Around the mid-1980s a substantial number of Chinese authors started to write, beyond national and linguistic boundaries, about their traumatic experience during the Chinese Cultural Revolution (1966–1976). Jung Chang's Wild Swans (1991) is among the first and best-known titles in this emergent literary formation. Whether the memoirs are narrated by a former People's Liberation Army soldier, or a Red Guard, or an innocent subject drawn into the political vortex, their authors all assume the role of victims who bear witness to a China collapsing into an administered ‘national madness’. Details of the brutalities of the Revolution presented in the memoirs resonate with the Western imagination of Maoist China. This article is a critical study of these memoirs. It explores the political and ethical implications of life writing in the post-Cold War era within the context of global capitalism. Given the cultural and political topicality of the Cultural Revolution as a subject for popular history writing in the West, the production of these memoirs, we argue, is occasioned and enabled by a specific set of geo-political conditions, whose temporal and spatial materiality defines and determines the use and pertinence of the memoirs.
Scopus Subject Areas
- Literature and Literary Theory
- Chinese Cultural Revolution
- Life writing as history
- Politics of sympathy