年學生出於自己對當時現狀的反應或反抗:前者是借任何機會出口鳥氣;後者是「打著紅旗」來攻擊任何權威。

因此,我認為:要全面和深入的了解「文革/紅衛兵」,在楊先生提及的「結構性」因素之外,研究者需要對當時中國人的心理狀態,做個一般性的素描與分析。

2.2 
人性

楊先生有以下這段評論

「是什麼樣的政治運動,足以動員出人性中最極端的惡,使人互相傷害,互相殺伐,至死不休。那是要多大的恐懼,多深的仇恨,才能爆發出來呢?為什麼文革可以一夕之間,激發出人性之惡?」

我不是倫理學家也不是心理學家,自然沒有資格對「善」、「惡」、和「人性」做任何權威性的論斷。但根據我對基因學和社會學的一些基本常識,我認為:「善」、「惡」是一對約定成俗的「價值判斷」概念。從而,兩者跟基本上屬於生物科學領域的「人性」這個概念,沒有邏輯關係或任何其它關係。換句話說用「善」、「惡」來形容「人性」,不只缺乏理論基礎,而且是一種範疇錯誤」。

紅衛兵動亂時期人們的行為,在中外歷史上都有先例;我認為和法國大革命恐怖統治時人們的表現應該相去無多(也請參考時間)

因此,我相信:「文革/紅衛兵」動亂和「人性」無關是在沒有遊戲規則的情況下,「政治」活動或任何爭權奪利行為必然呈現的場景。如果與「人性」有關,並不能歸之於「人性」的「惡」;而是在一個人們普遍信奉「叢林法則」的社會中,來自演化過程經驗所產生的結果。它不過是我們每天在社會新聞中,讀到情殺,仇殺,謀財害命這類情節的國家級版本

2.3 李一哲事  

我認為要談「文革/紅衛兵」,就不能不談197411月《關於社會主義的民主與法》這篇大字報(李一哲 1976)。它是李正、陳一陽、王希三位聯合執筆,以「李一哲」署名發表。由於紅衛兵動亂導致失學,當時李就讀大學;陳、王兩位就讀高中。但李正天出生於1942、王希哲出生於1948、陳一陽則出生年代不詳;這是他們三位的「學歷」和他們大字報所表達思想深度不成比例的原因。這篇文章寫得有聲有色,我曾引用過其中一句一針見血的(該文3.3.3 -a小節)

我相信李一哲的大字報表達了上一世紀60-70年代大多數中國人民的心聲。我要特別強調的是:和天安門事件一樣,「民主」只是一面戰鬥旗幟;不同的人有各自不同的訴求。她/他們真正想打破的是:獨裁政治所帶來令人窒息的社會現實;例如:官方謊話、全面壓制、分配不公、以及黯淡的前途等等。

3.  歷史教訓

如果我們了解「文革/紅衛兵」不只是中共內部的「權力鬥爭」,它也包含人民的另類「反抗」行為。我想我們可以把它看成一個「歷史教訓」:

3.1  
社會穩定

人民憤怒到忍無可忍時是非常可怕的;所以,千萬不要再搞一次「官逼民反」或「官鼓動民反」。

3.2 
制度化

有遊戲規則的權力轉移是政治穩定的先決條件。因此,不論習總書記對中國的建設和國際地位提升有多大貢獻,如果廢除「任期制度」在他退休/過世後導致動亂,他將成為歷史罪人。

3.3 讀書人的角色

由於「文革/紅衛兵」包含人民的反抗,而人民也著實承受了許多錯誤政策造成的苦難,所以千錯萬錯,「文革/紅衛兵」的錯不在「打著紅旗反紅旗」的老百姓;錯在毛澤東,以及之前那些不站出來替老百姓要個說法的官員和讀書人。這是中國讀書人之恥(5)。將來一定要在歷史書上說清楚

4.  極左派對文革的評價

有些極左派到今天還把毛主席與「文革」奉為「神主牌」。

雖然俾斯麥是第一個推動社會福利的政治家,但他的目的在維護普魯士王權。他其實是個大反動派;不過,我們應該有不以人廢言的風度和理性態度。他曾說過一段我認為相當有智慧的話(6)

「一個人如果20歲前不相信社會主義的話,他沒有良心;如果這個人過了20歲還相信社會主義的話,他就沒有大腦。」(7)

「文革」亦可作如是觀。

5.  
結論

我並不「全盤」否定「文革/紅衛兵」,我認為這個運動能搞遍全國,其中一個因素是老百姓和青年學生們對當時狀況的反應或反抗。


附註:

