Who Controls the Past Controls the Future

Contested Memories of WWII on the Chinese Internet – Johanna Costigan

Historical narratives are strictly controlled in contemporary China. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s definitive history of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, included in its 1981 ‘Resolution on certain questions in the history of our party since the founding of the PRC’, placed blame for the era’s chaotic violence squarely on the Gang of Four and Chairman Mao. By centering the blame on a few individuals, the Party let countless complicit citizens off the hook, freeing them to further the national pursuit of opening and reform.

In the decades following Mao’s death, the CCP refined its methods of narrative control. Accounts of the Tiananmen massacre were swiftly silenced; dissenters fled the country, went to jail, or endured worse fates. Memories of what happened in 1989 were never institutionalized. Children attended kindergarten through college without learning of the actions the Party took to repress the generation of students who came before them – their parents and their parents’ peers.