A view from the Great Proletarian Cultural

The Cowshed, a memoir of the Cultural Revolution by Ji Xianlin, a Chinese academic, suggests 1966 precedents for present-day situations:

The role of “privilege” (from the Introduction):

If he and many other Chinese intellectuals have been guilty of persecuting one another, it was largely because the intellectuals as a class had been compelled to feel deeply guilty and shameful about themselves … this was achieved through the fierce criticism and self-criticism sessions, a unique feature of the Maoist thought-reform campaigns … he blamed himself fervently for not being sufficiently patriotic and selfless: He was selfish to pursue his own academic studies in Germany while the Communists were fighting the Japanese invaders; he was wrong to avoid politics and to view all politics as a tainted game, because the Communist politics was genuinely idealistic and noble … Afterward, like a sinner given a chance to prove his worthiness, he eagerly abandoned all his previous skepticism—the trademark of a critical faculty—and became a true believer.

Sensitivity to “tropes” and “dog whistles” that demonstrate bad thought:

I read a poster criticizing an essay of mine called “Springtime in Yanyuan.” The Red Guards claimed that springtime represented capitalism, and celebrating the spring amounted to celebrating capitalism. I was bewildered. If anything, spring has always been the sign of new life—since when had it been appropriated as the emblem of capitalism? Then again, Yao’s essay espoused just this sort of crooked logic … Yao’s methods had the seal of official approval … Theories of “narrative as a counterrevolutionary tool” abounded, and soon enough everyone was an expert in these methods … As I read the poster about my essay, I couldn’t help snorting audibly. The enemy’s eyes and ears were everywhere; like my heedless comments on Yao’s essay, this single snort would later be used against me.

At the time, getting one word wrong would suffice to brand you a counterrevolutionary—for instance, if you happened to have stored the words “socialist” and “capitalist” in the same mental card file, using one when you meant the other could prove a fatal error. Your opponents would immediately seize on the slip of your tongue and fabricate arbitrary metaphysical misreadings of your words.

Cancel culture:

The struggle sessions were brutal … Instead of a wooden placard, there was a piece of paper pasted onto his shirt. It bore his name, crossed out with a big red X. This was a trick borrowed from the courts, which had in turn taken them from Qing dynasty novels that depicted criminals led to the executioner’s block wearing large wooden placards that bore their name and a red cross.

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