1.  
「研究工作」在此指:問卷調查;一定數量參與者的「回憶」記述;一定數量參與者的「口述歷史」訪談;以及對參與者背景統計性的分類和分析等等。
2.  
此網站已經被《中國時報》關閉。
3. 2006
年在《中時》上看到一篇觀點和此處類似的評論;上述James網友大作標題中的「平民與貴族」應該也是來自相近的思路。James網友是親身經歷了「文革 + 紅衛兵」運動的大陸朋友;希望他會繼續思考和分析這個課題。
4.  
對「行動能力」比較詳細的闡釋請見此;也可參考拙作《淺談「社會結構」和「人的『主動性』》。
5.  
(三家村諸君子)梁漱彭德等人在外。由於從小住在台灣,我對大陸情況並不清楚。我相信大陸有風骨、有氣節、有理想的讀書人非常多。以上四位是我常聽家父提及,印象比較深的代表性人物。
6.  
所謂「有智慧」,是基於我把下面這段翻譯中「社會主義」這個概念詮釋為「社會主義的經濟政策」。我支持做為「政治理想」的「社會主義」。
7.  
有的版本是「30歲」,我沒有花時間考證;因為「年齡」不是這個觀察的重點。

參考資料:

李一哲 1976,侯立朝評註,《李一哲大字報全文:關於社會主義的民主與法制》,中國大陸問題研究所,台北。



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胡卜凱

此節目的三位與談人分別是程揚揚博士董玥教授周澤浩博士(本欄上一篇貼文)我不知道她/他們三位的背景是什麼(請使用以上超連接)當然更不可能知道三位的背景對她/他們思路和觀點有多大影響。但是,我相信三位的意見值得參考看看。

博士開場白中關於歷史教訓部分和開欄文觀點相通。她在節目快節束時談到群體主義(該文1.1-3)小節博士collectivism)段評論可以這篇拙作提及的XX中心論」自我定位和「認同政治」參看。有空再詳細分析造成它們具有拐杖功能的心理需求。

這個對談節目在最後討論到何以文革演變成全國性事件,可參考;並能補開欄文不足之處

由於我對文化大革命這個議題不是非常有興趣,略誌數語於此,以後再行申論。

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中國人如何看待文化大革命? - J. Chang/M. Chakrabarti
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胡卜凱

由於下文為談話紀錄轉為文字稿我自行修正其中幾處筆誤如果有錯責任在我。稍後刊出簡要評論三體》為劉慈欣先生大作Netflix根據它拍成電影影集

附註:

3 Body Problem:小說和電影三體此電影名稱借用物理學術語三體互動問題
Great Leap Forward大躍進


China’s divided memory of the Cultural Revolution
 
Jonathan Chang/Meghna Chakrabarti, 04/09/24

The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, commonly known as the Cultural Revolution (
文化大革命), was a socio-political movement that took place in the People's Republic of China from 1966 through 1976. (Pictures from History / Contributor via Getty Images請至原網頁參看圖片)

"3 Body Problem," a Netflix adaptation of the popular Chinese sci-fi novel by the same name, is causing controversy in China for its depiction of the Cultural Revolution.

How do the Chinese people see this crucial period of their history? Today, On Point China’s divided memory of the Cultural Revolution.

Guest

Yangyang Cheng, fellow and research scholar at Yale Law School's Paul Tsai China Center. Frequent columnist on Chinese politics and U.S.-China relations.
Madeleine Dong, professor in the history department and the chair of the China Studies program at the University of Washington.

Also Featured

Zehao Zhou, researcher at York College of Pennsylvania, whose interests include East Asian history and the Cultural Revolution.

Transcript

Part I

MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI: The new Netflix series ‘3 Body Problem’ is an adaptation of the popular Chinese science fiction novel by Liu Cixin. Episode one begins in 1966 Beijing at Tsinghua University.

(SHOUTING) (
放映三體電影片段)

“Root out the bugs,” the crowd shouts. “Sweep away all monsters and demons.”

The scene takes place during China’s Cultural Revolution. A group of Red Guards in uniform dragged a man onto the stage. He's a physicist. He’s wearing worn out clothes and a dunce cap that names his “crimes.”

(CHINESE)

“In your physics course, did you teach the theory of relativity?” the guard asks.

When the physicist responds yes, because relativity is one of the fundamental theories of physics, another guard calls him a liar. Saying quote, “Einstein went to the American Imperialists and helped them build the atomic bomb.”

Then, the red guard bring his wife, whom they call a “genuine physicist.”

(CROWD SHOUTS)

“With the help of the revolutionary youth, it has become clear to me,” she says. “I want to stand on the side of the people.”

