In March 2012 I met Torbjorn Loden, the Swedish professor of Chinese language and culture, in Hong Kong. He told me that while briefly teaching at Hong Kong's City University he asked the 40 students from China in his class what they knew about the June 4 Incident, the pro-democracy movement that ended in bloodshed in 1989, and if they were familiar with the names Liu Binyan and Fang Lizhi, two prominent democracy advocates of that era. All the students from China looked around at one another, mute and puzzled. That reminded me of something another teacher told me. She had asked her students from China if they had heard about the death by starvation of 30 to 40 million people during the so-called "three years of natural disasters" in the early 1960s. Her students responded with stunned silence, as if she, a teacher in Hong Kong, was brazenly fabricating history to attack their mother country.
I used to assume history and memory would always triumph over temporary aberrations and return to their rightful place. It now appears the opposite is true.
Anything negative about the country or the regime will be rapidly erased from the collective memory. This memory deletion is being carried out by censoring newspapers, magazines, television news, the Internet and anything that preserves memories.
Yet, just as in any kindergarten, there are always a few naughty children who don't like to be told what to do. There are always some people who refuse to be administered amnesia. They are always trying to speak in their own words, always spreading their creative wings to fly beyond the boundaries of official memory. Following their conscience, they are willing to fly anywhere, into the past, the present or the future, in order to produce works that can pass our memories onto younger generations.
"China on China, Culture for Billions" Documentary