Archive for February, 2011

Memory as History

Sunday, February 6th, 2011

“The narrator looks for objective history, but he must submit to fiction as the only way to retrieve the past. The resulting narrative is revised while being told.”1

Is there really an objective history of the Cultural Revolution? Here was an event that influenced virtually everyone in China, yet no two people had exactly the same reaction to it. And as we move farther from that time, new generations are adding their own historical perspectives and ideas about what happened while their parents or grandparents were younger. Therefore, there really isn’t a coherent “memory” of the Cultural Revolution itself. Xiaojun’s inability to recount his story as it “actually happened” mirrors China as a whole’s struggles to recall and make sense of those ten years on a national level. The history of the Cultural Revolution didn’t end with the end of the Cultural Revolution itself, but continues to evolve as time moves on and people come to terms with what happened. Any fictionalizations are not inherently “wrong,” just a part of that changing narrative.

  1. Yomi Braester, “Memory at a Standstill: From Maohistory to Hooligan History”, 198/

Examining Posters

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

This 1987 poster reads “Less births, better births, to develop China vigorously.” The Chinese government became much more serious about the One Child Policy in the 1980s, and this poster was certainly part of that message. The government wanted people to believe that having fewer children would benefit the country as China moved towards modernization and prosperity. In other words, having fewer children was a patriotic duty.

The poster presents a family that the Chinese government presumably thought those who saw the poster would want to emulate. The parents are young, healthy-looking (or vigorous, as the caption suggests), dressed well (and western), and smiling. His hand on her back and the mother’s arms around her child lend them the aura of an affectionate family. And the father is carrying what looks like it could be a book, perhaps a symbol of education or business success. Both of the adults are depicted in motion, suggesting the forward moving trajectory of the country itself. The fact that the child is on her mother’s shoulder is important too because that indicates how the parents are investing themselves in her to help her reach higher. The toddler’s red shoes are the only red images on the poster aside from the text, but they are a subtle reminder that China itself will rise with this generation if parents act responsibly. The fact that child is a daughter could also mean that the government wanted parents to welcome girls as much as they would welcome sons and to give them the same opportunities to thrive that boys receive.

The background is a bit strange; the family looks as though they are going for a stroll through outer space. Space itself is futuristic I suppose, so it may be indicating the future and the bright tomorrow of China. And there is that little sun tucked away in the upper right hand corner. I almost missed it because it’s not red the way it often seems to be in Chinese artwork, but it is there and positioned in such a way that the little girl’s arms are almost reaching for it. This is a family ready to lead the way to a brighter future for China!