Even as one of the guards strikes her husband, the wife continues to denounce her husband for teaching the Big Bang Theory. After the interrogations, the guards continue to beat the physicist. Eveneutally, he falls down and dies. The crowd goes quiet. And in that crowd – the physicist’s daughter, Ye Wenjie, who watches her father’s death in heartbreak and horror.


That opening scene of ‘3 Body Problem’ may be one of the most viewed depictions of China’s Cultural Revolution outside of China in recent years. And it’s caused quite a controversy inside China … with many viewers calling it a western attempt to smear Chinese history.

For Zehao Zhou, those scenes aren’t so farfetched. Zhou was just 11 years old, when the Cultural Revolution began in 1966.

ZEHAO ZHOU: Waves of red guards repeatedly stormed my neighborhood of Shanghai over a period of weeks, terrorizing the innocent, ransacking homes, and parading their victims through the streets for the purpose of public humiliation. And I heard screaming and cries for help. And they ran out all around me, and nearly every household in my neighborhood was subject to that abuse.

CHAKRABARTI: Zhou says that the “struggle session” depicted in that opening scene was commonplace in his young life. And he saw many in his own neighborhood … though they carried some differences from the show’s depictions.

ZHOU: In the opening scene, where the physicist seemed to be keeping arguing back, he was retorting, and that to me was not common. You know, most people would be silent, because the more you talk back, the more beating you would invite. The other thing that I found very interesting was the wife denouncing the husband. To a small extent, there were a few individuals that would denounce the spouse to protect themselves or to protect the children.

But more often than not, the denunciation came from the heart. They really believed that their loved ones were guilty of the crime charge. I watched a grandson denouncing his grandfather. He was a mega banker grandfather. Hiding notebooks about family history of his notes, against the regime, but he decided to come out and to denounce his grandfather in public.

CHAKRABARTI: Today, Zhou is a researcher in East Asian History and the Cultural Revolution at York College of Pennsylvania. It’s been more than a half century since the Cultural Revolution began; Zhou says that decade of pain continues to affect his country.

ZHOU: The government had enforced a collective amnesia. I ran into many people who were the victims of Cultural Revolution, but they didn't know what was going on. They would still admire Chairman Mao. They would still admire Zhou Enlai. And they would think that they mistakenly believed that somehow Mao's era was cleaner, was better, was less corrupt. This country is still dealing with the Cultural Revolution legacy, one day at a time.

CHAKRABARTI: So, today, here's what we're going to do. We're not going to talk specifically or in depth about Netflix’s sci-fi depiction in “Three Body Problem." We're actually going to use it as a way to ask, what are the ways in which the Chinese people themselves see the legacy of the Cultural Revolution? How do they understand this critical period of modern history?

Joining us now is Yangyang Cheng. She’s a fellow and research scholar at Yale Law School's Paul Tsai China Center. She’s joined us several times on the show. And as evidence of how remarkable On Point’s guests are, Yangyang. I also have to tell people that you also have a PhD in physics, and worked for years at the Large Hadron Collider, and the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, so she might be able to comment a bit on the physics depictions in 3 Body Problem, as well! Welcome back to On Point.

YANGYANG CHENG: Thank you so much for having me.

CHAKRABARTI: So first of all, can you walk us through exactly some of the reactions that have been coming out of China, the controversial reactions to the Netflix series?

CHENG: Absolutely. And I feel that I should preface this by saying that Chinese social media is a controlled space, so it's not a perfect reflection of Chinese public opinion. However, it does reflect certain fractions of it, and the control is not just direct censorship, but also in terms of what kinds of messages are being amplified.

And so I'll put it probably in broadly three categories. The first, as you also mentioned, are these kinds of nationalistic critique of how the Netflix depiction of the Cultural Revolution was the West's deliberate attempt to smear China, to show the worst part about Chinese history and the Chinese people to a broader global audience, to fit into these Western imperialist fantasies about China.

The second type of reaction is actually more moderate and it's actually an affirmation of these kinds of depictions. One can critique how the Cultural Revolution was actually being depicted. That the fact that is actually being shown on screen at all is something positive, that is an affirmation of this memory and it's a way for it to not to be forgotten.

And I think both of these two types of reactions is a reflection of how little space there is, not just on Chinese media and in Chinese cinema and TV. But also, in the public discourse in general, to talk about the Cultural Revolution increasingly these days. And the third type of reaction, which I think is more nuanced, is to place that into a broader context of the Netflix series, that the original sci fi novel is a Chinese story, but the Netflix depiction, it has brought most of the setting to the UK, became a Western story.

However, the heroes in a way became Western, but the villains, the most horrific aspects of the depiction that made one of the main characters, Ye Wenjie, lose hope in humanity had remained faithful to the original novel being of the Cultural Revolution. So I think the main point here is that it's not so much whether or not the Cultural Revolution is remembered.

