“People Want Justice”
The Hindu reports on efforts in China to preserve the often tragic memories of the Cultural Revolution:
Wang Jingyao recently turned 90, but looks a healthy 65. He lives in a small apartment in west Beijing, not far from his wife’s middle school. A portrait of Bian Zhongyun hangs in his small living room, standing below a painting of “The Last Supper”. When I meet him one July afternoon, he is reluctant to talk about his wife ahead of the 45th anniversary of her death. The country, he said, had no interest in his story, swept up, in recent weeks, in the grand celebrations of the Communist Party’s 90th anniversary. I first heard about Wang when I came across a remarkable documentary by a Chinese filmmaker, Hu Jie, who decided to tell Bian’s story. Hu’s film, “Though I am Gone”, is banned in China, but has brought Bian’s forgotten story to many. In the film, Wang recalls the events of August 5 telling Hu he wanted “to keep the record of history true to history.”
Wang tells me this is a history that has no place in China today, and a history that will soon be forgotten. In the summer of 1966, Bian’s story was, unbelievably, far from unique: hundreds, if not thousands, of Chinese school teachers faced her fate in the first days of the revolution, brutally left to die at the hands of their own students. Tens of thousands of others also took their own lives in that decade, humiliated and denounced without reason. The Cultural Revolution’s horrors find no mention in Chinese textbooks today, barring a brief admission that mistakes were made. Its victims, however, are all but forgotten.
Wang Youqin, a student of Bian’s who was a first-hand witness to those horrors, has spent her life trying to right this wrong. Over the past decade, she has travelled all across China, interviewing more than a thousand families who lost their loved ones. Wang, now a professor in the University of Chicago, has documented the stories of 659 victims in a remarkable personal history of that turbulent decade.
“People want justice,” she tells me. “They want to talk. But they cannot because they are still in fear.” In the year 2000, Wang opened a website to serve as an online memorial for the victims. Within weeks, she began to receive hundreds of e-mails from across China, from husbands and sons and daughters who wanted their stories told. One woman wrote in with an old photograph of her mother, a high school teacher in Hunan, who, like Bian, was brutally killed by her students. In 2002, however, the emails stopped — the Chinese government had blocked her website.