Hu Jingbei’s Note：Make reference， pls.， to the original one in the Chronicle of Higher Education， Vol. LIII， No.27，
A Chinese Scholar Reckons With His Past
Jingbei Hu winces now when he reads that， recognizing how that “socialist revolution” led to the murder of countless scholars and the shuttering of many schools. Still， he is determined to share the words he wrote in his diary with anyone willing to read them. Now an economics professor at
“If we don’t work on this problem， on understanding how this brainwashing occurred， we will have another Cultural Revolution，” Mr. Hu says while eating dinner in a student restaurant at Tongji. He is a wiry man who finishes every scrap of the oversized portions then eats the leftover pizza on others’ plates.
Through a fellowship， Mr. Hu spent January and February at
But in the meantime， Mr. Hu has put online the diaries he kept as a teenager during the Cultural Revolution — diaries that he now compares to those kept by Hitler Youth members in Nazi Germany. And he is on a personal mission to understand how， as a young man of 18， he was so absolutely convinced that Mao Zedong was a hero worth putting all his faith into.
During the Cultural Revolution， which lasted from about 1966 to 1976， Mao organized the youth of the country into squads of Red Guards and urged them to attack intellectuals and “”bourgeois things.””
The Chinese education system fell into chaos during the latter years of Mao’s rule. In 1968， Mr. Hu， like millions of other young Chinese of the era， was sent to a commune in the countryside of
Mr. Hu lived in the rural area for nearly 10 years. But writing in his diaries kept his intellect alive. Sometimes he would structure the entries like short， analytical essays. He sought out copies of old textbooks to teach himself math， physics， and chemistry.
Many Chinese teenagers during the Cultural Revolution were similarly motivated， notes Merle Goldman， an associate of the
By 1978 the Cultural Revolution had ended and Mao had died. Mr. Hu， 25， was given the chance to take university entrance exams. Despite not having been inside a classroom for more than a decade， he passed easily.
He went to
Last summer， though， Mr. Hu was traveling through a mountainous area of Hunan province when， in a dim room of a peasant household made darker by smoke， a small girl told him that she used the kitchen table to study and write.
Memories of his own years living in the countryside and writing at a table in a hovel rushed back to him. He reread his diaries and tried to get them published， but failed because of official restrictions on what can be published about the Cultural Revolution. He has put part of the diaries online and hopes to post the remainder soon.
At Stanford he had access to books and materials about the Cultural Revolution that are not available in
February 7， 1972: “”The article ‘Study Hard， Try to Change Your Perspectives’ in the Red Flag magazine … inspired me a lot and helped me sort out some confusion. From now on， I will try to bring my studies to another level， and will pay extra attention to the five philosophical works of Chairman Mao.””
At Stanford this winter， Mr. Hu spent most of his time reading and thinking. He is compiling lists of ways the Communist government has been able to inculcate its young people — from his own youth， during the Cultural Revolution， to the present day. No. 1: Propaganda. No. 2: Media. No. 3: Education.
“”From the first day of school，”” he says， “”we were taught that we should be students for the Communist Party.””
The children of
But while the buildings expand， the space for discussing politically sensitive topics is， if anything， contracting.
“”It’s very hard to get a public discussion going about the Cultural Revolution and what happened，”” says
Ordinary people， too， lack interest in analyzing their history， she says. “”The Chinese have been so deprived for so long of economic well-being. … Political issues are of secondary importance right now.””
Mr. Hu， though， says that at some point he stopped worrying about how the Chinese can become rich. Instead he has become preoccupied with how they can become good. As he did 35 years ago， he looks to his diaries for the answers — but now with a far different end in sight.
Many Chinese people mistakenly believe that they can detach themselves from the past， Mr. Hu says. So he’s putting his own past front and center， hoping that someday， reading the words of his diary will elicit a collective wince， questioning， and， finally， a reckoning.
Sarah Carr reported from
1. All diaries cited in the report are dated the year of 1971， not 1972.
2. English translations of the diaries contain some mistakes.
3. The original Chinese diaries dated from January 27 to