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"Refusing to Forget": Resurrecting the Anti-Rightist Campaign in China of 1957 as Reflected in the Works of its Targets
In the fiirst decade of the reform era in China after 1978, intellectuals who had been targeted as 'rightists' in the course of the Anti-Rightist Campaign of 1957 began to publish accounts of their often horrific experiences. From 1957 until now the government of the People's Republic of China has regarded any discussion of that campaign as subverting its interests. In the face of official silence, survivor 'rightists' have felt increasingly compelled to publish their memoirs as a record for posterity.
Two factors have brought a sense of urgency to their task of resurrecting their role in history. First is the absence, due to government repression, of historical research in China on the Anti-Rightist Campaign. Secondly, the demise of many former rightists, the youngest of whom are now in their seventies, has added to their sense of mission. Their ostensibly straightforward purpose, of resurrecting history, however, becomes increasingly multi-layered as one begins to explore their material. The aims which drove them to critique the government in 1957, thus, may or may not reflect their goals in later writings. The purpose of the project is therefore to analyse, through their writings, the changing memory practices of a key group of once highly-respected 'official' intellectuals, who found themselves within this crucial year, 1957, totally displaced and banished from communist society.
The research examines one of the most significant political campaigns in the first decade of the People's Republic of China which influenced the character of the late Maoist era and continues to resonate within China today. The topic remains proscribed in China and has not been discussed in any detail in recent Western historiography.
The conventional history of the Anti-Rightist Campaign has been written outside the People's Republic of China. The main sources to date were compiled not less than thirty years ago. This body of western studies, aside from rare primary source compilations, relies heavily, almost exclusively, on political mdoels of auhtoritarianism to explain events.
The project will frame the memoirs of survivor 'Rightists' and related 'unofficial' writings according to the approach of Gil Eyal to a history of memory-practices, focusing on 'an injunction to remember', the 'mnemonic substance', and the 'mnemonic operation'. The questions raised by Eyal's approach will be brought to bear on three key phases in the literature: the 1950s; the late 1970s through 1980s; and 1992 and after.
The research will draw upon a wealth of Chinese archival data about the 'rightists' in an unprecedented and exhaustive electronic archive that became available in late 2010. As well as memoirs published in China and other countries, the project will investigate 'unofficial' journals ('minjian kanwu') distributed electronically, in particular the publication 'Faint Traces of the Past' ('Wangshi weihen').