memory at a standstill

“Yet the key brings him face to face with more mysteries he cannot sort out and more memories suspended between fiction and reality” (204).

 The “key” refers to the “skeleton key” that Xiaojun uses to gain access to people’s homes, to their “private spaces,” that represent for him “an alternative fantasy world” similar to the imaginary world where most Chinese reconstruct memories (the “collective memory”) of the Cultural Revolution, a time when Mao used a key of myth and rhetoric (“Maospeak”) to invade and dominate their lives.  But how accurate are reconstructed memories of suffering that evoke hope, terror, and regret?

 The Cultural Revolution unleashed the frustration and anger of a new generation eager to change the world, but the force was harnessed and used by Mao and his cohorts for a decidedly different purpose – total domination.  Mao caught the Chinese people unawares and played an aggressive game with their expectations, invoking heroism while engaging in repression and violence to suppress public discourse and debate.  Reconstructed memories of the Cultural Revolution symbolize a collective inability (or unwillingness) to confront powerful images of self-doubt; to record a reality that arouses shame and guilt for not having resisted more tenaciously the seductive allure of Mao’s beguiling rhetoric, a pernicious force that hung over an entire country like a dark veil disguised as bright, life-sustaining sun.  The more time that passes, the harder it becomes to make sense of one of the most catastrophic and complicated mass movements and political upheavals to afflict China.  The fading fragments of reality that haunt the collective memory provide only a glimmer of comprehension that “blurs the distinction between history and fiction” (193).   Reconstructed memories of the Cultural Revolution seem refracted as through a prism, repressed reminders of a trauma-ridden history and the dreadfulness of human vulnerability.

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