The topic is not entirely taboo in China, even though it's becoming increasingly sensitive, but it's about how it is being remembered, whether it being seen as something exceptional and exclusive to China and perfectly contained to that past into that decade. Or if there are common lessons about humanity, about governance and about power that still applies today.

CHAKRABARTI: And so that's exactly what I want to talk about in much more detail in the show. And I'm very grateful, by the way, that you pointed out that, yes, this story is a Chinese story in terms of the novels. They originate from China's best-selling sci fi novelists. They've been read around the world.

There have been, I think, Chinese based film depictions of the novel as well, which we'll talk about in a minute. But the conversion of that very Chinese story that pulls then Western characters in the Netflix version as sort of the heroes is a point that I can imagine wouldn't go over just that in China.

But Yangyang, do you mind if I ask you, because if I remember correctly, I think in a previous show that you were on with us, you said that your mother was a young girl during the Cultural Revolution?

CHENG: Yes.

CHAKRABARTI: Do you mind if I ask if how she remembers it, if that's ever been a point of discussion between the two of you at all?

CHENG: That is such a great question. So my parents are a bit younger than Mr. Zhou that we just heard from. And so they were too young to participate, and they were just old enough to witness some of it and remember some of it. And so actually, I was thinking about it, coming on this show. When did I first became aware of the Cultural Revolution?

And I feel it's like for us almost as long as I could remember. And then I think my earliest inkling about it was sometime in the mid-nineties when I was still a very young child, and I was going to visit my grandparents and it was in the summer. We didn't have air conditioning at home. So my grandfather was wearing a tank top and I saw there were deep markings on his shoulders.

So I asked my grandfather, Where did those markings came from? And of course, my grandfather was an economics professor. He was an intellectual. So he shouldn't have these kinds of markings of physical labor. And my grandfather just said very lightheartedly to a child, was like, labor, everyone had to labor.

And I think later, my mother gave me a little bit of more context of what that era was, and how intellectuals were all sent down to the rural regions, to the countryside to labor. And how people suspected and reported on each other, calling each other counterrevolutionaries and people were being struggled against.

And so I think for my mother, her main takeaway from that decade in her youth was how politics is dangerous. And so politics and death were the two biggest taboos, was probably one of the first lessons about life that my mother taught me.

And then her take away from also her father's experience was for someone of my grandfather's educational level, a lot of his classmates fared much worse, the ones who are more politically outspoken or active, but because my grandfather was someone who just taught and studied and he actually went through that decade relatively okay in a comparative sense, and that was a very important lesson from my mother, in terms of how one preserves oneself in this kind of society, and that was the lesson she wanted to instill in me, and I guess I was like a more disobedient child.  

Part II

CHAKRABARTI: Joining us now is Madeleine Dong. She's the chair of China Studies at the University of Washington. Professor Dong, welcome to On Point.

MADELEINE DONG: Thank you. My pleasure.

CHAKRABARTI: First of all, I think we would love to collectively learn more about the facts around the Cultural Revolution.

Just prior to 1966 or so, what was the revolt purportedly against? What was the revolution about? The Cultural Revolution.

DONG: Counterintuitively, interestingly, the Cultural Revolution, we might think it was the CCP trying to control the people. But in fact, in many ways, it was the Mao against the CCP establishment. Because after any revolution, when the world was turned upside down, there would be a moment when things would settle and things would, after revolution, would always settle into a new pattern.

So for a revolution of the nature and scale of the Chinese revolution, then what kind of system would it establish? And so Mao saw that the situation in China in the 1960s, after the Great Leap Forward, that huge disaster that ended in a famine, when certain leaders in the party, Deng Xiaoping and Liu Shaoqi in particular, tried their best to reestablish, they restored the economy.

And Mao saw that as dangerous, because they were leading the country into some kind of minor form of capitalism. So and Mao hated the idea of bureaucracy, but for any modern nation state or modern state, as much as we find it problematic, some form of governance would exist. So it became this kind of ideological disagreement of what should happen in this country.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay and remind us just briefly, the Great Leap Forward, what was that?

DONG: The Great Leap Forward started in the 1950s after China completed its first five-year plan, in which it collaborated with the Soviet Union to quickly industrialize China. And it focused on heavy industry and tried to quickly catch up with the level of development of the U.S. and Britain.

So interestingly, communism or Chinese communism and socialism, it was, in fact, a form of developmentalism. It's a socialist development, socialist modernization, but they tried to do it differently in the socialist way and do it quickly. But when they did it, so tried to do it so quickly, through a strictly controlled administrative system, the party control, and over done, overdid the whole economic system, within a really quick time.

