The Cultural Revolution Broke All Patterns of Restraint

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The ten years before the 30 years was this cataclysmic period...

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<p>The fascinating thing is that the ten years before the 30 years was this cataclysmic period in which, if China exploded economically and socially and in terms of global reach in the last 30 years, and I think it has, it imploded in the previous ten years. And so, the question that I think future historians are going to ask is, &quot;How did you have this dramatic 180 degree about face?&quot; From the world&rsquo;s most autarkic country, a world in which impoverishment was quite visible in the China that I first saw in 1974, in which there was a sense that China was really disconnected not only from the rest of the world but seemingly from its own history, in which one of its goals during the Cultural Revolution was to wipe the slate clean in terms of its cultural heritage, people can debate how many people died, but certainly millions and probably tens of millions during the Cultural Revolution and then, suddenly, you seem to have this transformation into this China that is bent on 现代化- modernization, and not only bent on it, but proving to be a global success story, and perhaps the greatest global success story of the 21st Century. And if you look at it that way, I think a lot of documentation has occurred about the various periods of 1978, 1979, through the 1980&rsquo;s, the breakpoint that occurred, really, with Deng Xiaoping&rsquo;s dramatic take-over of the economy in the wake of Tiananmen, the huge take-off since then and probably, the third phase that we&rsquo;re in today, which is handing that on to successor generations, not just at the top, but in many ways through the cities and through the districts around all of China. That&rsquo;s impressive and you can see that sort of stage. But, I look backwards. I&rsquo;m a historian and a historian says, &quot;How come it happened in the first place?&quot; And the first part of the answer to the question is that it seems to me that the Cultural Revolution itself, for two reasons: One is that it crushed China, it removed it from having a sense of its identity, a sense of self, it hurt enormous numbers of people, and there is a kind of never again, a kind of resolve that one finds in a lot of people in China, not only in the generation who lived through it but the generations that have heard about it from their parents and grandparents. And that kind of resolute quality is a very important part of understanding where China is going today. The flipside of it is the Cultural Revolution also broke all patterns of restraint in China. And therefore, instead of being fixed in your locale, a large number of people were empowered as red guards to commandeer trains go around the country and many of them yearned to get to Beijing and in all of that a lot of Chinese society changed. And we know today that a lot of people met on those trains, or waving little red books, who China modernized, that they still friends and they still had allegiances. And they recognized that to get to part of a movement that had imploded, but they also recognized that they had a desire perhaps to join together as business partners, those who would stay in touch with each other and form organizations who were red guards that turned out to be successful entrepreneurs. So, ironically, the Cultural Revolution provides both a positive and negative valence, I think, for the period afterwards.</p>
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Robert Oxnam speaks about how, by destroying China's sense of identity and uprooting people and throwing them together, the Cultural Revolution led China to a "180 degree about face."