Trigger warning: This episode briefly mentions suicide at 01:15 and 15:45.
This week, host Lijia Zhang speaks to Tania Branigan, current Foreign Leader Writer and former China Correspondent at The Guardian. In this episode, they discuss her new book Red Memory, all about the cultural revolution, the suppression of memories, and how a society comes to terms with a tragedy deeply rooted in its psyche.
In the course of writing the book, Tania spoke to people who were affected by this tumultuous decade in various ways. People like Zhang Hongbin, a man who denounced his own mother at the age of seventeen and is reckoning with this fact decades later, trying to make amends for what he has done.
The book also features interviews with psychotherapists to understand why someone might denounce the people closest to them and to understand how the trauma of this period is passed down through the generations.
Despite Deng Xiaoping’s official verdict of the cultural revolution as a catastrophe, the true extent of the period is not something the Chinese Communist Party wants to dwell on. Without a proper reckoning of this past, there is a concern that the lessons of this tragedy will be forgotten. Tania points out that Xi has begun dismantling the protections that were put in place after the Cultural Revolution and that there are parallels between that period and Xi’s rising cult of personality.
This is a riveting conversation about memory, intergenerational trauma, betrayal, mob mentality, and a deep look into what we are all capable of as human beings.
About Tania Branigan:
Tania is the Leader Writer and former China Correspondent at The Guardian. Her writing has also appeared in The Australian and The Washington Post. Red Memory is her first book.
About Tania’s book Red Memory:
Red Memory explores how the turbulent decade of the Cultural Revolution continues to shape China and its people today. Red Memory digs deeper into what happens to a society when you cannot trust those you love the most, and how you live with yourself all these years later. Tania explores how the official suppression of the event in state media and official histories, as well as the personal suppression of traumatizing memories, continues to affect the nation, its people, and the future generations. (Red Memory was released in the UK on February 2nd, 2023. The US edition’s release date is May 9th, 2023.)
Lijia Zhang is a factory-worker-turned writer, social commentator and public speaker. One of the few Chinese who write regularly in English for international publications, her articles have appeared in The Guardian, The South China Morning Post, Newsweek and The New York Times. She is the author of the critically acclaimed memoir, Socialism Is Great! about her decade-long experience of working at a rocket factory in Nanjing and her debut novel Lotus, on prostitution in contemporary China, was published by Macmillan and was featured by BBC radio’s World Book Club. She is a recipient of the prestigious fellowship on the International Writer’s Program at the University of Iowa. Lijia has lectured at many conferences, institutions and universities around the world, including Asia EU Economic Forum, European Institute for Asian Studies, The University of Sydney, Harvard, Columbia, Stanford and Oxford. She is a regular speaker on the BBC, Channel 4, CNN and NPR. She divides her time between London and Beijing.
The World Turned Upside Down: A History of the Chinese Cultural Revolution by Yang Jisheng
Red Memory: Living, Remembering and Forgetting China’s Cultural Revolution by Tania Branigan
The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa
The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa
Solaris by Andrei Tarkovsky
Stalker by Andrei Tarkovsky