Collectivization in agriculture, it ended up in a huge disaster of famine that killed millions, of tens of millions of people.

CHAKRABARTI: And I'm also reminded that we're talking about China also emerging from all that it experienced in the second World War as well, right? Prior to the Great Leap Forward.

So the further back we look in history, the more complex things get, which is actually why we're having this conversation. Yangyang, can you just chime in here? Because when Professor Dong talks about that part of this was Mao's criticism of how leaders like Deng Xiaoping were managing China.

That's actually interesting to me. I had no idea. Do you want to talk a little bit more about that?

CHENG: So I think one way to think about this is a lot of times when the Cultural Revolution in the collective memory now is becoming represented by these abstract symbols like the Red Guards, or it's being seen as some kind of a mass revolt.

But behind this mass revolt, there is an elite power struggle that's happening at the highest levels of the Chinese government. And so some of that is reflected in what Professor Dong just mentioned. That Mao ZeDong was trying to incite the masses, partly it was out of ideological reasons that he was a revolutionary and believed in certain ways that China should be governed.

And on the other hand, it was out of, also out of practical reasons as a way to solidify and confirm his personal power. So he needed this kind of cult of personality.

CHAKRABARTI: Professor Dong, then, so the depiction that we saw in the Netflix series, and I think the one that's most often, if there's any familiarity with the Cultural Revolution in the Western mind, it has to do with this subjugation of the intellectual elite in China.

So can you explain a little bit more about how would you actually describe what the Cultural Revolution was in terms of who was targeted, who were part of the Red Guard, etc.

DONG: So to pick up what we were talking about. So Mao had the idea of a permanent revolution in order to keep a society never from settling into any comfortable sense of new hierarchy or status symbols.

The only way to do it is to have a permanent revolution, and you do it once every few years. And so that was the argument that started, with which they started the Cultural Revolution. But of course, there were hidden intentions. The elite of politics that Yangyang was talking about, there were power struggles among the elites, party elites, but it was not explained to the people clearly.

So the Cultural Revolution is to us today, it's this weird thing that it was started by one person. It was about the elite politics, but then it was also massive. So these two things don't always go together in world mass movements and politics. So how did that happen? So basically, I mentioned that it was Mao against the party establishment and the administration, national administration. So in order to, for Mao to start this movement, he had to have his own forces, his own army. And so he directly, he tried to directly reach to the mass level. And the Red Guards were part of his army. The Red Guards.

CHAKRABARTI: They were young. Right?

DONG: They were young. They were teenagers. Many of them were actually middle school students. But what we need to keep in mind is that they were not your every middle school or high school student. The Red Guards started in the very top elite middle schools and high schools in Beijing. Those were the schools where the top leaders' children went.

So they were sensitive, and they knew the national politics from their parents.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay. So a constant revolution, that is so interesting. And then just to be clear, was the revolution in terms of Mao's vision to, as you said, constantly shake up how the nation was led?

DONG: It's constantly try to keep the country, how the country was led, on the right track. And the right track is, he talked, Mao talked about three big differences, the differences between mental and manual labor. The differences between the countryside and the cities, and the difference between industry and agriculture. And in his view, that when you erase these differences, the differences in these three areas, we reached, we would reach a more ideal society.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay. So that explains the labor. We'll come back to that. Yangyang, so I think Professor Dong has really described this with clarity that makes me have my mind wander back to the United States. A little bit or a lot. In terms of this idea of looking at the entrenched intellectual elite as a source of unfairness, inequity, and wanting to, as she said, erase the differences between mental and manual labor, between city and countryside, et cetera.

Do you see echoes far outside of China when it comes to that way of thinking? That is a difficult question, but it is a very pertinent one, right? And I think one of the ways, one of the misunderstandings about the Cultural Revolution is that it's often being depicted as anti-science, but it was not so much anti-science as it was pursuing a very specific type of, very specific type of science. That when scientific development is driven by very specific ideologies, and the ones that the deviate from it are being struggled against.

And so that is partly tied to what you just mentioned. And Professor Dong mentioned. That scientific development was driven by this egalitarian vision. It's mass proletarian science. As I said, science as a tool of revolution. And if I might turn back to what we saw in the earlier scene of the Netflix depiction, where general relativity, right?

Einstein's theory of relativity was being specifically mentioned as struggled against, and that was actually indeed a particular episode in the Cultural Revolution that I found very illuminating. And where there were these elite scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences who are forced to come together and struggle against Einstein's theory of relativity, including in the late 1960s, when there were border conflicts between China and the Soviet Union. And one of the ideas, the evidence against the theory of relativity was that, Oh, if the Soviet Union shot at us and we shot back, if time is relative, how can we determine who's fired the first shot?

