This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China. That episode remains sensitive in China, and like other great transformative events in human history, continues to reverberate in countless ways. It's cultural artifacts have acquired a global dimension--from Mao Zedong's Little Red Book (毛主席语录), to the mythologies of the Red Guards as an archetypal force that saw its pattern repeated across the globe (e.g. here, here, here).Recently Gao Dawei on his blog 高大伟 在美国华盛顿人的博客 published a remarkable essay on the Cultural Revolution first anonymously and then under the author's name, Zhou Ruijin (English) (中国语文) (Text of the article copied from the China Elections and Governance website ). That essay, Reflections on the Cultural Revolution: A Ten Thousand Character Petition (皇甫欣平：文革反思万言书) By Huangfuxinping [Zhou Ruijin 周瑞金 ], harks back to an ancient Chinese practice of presenting such 10,000 character petitions "sometimes at great personal risk, to criticize current policies and suggest a change in thinking." . at . According to that website, the article was published under the pseudonym in China but was removed from many sites shortly after appearing.The essay includes much to think about, not just in the Chinese context, but in any context in which one party, or elite group, has developed a structural basis for its leadership of the state and its governmental apparatus. That applies as much in Marxist Leninist states (to which the essay is directed) as it does in theocratic states (the clerical elite) and Western states (the socio-economic-political elites). To that end, Flora Sapio, Jean Mittelstaedt and I thought it might be worthwhile to add very brief reflections on this essay.
Reflections on Zhou Ruijin, "Reflections on the Cultural Revolution: A Ten Thousand Character Petition"Flora Sapio
"Who are our enemies? Who are our friends?
This is a question of the first importance for the revolution”
Ontological dualism is the tendency to conceive of the world as being divided into rigid and opposed categories: seeing things as being either black or white, good or bad, right or wrong – with the consequent formulation of value judgments about what there is out there, in the real world. The “friend/enemy” mindset may seem to be an abstract, overly-intellectualized construct, yet this idea is productive of tangible effects in the real world. It shapes perceptions, and it conditions behaviors: it dictates how people think about the world, how they behave towards others, how they react to ideas and opinions that differ from their own.
If it seems extraordinary to us, that an idea can have so much power over the minds of the people and the real world, then we'd better stop for a moment. We'd better pause, and observe how those on both sides of the divide the dualist mindset has constructed for them react to difference, whether it be difference in opinion and belief, in invidivual physical and/or non physical attributes. Individual histories provide examples of this dynamic, on a small scale. Collective history provides several tragic examples of such reactions, the Cultural Revolution being only one of them.
In his essay “Reflections on the Cultural Revolution, a Ten Thousand Characters Petition” Zhou Ruijin asks whether the Cultural Revolution was rejected in its entirety. He answers this question in the negative, and then argues for its total rejection by society. At the risk of being unpopular, I believe that the Cultural Revolution cannot, and should not be rejected in its entirety. Beyond all existing academic analyses, the Cultural Revolution represents a collective cultural trauma for the Chinese people. Exactly as individual trauma, collective trauma cannot be 'erased', 'rejected' or 'ignored'– doing so would only read to the repetition of history, whether it be individual history, family history, or collective history. Such a traumatic experience should rather be accepted, re-interpreted, and re-elaborated.
I believe that ideas about why and how the cultural trauma of the Cultural Revolution should be re-elaborated can be shared by non-Chinese authors. China is not the only country to have experienced collective cultural trauma. In the United States, the scars of the cultural trauma produced by the transatlantic slave trade are still visible. In Europe, the cultural wound of the holocaust has not been cauterized yet.