Saturday, May 7, 2011

Cultural Revolution vs. French Revolution

Perhaps it is because of my interest in China and Chinese history but I am rather familiar with the Cultural Revolution and consider it to be one of a series of tragedies that have occurred under the Communist Party. However, I find it particularly egregious that there has been very little in the way of official study that would allow for complete disclosure of the tragedy. Instead, it has been glossed over officially in China with no serious attempts at understanding what happened and why - and any attempts to do so are strongly dissuaded at best if not resulting in detention or worse. Surely the horrors, the breakdown of family and society, the destruction of historical sites and artifacts would all resonate with the victims and encourage some form of reflection to determine the causes and learn how to prevent a repeat action. Yet it is seemingly ignored in the official annals - perhaps with good reason on the part of the leadership.

After doing some reading lately on the French Revolution, I learned more of the events of that time and the horrors that were visited upon the French as a result. And what is frightening are the similarities between the French Revolution and the Cultural Revolution in China less than 200 years later. The tyranny of a few fighting for power and overthrowing the established order by seeking radically extreme views of constant revolution (Robespierre, Marat & Danton among others in Franch, Mao in China), the destruction of the monarchy in France and the rightists in China, and the breakdown of social order and its replacement by chaos and anarchy.

Yet the terror of the French Revolution is now condemned to history and its lessons learned by a population that has not repeated those mistakes. The problems of the Cultural Revolution are more known outside of China than they are in the country. There is uncertainty whether it could be repeated. Those who suffered during the Cultural Revolution either are unwilling to speak of it or are openly prevented from doing so - after all, it was in the past and "mistakes were made" but the implication is that China cannot move into the future unless it forgets the negative past. However, it is the very belief that the past should be forgotten in order to concentrate on the future that prevents China from attaining the prosperous future it foresees for itself. It is impossible to see the future and work hard to succeed when you cannot overcome the past. This is true for individuals and no less true for nations.

Unless and until China and its citizens are able to become more introspective and view their history in a more dispassionate manner - rather than the enforced, faux-positive nationalistic viewpoint supported by the Communist Party - there will be no way to overcome that past and move forward to attain the goals they have set for themselves.

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