[FOUNTAIN]Rewriting history in China

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[FOUNTAIN]Rewriting history in China

Chinese leader Mao Zedong occasionally cited historical individuals to govern the country. In April 1959, Mao mentioned Hai Rui of the Ming Dynasty. He was a clean-handed government official who was dismissed for going against corrupt public officials and criticizing the emperor’s misgovernment. Mao said, “Hai Rui criticized the emperor out of loyalty” and “Learn from Hai Rui.” Two months later, the People’s Daily newspaper printed an article titled, “Hai Rui criticizes the Emperor.” Wu Han, Beijing’s deputy mayor and a historian, was the writer. A year after, Wu Han wrote “Hai Rui Ba Guan,” ― a play based on the incident.
In November 1965, the writer was indicted for his historical play. First came an article, “Commenting on the new historical play ‘Hai Rui Ba Guan,’” by Yao Wenyuan, editor of the Shanghai edition of the Liberation Army Daily and also a member of the Gang of Four. Its tone was sharp and critical. It had the hidden intention of reviving capitalism and rehabilitating Peng Dehuai ― the then minister of defense who had been disgraced for criticizing the “Great Leap Forward.” The article was approved by Mao before being printed.
Back then, Mao’s authority was weakening, due to the failure of his “Great Leap Forward.” Liu Shaoqi (the president) and Deng Xiaoping (the secretary general) instead cemented their positions by trying to introduce utilitarianism. Yao’s article was the prologue of the Cultural Revolution used by Mao and the Gang of Four to keep hold of power. It was the start of the 10 years of Mao’s madness that destroyed China and filled it with violence. During this chaos, Wu Han died in prison in 1969.
Last month, a popular magazine in China, the Bingdian Weekly, was suspended because of an article on modern history written by a Hong Kong professor. It included the following: “China protests about Japanese history books but there is a similar problem in our modern historical view.” Since the opinion violated the official view of the Communist Party, the central government took action.
However, the 40-year gap has brought huge changes. The editor denounced the magazine’s closure and requested an investigation into his dismissal. The writer said, “During the Cultural Revolution, Mao Zedong’s words were the standard so that academics and culture were destroyed. It is not right for the State Council Information Office to decide the right or wrong of an article.” That statement was made during an interview with a Japanese newspaper. Is another Cultural Revolution starting to take place in China?


by Oh Young-hwan

The writer is a deputy political news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.
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