March 13, 2015

Secret History

CTV News "In his small ground-floor apartment just a few blocks from Beijing's landmark Bird's Nest stadium, Chinese language teacher, writer and do-it-yourself documentary maker Xu Xing is urgently preserving what he can of China's forbidden past." by Jack Chang and Isolda Morillo via AP

'Traveling usually by himself all over the country, the tall 58-year-old has recorded hours of interviews with everyday Chinese who were jailed, sometimes for years, on the barest of political charges during the decade-long spasm of social chaos known as the Cultural Revolution. Xu has edited that footage into documentaries that he only shows to those he trusts, in living rooms and coffee houses, preserving for history memories kept secret for decades.

'"I want it so that this never happens in China again, so this is my tireless job," Xu said on a recent afternoon sitting at his kitchen-top editing bay. "I tell the people I interview, `Clearly, I can't bring you any money or other reward. The main thing I do is let other people know your story.'"

'With the ruling Communist Party zealously enforcing its own version of Chinese history, Xu's truth-telling is nothing less than an act of defiance. The government has largely succeeded in erasing or playing down whole swaths of Communist-era history by controlling what's talked about in the country's classrooms, museums and books, as well as in other areas of public life.

'Ask the average Chinese under the age of 30 about the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, which scholars say claimed the lives of hundreds of pro-democracy student activists and bystanders in the heart of Beijing, and the answer will likely be ignorance or at best vague recognition. The same amnesia cloaks other dark periods of 20th-century Chinese history such as the catastrophic famines of the late 1950s, widely blamed on the government's push to rapidly industrialize, and the Cultural Revolution, which persecuted millions from 1966 to 1976.

'Fu King-Wa, a journalism and media studies professor at the University of Hong Kong, said many of his students from mainland China learned of the Tiananmen massacre for the first time through his lectures.
Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous Chinese city, enjoys more freedom compared to the mainland, where Chinese who research and publicize the past on their own are often censored or jailed for causing trouble.

'"This is authoritarian control of people's access to information. They want to create a unified version of how to understand this historical issue," Fu said.'

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