Of course, Einstein was wrong. So it was a certain way to see how science is being seen in this very specific ideological lens, but it was not anti-science per se, but it was more that there was a certain bit fervent belief in the power of a certain type of science that it cannot just bring about mass worldwide proletarian revolution. But can also be used as a tool to struggle against nature, to overpower it.

And there was a certain element of techno utopianism to it as well. And these are lessons that are still highly relevant today when we think about what is the power of science, what is the power of technology, and what is the purpose of development that Professor Dong also mentioned.

CHAKRABARTI: Professor Dong, I see you have some reactions to that.

Go ahead.

DONG: It's a complex issue. I totally agree with Yangyang about the role ideology played in the understanding and practice of science. For example, scientific experimentations were sent down to the level of the workers and the farmers, and some types of local knowledge was emphasized.

For example, using insects to control worms. These kind of experiments, on the other hand, the Cultural Revolution, if it was not 100% anti science, it was in some ways. Just by the little examples that we have shared here, there was a tendency of it being anti-scientific spirit, because the scientific spirit is, or the principle is about that you have to be objective, that when you do experimentation, it really has to be about experimentation, is not about ideology.

And with the techno utopianism together with that, it came with this idea of in Chinese, what they called Ren Ding Shen Tian (
人定勝天), the human will win over nature, which was the spirit that guided the earlier, Great leap forward that ended up in a famine. And so out of the Cultural Revolution state encouragement of that type of scientific practices came something like the mass science.

So that did exist, but it existed at the same time in contradiction with an understanding and practice of modern science and the scientific spirit and principle.

CHAKRABARTI: Interesting. Tell me if this is a stretch too far, but when you talked about the emphasis on the human will overcoming nature, this concept of will being so powerful.

It reminds me of some of the language that came out of Nazi Germany.

DONG: That is a really interesting connection you are talking about, bringing up. Because much of it actually came from the confidence that the Chinese gained through the discourse or representation of their war year experience. That look, we defeated the Japanese in spite of the fact that we know how complicated that history was, and we defeated the nationalists.

They were more powerful and bigger than we were. And then we defeated the Americans, the world's strongest army in the Korean War. And so if we could accomplish these under the leadership of the CCP and Mao, what can't we accomplish? And so Mao actually said economic development, how can it be more difficult than winning wars?

And so this idea of the human will defeat nature. Of course, there were older stories. For example, what is called the foolish old man moving the mountain, which was a text written by Mao, and it was used in school textbooks. And so these old traditional stories were given new meanings and used to elaborate this spirit of the human will.

And of course, that brings us back to this issue of science during the Cultural Revolution. Together with Einstein, Darwin, we cannot talk about evolution either. Darwin has been totally misunderstood, but because revolution existed to defeat evolution, because everyone evolves, every culture, every society moves.

We are all in evolution. And it's at the same speed. And by carrying out a revolution, you're defeating that pace. And you're trying to get ahead.

CHAKRABARTI: Of evolution.

DONG: Exactly. How else do you, the British, the Americans, they're leading already. You're moving forward. They're also moving forward. How do you catch up with them within 10 years, 15 years, and you're going to beat them and become the leader in the world?

You do revolution.  

Part III

CHAKRABARTI: Yangyang, I should have asked this before. And I'm sorry that I didn't, but we've mentioned
(鬥爭大會) several times in this conversation.

I think it's worth talking about them in a little bit more detail so that we all understand what it is exactly we mean when we say struggle session. So first of all, what was your thought on the depiction of the struggle session that we opened the show with, that opens the whole Netflix series?

CHENG: Actually, so for myself and actually a lot of the reactions on social media as well, the reason it received so much reaction and even objections to it from nationalist Chinese commentators is because how realistic it looked in the scenery. Of course, like Mr. Zhou also mentioned, right? There are very realistic elements.

One, probably a little bit more dramatic effect was how much that professor talked back at the Red Guards. And so that was, but of course it is somewhat for theatrical effects. In fact, some of these struggle sessions did happen in extremely public ways. So it was not just about the physical violence that was important, but also the theater as a way to manifest power.

But some of these also may not necessarily happen out in the open. But may happen in like school auditoriums or in office spaces or these kinds of like playgrounds, or more enclosed spaces. Where it may not focus so much on physical violence alone, but in terms of people were asked to criticize each other and self-criticize.

And so struggle sessions also manifest in different layers.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay. So Professor Dong, then what exactly were the struggle sessions all about? The thing that stood out to me other than the death of the physicist in that scene, was the dunce cap. What was the intent of making people humiliate themselves and even renounce their intellectual livelihoods?

