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Chapter Six - The Chinese Cultural Revolution: A Traumatic Experience and its Intergenerational Transmission

Plaenkers, Tomas Karnac Books ePub

Friedrich Markert

With the unleashing of the Cultural Revolution in 1966, China entered an era of violence and terror in which millions of people were humiliated, persecuted, abused, and killed. The imprint of these experiences is seen not only in the lives of the victims, where it lingers to this day, but also in following generations. I will demonstrate this fact through interviews with a man born in 1930, who was directly affected, and with his son, born in 1968. These interviews also open the door to discussion of the problems of intercultural interpretation.

The interviews were conducted under the aegis of the China Project of the Sigmund Freud Institute (Frankfurt) by a Chinese colleague, and analysed by a group of five psychoanalysts in Germany (see the contribution of Plänkers, pp. 83–120). The following discussion incorporates this work.

“It cannot be made good”

Mr Wang, seventy-three at the time of our two interviews, tells of a life relentlessly pummelled by losses and abuses: separation from his parents at the age of two months; death of a greatly loved grandmother; political attacks; the loss of his beloved wife; maltreatment and banishment; professional demotion; a forced marriage.

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Chapter Five - Psychic Trauma between the Poles of the Individual and Society in China

Plaenkers, Tomas Karnac Books ePub

Tomas Plänkers

The world we live in is only superficially civilised and only partially accessible to our control. This fact underlies our modern sense of life and contributes greatly, as Sigmund Freud noted as early as 1930, to our chronic uneasiness and anxiety. In spite of all international institutions and diplomatic efforts, war, famine, poverty, and social catastrophe seem unavoidable. Many people perceive that our ordered life is insecure and is subject to dangers that can emanate, in our time, from any corner of the globe. Despite a hundred years of psychoanalytic teaching, the analogously perilous condition of our psychic world is not so universally grasped. Freud's early (1923b) model of the personality suggested the image of an iceberg: just as most of the berg's mass is below waterline, the unconscious—the unsocialised part of the mind—is more extensive than the conscious. According to Freud's initial theory, neurosis arises when traumas stored in the unconscious break through into consciousness. This first trauma theory posited an injury initially inflicted from outside that becomes troublesome later in life when it is given a secondary meaning (deferred action). It was only later (1920g, p. 35) that Freud made room for the thought of an essentially endogenous trauma, in which psychically unintegrated drive impulses produce an overstimulation. According to this more fundamental perspective, our conscious mental structures, built up through socialisation, are constantly endangered by incursions from our unconscious drives. The “Great Wall of China”, built to protect a civilised empire from peoples regarded as uncivilised barbarians, is a kind of metaphor in stone for this psychic situation. Like the physical wall, the attempt on the individual level to “civilise” human instincts has limited success. The process of their psychic integration only goes so far; it is a constant of human existence to be in danger of traumatisation from the eruption of the barbaric within us.

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Chapter Two - The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966–1976) as an Experience of Contingency

Plaenkers, Tomas Karnac Books ePub

Liying Wang

Reflecting on the horrors of world history and especially the catastrophes of the twentieth century, Reemtsma (2001) takes issue with Hegel's philosophy of history:

The second half of the twentieth century has bankrupted Hegel's hope for History. It is exactly at that moment, the philosopher said, when we regard “History as the slaughter-bench on which the happiness of peoples, the wisdom of states, and the virtue of individuals has been sacrificed” that we must believe “these enormous sacrifices” to be serving an ultimate goal. The philosophy of history, that great attempt of European modernity to see itself as on the right road out of a world of violence into a future relatively or entirely free of it, was shaken by the First World War and refuted by Auschwitz. It is dead. We should not, we cannot even, lament its passing. (p. 172, translated for this edition)

With this pronouncement, Reemtsma challenges the teleological idea of history. The disillusionment of historical philosophy, stemming not least from the catastrophic experiences of the twentieth century, brings to the fore the awareness and experience of contingency. Among the century's terrible events, the “Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution” in China (1966–1976) must take its place. It is both an example of the many Chinese troubles of the period and their climax. The reach of the Cultural Revolution, impacting on almost all social classes throughout the country, was vast, its course prolonged and bewildering. For most participants, perpetrators as well as victims, the direction of the campaign was chaotic and confusing, because of contradictory instructions from on high; in this, the Cultural Revolution differs from other comparable events.

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Chapter One - Negotiating the Past: Narratives of the Cultural Revolution in Party History, Literature, Popular Media, and Interviews

Plaenkers, Tomas Karnac Books ePub

Natascha Gentz

The following contribution concerns the reasons why the processing of the traumatic experiences of the Chinese Cultural Revolution has been so difficult for the country in political, social, and cultural contexts. The working through of such experiences generally depends on a supportive social environment that acknowledges the experience of trauma and, thus, permits traumatised persons to emerge from amnesia and confront what they have been through. Such a social consensus has not existed in China since the Cultural Revolution. On the one hand, the political edicts of a socialistic dictatorship have defined the permissible ways of dealing with the past. On the other hand, due to the complexity of the circumstances, there is no consensus to date as to whether a confrontation with the past is even necessary or important. As the following discussion will show, political guidelines have not only had a restrictive effect but have also put their own definite stamp on understanding and interpretation of the events of the Cultural Revolution: a stamp reflected in culture, literature, film, and scientific debate. The effects extend beyond mainland China. In the West, too, many of these données have been absorbed and have influenced conceptions of this phenomenon.

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Chapter Three - Red Terror: The Experience of Violence During the Cultural Revolution

Plaenkers, Tomas Karnac Books ePub

Rolf Haubl

The span of years between the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949 and the death of Mao Zedong in 1976 can be subdivided according to the campaigns proclaimed by the Communist Party and its “Great Steersman”: 1950: land reform; 1951: “Suppression of Reactionaries”; 1952: The “Three Antis” and “Five Antis” campaigns; 1955: “Liquidation of Reactionaries”; 1957–1958: “The Anti-Rightist Movement”; 1959–1961: “Three Red Flags”, “Highway to Socialist Construction”, “Great Leap Forward”, “Great Steel Production”, foundation of communes; 1963: Campaign of socialist education; 1966–1976: “Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution”.

Reviewing the series, it is striking how campaigns aimed at modernising the nation alternate with campaigns intended to identify and combat opponents of the promulgated course. The rhythm suggests an interpretation: every time the Party fails to deliver on its promise of bringing increasing prosperity to the masses, and especially to the peasants, it turns to persecuting men and women who are accused of boycotting the effort.

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