Let the schools do their job

Each Leaf a Bodhi Tree: My Fifteen Years at Dunhuang (一叶一菩提——我在敦煌十五年, 2010) by Xiao Mo (萧默) is a memoir about the author’s career studying the Buddhist caves at Dunhuang, a fifteen-year period that began in 1963 and lasted until after the Cultural Revolution. I haven’t read it yet (it just arrived this afternoon), but a note at the very end caught my attention:



Superfluous Words From the Author

After completing this manuscript, a friend said, this Cultural Revolution stuff you’re talking about — lots of young people don’t know a thing about it. Things like “to rebel is justified”, “sweep away all [monsters and demons]”, “smash the four olds”, “unlimited worship”, “three loyals”, “morning instruction, evening report”….young people break out laughing when they hear them now, as if they’re a joke. They won’t understand. Why not add an explanation of some of the terms as an appendix? I thought this made sense, and I had already started on it when the thought struck me that it really shouldn’t be my job to do this. It should absolutely be a major part of middle school history textbooks and university politics curriculum, so if I did it, wouldn’t I be meddling in someone else’s affairs? Besides, it’s best for an author to keep some distance from these things. If my young friends want to know, the Internet is quite advanced and they’ll find it if they look for it. If they don’t want to know, then they won’t read this book in the first place. So I gave up the idea.

I’m looking forward to reading it, partly for the history, and partly because Xiao is an interesting, opinionated writer. According to one review, he takes some shots at Gao Er Tai, another Dunhuang researcher with a memoir of those turbulent decades, In Search of My Homeland (寻找家园, 2004).

The book A Glossary of Political Terms of the People’s Republic of China by Li Gucheng (Google Books link), which I used for some of the terms Xiao lists, looks like an exceptionally helpful reference for translating texts from the Cultural Revolution era.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.