Analysis on Ordinary People’s Memory of Chinese Cultural Revolution Based on Micro-History Perspectives

Linyue Zhong


This project’s goal was to interview people who’d lived through the Cultural Revolution and extract firsthand perspectives for a more accurate representation of history that may not exist in history textbooks. Through face-to-face or telephone interviews with witnesses of Cultural Revolution, I reflected on their respective attitudes and mentalities, trying to associate these individualities with possible causes rooted in their experiences. While the narrativization is inevitably coupled with subjectivity, hearsay history presents the basic conflict between individual experienced past and historically reconstructed past. My own stance concerning such disjuncture is more optimistic and moderate. Actual life experience is often messy and opaque, whereas rebuilding history brings order and clarity into the chaos. Thus, a historical researcher like me concerns as much with the fashioning of a past that is has validity in its direct participants’ eyes as with uncovering the “truth” in a rigorously objective manner. For the participants in Cultural Revolution, retelling stories taken place in that historical period enables them to restore their past values and cultural recognition: although the eventual outcome is universally known, individual explanations for how it develops to the end vary. This is why I mainly developed this essay through two subjects: the ordinary people who have gone through this time period and the abusers (Red Guards) who demonstrated brutish nature in the revolution. It turns out that approaching a same story from different perspectives render us with multiple interpretations and each historical actor takes part in the revolution with diverse motivations. This is why some people chose to become Red Guards and some other struggled to maintain sanity in the chaotic age. In the meanwhile, I would discuss about deductive findings in this essay: selective memory, revelation of human nature, personal cult mixed up with national allegiance, historical-context-blindness of historical actors, and class struggle. Overall, the report aims to demonstrate how the complexity of human nature spawned in political turbulence interferes with historical progress in a significant way. As the author, I’d recommend the readers to form their independent judgments on Cultural Revolution rather than to absorb information indistinguishably. Certain radical information is included only for the sake of authenticity.

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