DONG: You're really observant to notice. The dunce cap, of course, it didn't start from China. So you might wonder, where does that come from? So interestingly, it actually came to China through religion through the, I think, Catholic Church, if I'm not mistaken. Of course, the original idea of the dunce cap was not for such a struggle sessions.

It supposedly, I could be wrong, but I actually read about this, that it was put on the head of learning pupils so that they could have a shortcut to knowledge and enlightenment. It would help them to learn and focus, supposedly, I think that might be psychologically the effect. But the dunce cap actually had been used in a mass parade of property owners as early as the 1920s, say during the Northern Expedition (
北伐), this collaboration between the nationalists and the communists to reunite China.

And so it had been used throughout Chinese history, since the beginning of the 20th century, or maybe even the early 20th century, I'd say. But then the struggle sessions. This is really important. Yangyang is totally right that for the theatrical effects. So it raises big questions, of even for us, in any country, any society today, what, why do we need this kind of theatrical effects for political actions?

It creates emotions, right? It drives up the emotions. And when you are one of the hundreds or thousands or tens of thousands of people in the street, in the plaza, you lose that kind of ability to think rationally and critically or under the pressure. You just have to go along, because do you want to be that person on the stage?

So the theatrical effect is really important. And if we look at the political history in modern China, it's in the middle, in the center, very center of every political movement. So if we think about it, it's a political tool.

CHAKRABARTI: Yes.

DONG: And every country uses it, but maybe the Cultural Revolution took it to the extreme.

CHAKRABARTI: And it was a political tool to achieve what? To erase that, the difference between the mental and manual labor?

DONG: It's not for that. It's for, to create a clear line between the people and the enemy. To draw the line, and to, for the effect of you in the audience, figure out, do you want to stand on the right side, quote-unquote, right side of the people, or do you want to end up as an enemy? So this tool had been used in all political movements after 1949, the land reform, the three antis (
三反), the five antis (五反), the counter suppressing the counter (鎮壓反革命運動). So basically, every single movement was, so it's used to draw the line. And mobilize the masses.

The interesting thing about the CCP is that it actually did not want to have a huge enemy.

CHAKRABARTI: Yeah.

DONG: Although it was huge. But drawing the line is important because by doing that, you mobilize the people to join your effort to defeat the enemy.

CHAKRABARTI: That's so interesting. Okay. So Yangyang, with that in mind, why do you think especially, we're talking about a 10 year, roughly 10-year period overall when we'd say cultural revolution, right?

And the part we've been focusing on is the first couple of years, with I say the most visible eruption of what the cultural revolution was all about. But why do you think it seems so popular that what Mao was trying to say and do did capture the imagination of so many Chinese people, especially young people, as far as I understand.

CHENG: I think you're really getting to one of the most central questions here. And I don't think this is a neatly contained, this can be answered in a neatly contained way, right? I think a simple way to say this. One of the main reasons is that he gave a lot of people a purpose.

He made life a lot simpler, because the world is a dangerous place with a lot of complex things. And a lot of complex negotiations. But if the world can be distilled into simply about class struggle, us versus other. About a constant revolution and one's purpose is to be a soldier.

It is actually a very easy way. It gives one easy passage through the complexities of life, especially for the youth. It gives them a sense of not just of duty, but a sense of elevation that they are serving some greater purpose. And that is a very empowering thing.

And so in certain elements, some people who were young during the cultural revolution, they still, or even like among the Red Guards or later the sent down youth, they recognize that was a period of extreme hardship.

But there was also an element of nostalgia when they sometimes, when they talk about that era, because that era, there was purpose, there was ideology, but now it seems like there is a certain adriftness, people are more individualized, life is atomized, and that collectivism is a very powerful tool.

And so I think it is very important to keep in mind how people can be incited and can be led onto different paths, and these are lessons are still extremely relevant today.

CHAKRABARTI: Wow. Most definitely. And Professor Dong, I know you probably want to pick up on that. And I also then want to just talk briefly about the fact that in 1981 there were, I think there was a report in China that came to some kind of interesting conclusion, calling the cultural revolution 10 years of chaos.

DONG: Yeah, it's actually worse than chaos. The word used was actually, I think it would translate more accurately into English as calamity, 10 years of calamity. And I think many people believed that indeed was the case. To answer your question, how did it come to such massive level? And I think if we look at the different age groups, and if we look at people in different status of professions and class status as it was designated by the government.

Maybe we can have some way to look at this. If we look at the early groups of Red Guards who went into the streets to smash things, who beat up the professors, the teachers who killed their school principals. Those were very young people. And that's one thing about modern China and the modern Chinese revolutions, is that the groups involved in those got younger and younger.

