Chinese media seize on words of cultural minister and broach Cultural Revolution anniversary

A statement yesterday by China’s cultural minister emboldened a handful of mainland newspapers to defy a government ban on coverage of the fortieth anniversary of the Cultural Revolution. For the first time today, four mainland newspapers ran articles directly mentioning the “fortieth anniversary”, based on a database search of 140 Chinese newspapers.

Chinese cultural minister Sun Jiazheng (孙家正) said at a press conference on May 25 that the National Museum of China and the National Library of China were gathering together Cultural Revolution materials that might “assist in research of this period in history”. The response came as Sun dodged a question by a foreign reporter as to why China had no museum for the Cultural Revolution, but bolder newspapers read this as a clear opportunity for more open coverage – an act Chinese call jieti fahui (借题发挥), or, translated roughly, “using a current topic of conversation to put out one’s own ideas”.

The four newspapers to mention the Cultural Revolution anniversary were: Guangzhou’s Southern Metropolis Daily and New Express, Wuhan’s Strait News, and Chongqing Morning Post.

In an A16 article, Southern Metropolis Daily reported the exchange between Sun Jiazheng and a United Press International reporter who asked why China had no Cultural Revolution museum:

The first “Cultural Heritage Day” will come on June 10 this year. The theme of the first “Cultural Heritage Day” will be “protecting our cultural heritage, preserving our spiritual homeland”. China’s Cultural Heritage Day will fall each year on the second Saturday in June.

At a May 25 press conference held by the State Council Information Office, Cultural Minister Sun Jiazheng said cultural protection concerns not only the long-reaching history of our people, but also how we will face our future

[Concerning a "Cultural Revolution" museum, the National Museum and National Library are gathering materials]

United Press International reporter: “May this year marks the fortieth anniversary of the Cultural Revolution. China has many museums about the history of the 20th century, I’d like to ask why China has no Cultural Revolution museum?”

Sun Jiazheng: “Concerning history, including the history of the ‘Cultural Revolution’, we have people gathering cultural materials together. Right now there are various ‘Cultural Revolution’ materials scattered about the globe … and those we can collect, including at the National Museum and National Library, will assist in research of this period in history” …

Even more brazen, however, was a letter to the editor Southern Metropolis Daily seemed to have had at the ready. It appeared right at the top of page A2 and was called, “Forebears, please write down your ‘Cultural Revolution’ histories”:

Cultural Minister Sun Jiazheng said yesterday responding to a reporter’s question that the National Museum was collecting materials from the ‘Cultural Revolution’ in order to improve research on this period of history (May 25, China.com.cn). When I saw this news, I had a sudden hope: Beloved forebears, won’t you please write letters to your children and grandchildren, telling us the truth about what the ‘Cultural Revolution’ was and what you did then? …

The histories that arise from each personal story, each tale of a family’s pleasure, anger, sorrow and joy, are every bit as precious as those official histories – indeed, they are more precious. Forebears, for your children, why don’t you become household Si Maqian’s [Chinese historian, 145-90 B.C.]. Pick up your pens and tell us everything that concerns you.

[Posted by David Bandurski, May 26, 2006, 5:12pm]

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