Memory as History

“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/

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