We might think of Chinese society as one that respected wisdom, old age, filial piety of the older people, but Modern China reversed that. So by the time of the Cultural Revolution, my generation, I was an elementary school student growing, I grew up during the Cultural Revolution.

And so the elementary school students became a important target for the education. Why is it? If we look at the Red Guards in the early Cultural Revolution, how old were they? They were exactly the first generation of Chinese. ... They were born in the new China and grew up under the red flag.

They were 16, 17, 15-year-olds. And so the education they received emphasized the distinction, the uncompromisable distinction between the enemies and the people. And to the enemies, you treat them with absolutely harshness, and you treat your comrades the opposite way that you sacrifice yourself for them.

So that kind of distinction. So one thing, if we look at the cultural revolution, of course, it involved faction, warfares.

CHAKRABARTI: Right?

DONG: But the two sides would be using exactly the same slogans and ideology. So that is a very puzzling thing, and it's very revealing. And later, after the first stage, the workers, urban people were involved in organizing Red Guards.

And there, there were practical interests involved in China's efforts of quick industrialization. Rural people were brought into the cities as workers, but they didn't enjoy the same pay and same status, same benefits for retirements and welfare. And so you do the same work, but you're paid differently. So there were dissatisfactions there.

And then, the endless and countless political movements since 1949 for every political movement, you will have to redraw the line between enemy and the people. Who wants to be an enemy in that case, right? Under these situations, because it means basically life is over. Your family's life is over. And so there were a lot of resentments at the local level.

And so people used this moment of the Cultural Revolution, which was not a total anarchy, but there were this chaotic moment to settle old scores. And so did everybody believe in the movement? No. Did everybody have to go along with it? Yes. Some scholars used the game theory to explain why such a chaos.

Every individual sort of believed that I have some rationality. I can make some choices to decide, to say whether I would join the Red Guard or not. So if you look at the individual, it's as if individuals made their own decisions and choices. But then on the other hand, if you look at the whole thing, it was a big chaos.

CHAKRBARTI: Yeah. So actually, in the future now I want to apply game theory to understanding political chaos in the United States. Yeah.

DONG: It's the difference between, in theory, everyone in China should be equal. But in reality, there were differences. And so that kind of resentment, that also is also relevant across the world.

CHAKRABARTI: Absolutely. So we unfortunately only have less than two minutes left, but there are two important questions I want to ask. And that means that short answers, and forgive me. But Yangyang, I recently watched a conversation that the author of 3 Body Problem had with the British Library, and he had said originally in the first novel in the series, he wanted to set the whole thing in 1960s China.

But then he spoke to younger people born in the '80s and '90s and they said they didn't really have that much interest. They were, in his words, they weren't as nostalgic about that period of Chinese history as he was. So he decided to push that story into the background. How does that help us understand, really, what do younger Chinese people now think of this important part of their history?

CHENG: I think this is why this is so important to not just see the Cultural Revolution as something that was just contained in the past. And to see something that is still constantly living within us. We are living in the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution, with the afterlives are still haunting us.

One of the examples, if we look at what happened during the COVID-19 lockdowns with these kinds of mass mobilizations, with the usage of loudspeakers, there were a lot of elements about sound and visuals and political actions that are very reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution, including these workers in hazmat suits are being called the white guards.

And so I think that's important for the younger generation in China today to understand that the cultural revolution was not something that just happened in the past, but it's something that is constantly still shaping the present and influencing the future.

This program aired on April 9, 2024.  

Related:

In 'Feeding Ghosts,' Tessa Hulls explores impact of China's Cultural Revolution on her family
'Red Memory' aims to profile people shaped by China's Cultural Revolution
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Jonathan Chang is a producer/director at On Point. More…
Meghna Chakrabarti is the host of On Point. More…


WBUR is a nonprofit news organization. Our coverage relies on your financial support. If you value articles like the one you're reading right now, give today.

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「然而我也深知文革難寫。寫過的人太多了,內容面向豐富,但主題所限,往往離不開政治迫害、政治鬥爭。如果走入舊路,那就可惜了。而文革是如此複雜而多面,特別是我最好奇者,是什麼樣的政治運動,足以動員出人性中最極端的惡,使人互相傷害,互相殺伐,至死不休。那是要多大的恐懼,多深的仇恨,才能爆發出來呢?為什麼文革可以一夕之間,激發出人性之惡?僅僅是用領袖的指示、上層的政治鬥爭、民間的內部矛盾、各地派系的衝突等等,都不足以解釋那全中國各地,全面捲動起來的狂亂仇恨、武鬥死亡。那是多麼複雜的人心與人性啊!」



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