This site was originally designed to accompany a two-hour documentary on China’s Cultural Revolution (ca. 1964-1976) entitled Morning Sun (Fall 2003). Morning Sun, “is not a comprehensive or chronological history of the Cultural Revolution.” The filmmakers set out to produce a “psychological history” that would reflect the experiences, emotions, and aspirations of those who actively participated in what is commonly referred to as the “ten lost years.”
This companion site provides a wonderful introduction to “the psycho-emotional topography of high-Maoist China.” This leads to one of the “biases” (if it may be called that) of this site: the primary aim is to understand, if not feel, the powerful effect of revolutionary ideals and perhaps ideological rhetoric in general. Instructors may find it appropriate to directly address with their students the difference between moral judgment and historical understanding when confronting the past.
The website is organized into thematic categories with somewhat imprecise titles: (1) “Living the Revolution;” (2) “Smash the Old World!” (3) “Reddest Red Sun;” (4) “Stages of History;” and (5) “The East is Red.” Rounding out the site is an introduction to the film and three more straightforward (and perhaps more useful) indices of materials arranged according to medium: (1) “Multimedia” (dozens of interactive materials, film, music); (2) “Images” (more than one hundred photographs, artwork); and (3) “Library” (currently more than 20 primary and secondary texts). Even to those who are somewhat familiar with the history of the Cultural Revolution, the slogan-like titles of the main thematic categories warrant further clarification. Due to limits of space, I will focus primarily on the “Living Revolution” section.
The main section, “Living Revolution,” provides examples of how the ideals and rhetoric of the Cultural Revolution were disseminated through the mass media (radio, television, movies) and permeated not only popular culture, but also daily life. Here one can find more than 30 radio, TV, and film clips of Cultural Revolution propaganda with English subtitles. The “Radio” section offers a dozen samples of music broadcast during the period, complete with detailed background information. “TV” includes a partial history of television in China along with six news images and clips. “Movies” contains excerpts from 10 of the most popular films from the Cultural Revolution era along with links to a more detailed filmography and a brief history of cinema in China. These materials would be useful in studying the relationship between politics, mass mobilization, and mass media.
“Studying the Politics of the Time” provides over 30 links to a comprehensive selection of sayings (in English translation) from Chairman Mao’s well-known “Little Red Book.” This includes a 1966 preface by Lin Biao (Mao’s chosen successor whom he later had killed) and an example (”Ask Chairman Mao . . . “) of how provincial authorities might “creatively study and use” (that is, interpret) the tenets of Mao Zedong Thought. A sense of how revolutionary politics suffused the classroom and the mundane matters of daily life can be gleaned from sample lessons from a Junior High English textbook (”Take an English Lesson,” in both Chinese and English), a soldier’s diary (in Chinese only), and examples of the sort of detailed personal information regarding household searches and confiscations kept in dossiers by party officials (”A Personnel File,” in both English and Chinese).
The “Praise a Hero, Denounce an Enemy” subsection consists of two links, the first focusing on heroes of the revolution (at present only materials on Norman Bethune are available). The second centers on enemies of the revolution (at present only a cartoon and excerpts from Huang Yongyu’s satirical collection of sayings, A Can of Worms). The Dying for the Revolution link deals with themes of death and revolutionary martyrdom (at present only materials on the deaths of Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai are available).
Some of the most interesting materials are those related to the impact of the Cultural Revolution on the fields of medicine and public health. Specifically, “A Barefoot Doctor” under the “Daily Life” subheading provides a list of interesting readings. Meanwhile, “The Miracles of Chairman Mao” link under the “Reddest Sun” explores, through film, one of the primary social fault lines of the Cultural Revolution—the tensions between ideological and professional (”red” vs. “expert”) standards of evaluation, between revolutionary faith and scientific method.
The page entitled “Smash the World!” is devoted to the theme of radical iconoclasm at the heart of all revolutionary zeal. Here one finds definitions of the “Four Olds” and meanings of “Old” and “New.” There are also links to further information and readings on the Red Guards and their zealous search for any material or outward sign of “revisionist,” reactionary, or counter-revolutionary sentiments.
“Reddest Red Sun” focuses upon Mao Zedong’s cult of personality. In addition to the aforementioned “Miracles of Chairman Mao” one can find information on the manufacture and symbolic use and meaning of Mao badges (”Mao buttons”) as well as more in depth secondary writings on the cult. “Stages of History” is organized around the theme of state-orchestrated history and dramatic events including public demonstrations, parades, movies, and stage shows.
“The East is Red” provides visual and textual materials related to the 1964 socialist stage extravaganza of this same name that spawned one of the most powerful slogans of the Cultural Revolution—”The East is Red.”
The Cultural Revolution makes a wonderful case study of how ideological rhetoric—when espoused, disseminated, and thus legitimated by those who wield power—can take on a life of its own and be used by ordinary individuals (in any society, not just China) to commit small acts in pursuit of their own social interests and agendas. Of course, this website would be most effective when used in conjunction with the documentary Morning Sun. In addition, Feng Jicai’s Ten Years of Madness,1 a collection of personal accounts of ordinary participants in the Cultural Revolution, would be a good companion. Comparisons might also be made with the McCarthy period and the related rhetoric (”un-American”), responses, and historical contexts.
1 Feng Jicai, Ten Years of Madness (San Francisco: China Books, 1996).