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Preprints, Working Papers, ... Year : 2003

Forbidden Memory, Unwritten History


The paper tries to show how the control over the transmission of memory by the Party has hindered the structuring of an opposition movement. It analyses the cases of the anti-rightist movement and of the 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations to illustrate this thesis. Since its foundation in 1921 the Chinese Communist Party has attached great importance to the writing of history. It has also been keen on establishing its control over memory. Ritualised and manipulated in the "accounts of bitterness", memory has represented an important tool in the repertoire of CCP propaganda, and has played a considerable role in the education of the youths. On the other hand, memory of past episodes of resistance to CCP rule has been strictly obliterated. The anti-rightist campaign is a good example of the CCP policy toward memory. Control of discourse in the private sphere was such that even the heirs of the 1957 protesters were unaware of the contents of their protest.The members of the Red Guard generation accepted t he official discourse which presented them as "enemies of the people". Therefore, they could not build on t he analysis they had produced and had only a very limited set of concepts at their disposal to understand the nature of the regime. Interruption in the process of memory was therefore a hindrance to the development of opposition forces. It took the Red Guard/rusticated youth generation more than ten years to realise that the discourse of the rightists could become part of the political heritage necessary to build a resistance movement Limitations put by the Party on transmission of memory was also instrumental in t he relatively low level of political culture of the students during the 1989 pro-democracy movement. Their ignorance of the theoretical debates which had taken place during the Democracy Wall (1978-79) kept them from building upon an already existing body of texts criticising party rule. Every resistance movement since 1949 has had to start from scratch. The difficult transmission of memory has prevented the accumulation of experience by the pro-democracy movement. Every episode of resistance appears isolated to actors who view themselves as innovators. The 1989 students were convinced that they had been the first to have launched a real challenge to the Party in the history of the PRC, and did not view themselves as the successors of a long line of resisters. This inability to capitalise on the memory of previous episodes of resistance, which is due to the Party's ban on remembrance and to its monopoly over interpretation of history, has resulted in a segmentation which has had a very negative impact on the structuring of a political opposition.
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hal-01065466 , version 1 (18-09-2014)



Jean-Philippe Béja. Forbidden Memory, Unwritten History. 2003. ⟨hal-01065466⟩
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