There is little attempt to address the question of agency—of why people did what they did, and what it actually meant within communities that were affected. These criticisms cannot be made of this book. It is scrupulous in naming the perpetrators, and even in trying to track them down decades later and find out how they now understand their actions back in Others truly did believe the narrative of cleansing class struggle at the time. As with Nazi Germany, ideas of horrifying simplicity took a hold on society, and led to actions of inhuman brutality.
The chapter on the treatment of women is particularly hard to contemplate—both in the gang rapes that happened, the utterly barbaric ways in which some were executed impossible to properly repeat here and the incomprehensible ways in which for some of the women survivors they were forced to marry the very people that had slaughtered their husbands and children and start new lives with them. It would be hard to recommend this book more.
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In taking the Cultural Revolution, with all its strangeness and immensity, down to the level of a particular community, with particular named figures and the real actions they were involved with, it makes the history of this era look very different. A truly remarkable book. Skip to content I t is a sultry early Autumn day in the central province of Hunan in China, half a century ago in For more writings see www.
Post navigation. Search for: Begin typing your search above and press return to search. Press Esc to cancel. Sorry, your blog cannot share posts by email. Welcome sign in sign up. You can enter multiple addresses separated by commas to send the article to a group; to send to recipients individually, enter just one address at a time. Tan Hecheng might seem an unlikely person to expose one of the most shocking crimes of the Chinese Communist Party.
A congenial sixty-seven-year-old who spent most of his life in southern Hunan province away from the seats of power, Tan is no dissident.
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In fact, he has spent his career working for official state media and trying to believe in Communism. But in a meticulously detailed five-hundred-page book released in English this week , he lays out in devastating detail one of the darkest, and least known, episodes in Communist Chinese history: the mass murder of nine thousand Chinese citizens by explicit order of regional Party officials during the height of the Cultural Revolution.
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In fact, it was the government itself that introduced Tan to these crimes. In while covering factory life for state media in Hunan province, a reform-minded magazine gave him an unusual assignment: to go to Dao County in a rural part of the province to write about a government investigation of killings that had taken place there during the Cultural Revolution.
It was a time of reform and growing openness in China, and as an official journalist he was given full access to its tens of thousands of pages of documents. Our conversation took place this fall, when I traveled with Tan to Dao County, where the massacres he writes about took place. Why were you allowed to do your investigation in the s? He sent 1, officials to Dao County to investigate what had happened in the Cultural Revolution. I was working for Kaituo , which back then was the most courageous magazine in China. So I got to write it and in a big way do the interviews.
When the first round of interviews was over, the political atmosphere was already turning.
When the Chinese Were Unspeakable | by Ian Johnson | The New York Review of Books
And the more time went on, the more impossible it became. It got tighter and tighter. It was like a blockage in my thinking. But suddenly in a short period of time my thinking became clear. In the end the answer was: No. Not one. Not one said anything against the revolution. When I understood this, I was heartbroken.
ZGBriefs | March 9, 2017
I began to realize that the Party had a history of violence. Already in it organized violent peasant revolts that killed masses of people.
And land reform [shortly after the Party took power in ] was incredibly violent. It was one mass killing after another. All of a sudden it became clear. There was no justification for what happened. It was just terror. So I felt that situation really needed me.
I had to write it.
In your book, you describe how the killings radiated out of the cities and towns into the countryside. I mean it spread at foot speed.
It spread like an old-fashioned plague, with carriers bringing it from one place to the next. When someone arrived with the orders, the killing started. The killers were all young.
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You wrote that most were in their twenties. Were they brainwashed by the Maoist propaganda? The young people kept talking about exploitation by the landlord class. But this is all they knew and they thought that anyone who owned any land in China was a horrible landlord who deserved to die.
When the Chinese Were Unspeakable
Especially in Hunan, big landlords were very rare. But they were all classified as landlords. They were declared to be subhuman, and when the orders came down, people found it easy to kill them. They had been conditioned to think of them as not human. It is rooted in this soil. Around the time of the  Tiananmen Square massacre I raved about this at a meeting and put it like this: I said that according to my research the Communists were triumphant not because the Nationalists [their opponents in the civil war] were backward; it was because the Communists were even more backward.