Resilience and Rebellion in Contemporary China
Two new memoirs about life in China shed valuable light on the country’s growth from an economic backwater to a modern superpower. While the Communist Party of China remains fixated on hiding and rewriting the past, ordinary Chinese are determined to write the country’s future.
- Weijian Shan, Out of the Gobi: My Story of China and America, Wiley, 2019.
Karoline Kan, Under Red Skies: Three Generations of Life, Loss, and Hope in China, Hachette Books, 2019.
WASHINGTON, DC – Shortly after China’s strongman president, Xi Jinping, came to power in late 2012, the Communist Party of China circulated its now-infamous “Document No. 9,” banning seven topics from public discourse. In addition to the obvious – constitutional democracy, civil society, individual rights – the CPC forbade any speech or writing that might fall into the category of “historical nihilism.”
The CPC’s ideological police were not referring to the work of German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, which is infused with the concept of nihilism, but rather to the party’s own past. As a casual reading of the document makes clear, Xi and his lieutenants were worried that a truthful accounting of the events that have shaped contemporary China would expose the CPC’s own lies. “Historical nihilism” thus captures any challenge to the party’s official historical narrative and mythology.
An Unsentimental Re-Education
Anyone who reads Weijian Shan’s Out of Gobi will understand why the world’s largest one-party regime wants to keep historical truths buried and undisturbed. Now a successful Hong Kong-based investor, Shan spent his teenage years living as one of the “sent-down youth” in the Gobi Desert of Inner Mongolia during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). As such, he fell victim to one of that decade’s most heartbreaking tragedies.