Rethinking China’s Revolutionary Identity in Transformation: Memory, Reflection, and Cultural Politics

    • Lucca November 2017
    • Presentation speakers
      • Mengqian Yuan, Nanjing University, China
      • Chu-Jie Chen, Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou, China


    The ambivalent pattern of China’s transformation created an intractable identity crisis triggered by the collapse of the utopian vision of the socialist world and the reorientation of the new collective imaginary. While the Cultural Revolution (CR) was officially condemned, how to reconstruct the collective memory of the specific history has become a sensitive and profound ideological rupture in post-socialist China. Taking the memory of a former Red Guard Qian Li who committed revolutionary violence during the CR as a case, this research employs the methods of oral history and discourse analysis to examine the following issues: which traumatic memory Mr. Li has experienced and how he has witnessed the history; how he has expressed his regret and reflection on the collective violence of the Red Guards; what the meanings of the cultural politics have been constructed through the practice of memory and reflection. First, this paper argues that the reflective discourse on revolutionary violence has formed the symbolic extension of Mr. Li’s trauma, and the process of narrating his life stories has articulated individual life experience and collective historical reflection to recover trauma and to produce new social action facing reality and future. Second, this paper also highlights that the approach of moralizing rather than historicizing the violence of the CR has usually obscured its political, social and cultural factors, leading to a new mechanism of discrimination and oppression. Finally, this paper emphasizes the political and cultural significance of the counter-memory practice which could not only revive the forgotten and marginalized memories of the CR, but also engage with historical and contemporary criticism, and actively raise the awareness of the ordinary people to speak their histories and to participate in current cultural politics. Overall, this research would illuminate the dynamic process of the transformation of revolutionary identity in post-socialist China.