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Lions Roar : November 2009
SHAMBHALA SUN NOVEMBER 2009 61 he told me that he knew this, but—although he was a devoted Communist—he’d turned a blind eye. He came to regret the trouble he had caused his family and that there had been a bar- rier between them. He was devastated because his family didn’t tell him right away when his mother died. They wanted to give her a Buddhist burial and they knew he’d object. Were you influenced by Buddhism? When i went to stay with my father’s family, i could feel the at- mosphere of kindness, tolerance, generosity, and serenity. Those qualities, which were deeply rooted in their Buddhist beliefs, in- fluenced me. Those are the qualities that i want to achieve. it was incredible to be with my aunt and my paternal grandmother and to be in that atmosphere. Was writing Wild swans painful or cathartic? There were times when it was very painful. The most difficult passages were those about my father’s insanity in the camp and my grandmother’s death. Because both died prematurely, they never saw the day when things were all right, and they never read my book. When i presented the synopsis of Wild Swans to pub- lishers, i wept uncontrollably, and i wept during the first inter- views. But the whole process was cathartic, and afterward i was able to face the past in a much more tranquil way. Before i wrote Wild Swans i constantly had nightmares about the Cultural rev- olution. after writing the book, those nightmares stopped. It’s easy to understand how an individual can go insane, but how does a whole society? Let me describe what happened during the Cultural revolution. Mao wanted to purge the Communist Party of officials who were disobeying him. He’d always used terror as a weapon but this time—because his goal was so ambitious—he needed more ter- ror than usual. To generate it, he encouraged children and stu- dents to torture their teachers. Then he encouraged students to raid people’s homes, to kill people, and beat them up. Many people went insane, meaning they got into a state in which their kinder qualities disappeared and they did what Mao wanted them to do—use brutality to punish Mao’s enemies. Terror was a major driving force, yet nobody was pointing a gun at people and forcing them to commit atrocities. There are lots of awful people in any society, but in most societies they’re deterred from indulging their worst instincts. in the Cultural revolution, cruelty was encouraged. another point: in China there is an element of cruelty that has lasted for thousands of years. The Chinese used to bind women’s feet—crushing the bones to stop them from growing. if a society tortures its women without batting an eye, that says something about the ugly element in the culture. in Chinese history, whenever there have been upheavals, there have always been gruesome killings. Do you think that harshness continues? now the society is more peaceful. But people aren’t allowed to dis- cuss what happened in the recent past and so the element of cruel- ty hasn’t been worked out of the Chinese system, which makes me worried. describing what happened in the Cultural revolution is taboo in China. no television series, no films, no books are al- lowed to mention what happened. The regime hopes that people ➢ page 87 At the memorial service for Jung Chang’s father, an official is reading the Party’s assessment of him, which would determine his children’s future. The first version was ominously negative, but Jung Chang’s mother fought for changes and won. Jung Chang with her mother in London May 4, 1988. PHoTo By Jon HaLLiday