David Bandurski: Can China Afford to Forget Its Own History?

David Bandurski of the China Media Project translates Chinese scholar and CASS member Zi Zhongyun’s “Only a Nation that Can Reflect on its Past Can Have a Bright Future.”

I also saw news recently that the Ministry of Education plans to add Beijing Opera to the music curriculum in order to promote the national spirit. They will begin with pilot programs and then roll it out nationwide. Of the 15 dramas to be taught, roughly half will be drawn from the Model Plays (样板戏) of the Cultural Revolution. To say nothing of the issues raised by forcing Beijing Opera on the youth of our country, these eight Model Plays are symbols of the weeding out of traditional culture and of a cultural despotism that brought about cultural desolation in the first place . . . I remember old cultural figures saying that every time they heard the Model Plays they thought of the wrongs they suffered during the and felt a shudder of cold fear. Isn’t it confusing night and day to use these to promote traditional culture? That those responsible for selecting the repertoire would give a special nod to the Model Plays when there are so many to choose from in the Beijing Opera tradition is even further cause for anxiety . . .

On both a personal and national level, it is only through facing straight on and having the courage to reflect [on our experiences] that we can ensure for ourselves a bright future. And so, facing this episode [at the school anniversary commemoration] and sensing this unhealthy trend [toward historical lies], my heart feels unsettled and I sense danger for the coming generation and for the future of our people. We must understand , and we must understand contemporary all the more.

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