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People's Daily Online>>China Society

Keeping the past alive

(Global Times)

08:32, December 15, 2011

As she delved into buried memories and poured her youth onto paper, Yang Xiadan felt her heart being ripped out. The 65-year-old from Sichuan Province, who only recently started writing, has just completed a 200,000-word memoir about growing up during New China's turbulent, formative years.

She writes about fleeing her hometown in Wusheng county during the lost decade of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76). Her inspired prose detail her adventures during the peak of the "red storm" when she taught at a primary school in the countryside. She wrote about the violence, confusion and fear. She cried a lot while she wrote.

Yang started writing in late 2009 when He Sanwei, a commentator also from Wusheng county, called on people to start remembering the past.

"The Chinese have a weird mentality: they value the collective not the individual," He wrote in an article explaining why he wanted people to keep their memories alive for future generations. "China's history is all about emperors and generals, not individuals."

Yang is one of many new writers who have started filling in the blanks with detailed, personal stories that are often missing or neglected by official history textbooks.

Despite limited resources and the mental struggle of reliving a painful past, a growing number of writers, both young and elderly, are rerecording history.

While much of Yang's writings are about ideological struggles and political chaos, she also remembers with a shy smile a childhood and adolescence that were filled with innocence. She writes about her first love letter, taking part in singing competitions and flirting with her high school sweetheart who she remains married to.

Yang also remembers the 1950s and 1960s when people like her were dedicated to ideals that valued honesty, courtesy and other high-minded virtues. She laments their absence in today's materialistic world.

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