Sunday, January 29, 2006

What's Truth Good For?

[Below is a long comment from a Chinese blogger on my blog entry What’s Memory Good For? on MSN Spaces. I’m not sure being a statistic sample of one, how much of it could represent the opinions of young people born in the 80s. But I greatly appreciates its sincerity and thus translated it below for those who can’t read Chinese.]

This is a warm article. I could even feel your compassion. “What’s memory good for?” probably came from that sympathy. Therefore, it’d be missing the point to discuss with you the meaning of learning from history. However, as part of the younger generation mentioned in your article, I’d very much like to share some of my own experience and thinking. Maybe we could see how we came to be from the history teachings we received.

When the Scar Literature (note: a literature movement that focused on the sufferings in the Cultural Revolution) was becoming popular in the 80s, I was often playing jumping games with my playmates in our yard. I was only six when the June 4th movement (note: in 1989) took place. I received school education in the 90s, and my brain was stuffed to the brim with the official orthodox history. (In our politics classes, some teachers required that for some concepts we should know them by heart until we could recite them backwards.)

That time there was the high political pressure right after the June 4th student movement. Our parents, out of concern and love for us, didn’t mentioned anything related to politics; the Cultural Revolution was an even more closely guarded secret. As a result our understanding of history then was completely dominated by official propaganda. Not until the 90s when we started high school, did some popular media, such as TV shows and magazines, start reveal bits and pieces of the hitherto sealed history of the Cultural Revolution. Even that was limited to stealth disclosure. In fact, any reflection on the Cultural Revolution and the June 4th could only be done furtively, even now.

Consequently, the education environment that we grew up in could be regarded as “very strange”, if not “deforming”. For the official version (I clearly remember that in the history textbooks, the historical significance of the Cultural Revolution is that “it proved the indestructible life force of our party”) is far different from that popular among the people. Even to our childish judgment, we knew the folk version was very likely true.

However, the truth had to display itself in this furtive way outside of the mainstream. The untrue is strong, while the true is weak. What did it make us realize? That this is a country ruled by lies! (Although I haven’t done any strict statistical polling, I’m pretty confident that the majority of those born in the 80s think immediately of “bogus” upon hearing the word “politics”.)

Meanwhile, young people, especially teenagers without much power of judgment, have strong adaptability to the mainstream. We immediately learned how to deal with sham. We knew in our hearts that the concepts from the politics and history classes were pompous, empty and false, yet at the same time we could recite them backwards and forwards. Memorization begot high grades; there’s no need to think, to discern, to discover the truth – What if there were conflicts between the facts and the textbooks? As long as we memorized the textbooks we could pass the College Entrance Exams! When we received brilliant high grades from our politics and history exams, we completely adjusted to the untrue.

However, we discovered that more horrifying than our adapting was our powerlessness. One time, I asked the teacher a question about the Cultural Revolution – could one sentence from the textbook be not entirely true? The teacher said, “for what purpose do you want to get it clear?” After a brief upset, I returned to memorizing the textbook. In font of falsity the truth is powerless. In front of government’s ideological control independent thinking is powerless. This made us realize from very young that to everything in this country, we could only accept, being powerless to change; just as those obviously untrue in the history and politics textbooks, we could only accept everything.

The beginning of your article mentioned that our generation has the characteristic of being materialistic. Indeed we are. We have another characteristic – lacking sense of social responsibility. Please don’t blame us. For we in subconscious know we don’t have the capability to change the defects in this society. Still one more characteristic – too much of an old head on young shoulders. (A person born in the 70s will be angry at the inequalities in our society; yet for a person born in the 80s, the attitude is: it’s so very normal; isn’t everything nowadays just like that?)

Likewise, please don’t blame us. For we adapted to the untrue too early. Once we got used to the opposite of “the true”, it took no effort at all to adjust to the opposites of “the good” and “the beautiful”. This is the aftereffect of the history education during social transformation. No political freedom. No free thinking. We could only pursuer material freedom. What you said about “live freely” is only on the surface. From the perspective of eating well and dressing warmly, a panda bear also lives freely; but that is after all not a human way of living.

Having written this much (there’s still more to write), I think you’ve already known what I’d like to express. What’s memory good for? Haha. What if we changed it to What’s TRUTH good for? I understand the compassion and tenderness in your heart. But I’d like to say, that our generation has been ruthlessly deformed into panda bears. I hope the next generation will be able to openly discuss the facts, and accept the truth.

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