An apology that is 47 years late

Alia | May 16th, 2013 - 5:33 pm

47 years ago in 1966, the famous “May 16 Notification” was released under Mao’s personal supervision, marking the official start of China’s 10-year Cultural Revolution.  47 years later, a long-overdue apology quietly went viral on Sina Weibo, China’s most dynamic microblog service.

Yesterday, on Cultural Revolutions’ 47th anniversary, while many Chinese netizens, once again, demanded that their government face its mistakes and scares,  Feiming, an established playwright, decided to do his part:

“47 years ago today, I wrote the first big-character poster for my class supervisor. Teacher He, how are you doing now? Sorry.” [Big-character poster is a way to publicly list the crimes and evil deeds of a “class enemy” during the Cultural Revolution]

May 16 Notification

Another netizen 安徽老侃 followed suit: “40 more years ago, I was a little Red Guard. I scolded and forced a math teacher to labor work with a club that was used to ‘verbally attack and physically defend.’ Sorry, teacher Zhou.” Netizen 天马64 also shared his personal experience: “I have been there, too. I was in 3rd or 4th grade and, together with a classmate, reported our class supervisor’s “anti-revolutionary” words to the school authority. Whenever I think of it, I feel ashamed. Teacher Xu Suzhen, how are you doing today? Sorry!”

We’ve heard many stories about how people and their families have suffered during the Cultural Revolution, but those who made others suffer seldom speak, if at all. These are the first accounts of personal dark histories during those 10 years of madness from the offenders, instead of the victims. The apologies are late, but brave and nevertheless respectable. Netizen 野草不是墙头草 commented: “These apologies 47 years later include too much regret and pain. The past is the past. No one can afford to shoulder all the rights and wrongs during the Cultural Revolution. A person who admits his mistakes, no matter how late, is respectable. A group of people who admits their mistakes is hopeful. A nation who sincerely faces and admits its mistakes will have a bright future.”

But the question asked by many netizens is why aren’t there more people saying sorry for their past mistakes, and more importantly, when will “the nation” review and admit its mistakes? Like one netizen 佬–火–计 commented: “It is the government who needs to apologize.”

In the eyes of many netizens, these individuals are but a drop in the ocean who failed to work against the current. Netizen 思想者永生 commented: “Students are easily incited. It was not their fault. Those who ruled and started the movement are the ones to blame.” Another netizen 好热的冬天 projected himself in the past: “I haven’t been born yet 40 years ago. But if I were, I would probably have made the same mistake. To acknowledge one’s own mistake is an action of bravery.” Netizen DL南山樵夫 agreed: “Living in that era, you don’t need to apologize.”

Of course, there are also ones who won’t forgive. Like netizen 瑟过韵留路过南北_青黄一生黑: “Don’t use young age and ignorance as excuses. There were students who purged their teachers, but also students who didn’t choose to do so. There were couples and familes who cut off their loved ones, but also those who stayed to weather through together. The Cultural Revolution let out the demons hidden in many people.”

Red Guards marching with Mao's image

Most interestingly, some other netizens, like lawyer 长安卖炭翁, asked: “47 years have passed. Is the Cultural Revolution over?” Unfortunately, many gave the answer no, and they have a reason.

A most recent example would be the attacks by the leftists on Mao Yushi, liberal ecomonist in China who has been the target of the country’s Maoists (Mao Zhedong) for a very long time due to his criticism of the revolutionary leader.

According to the Wall Street Journal: “In a campaign that some have likened to the political persecution that took place under the Cultural Revolution, the 84-year-old scholar has been the target of abusive, late-night phone calls, a wave of attacks on microblogs as well as disruptions of his lectures. He has been denounced as a traitor and targeted by demonstrators.”

We’ve covered that Mao Yushi’s lecture in Changsha earlier this month was met with protesters who called him a “Chinese traitor.” Just yesterday, his another lecture in Beijing at Tencent, China’s Internet giant, was once again interrupted by Maoists who held banners like “Only Maoist thoughts can save China.”

Protesters at Beijing Tencent

Mao Yushi may be a rare case, but the war between the right and the left never ends in China. Many of China’s netizens, however, thought that the extreme leftists and the extreme rightists are the same – they bring no good and only harm to China and its people. Like netizen 陆继忠 commented: “The Cultural Revolution made us admirers of power like never before. The reform (by Deng Xiaoping) made us admirers of money like never before. Lift or right, either way, it’s a disaster for the people.”

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