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To Consider Myself a Human Being

Ji Xianlin | New York Review of Books | March 3, 2016 | 6,690 words
Posted inBooks, Nonfiction, Story

To Consider Myself a Human Being

How China remembers the Cultural Revolution.
Photo: Thomas Fisher Library

Ji Xianlin | The Cowshed: Memories of the Chinese Cultural Revolution | New York Review Books | Jan. 2016 | 26 minutes (6,690 words)

What follows are three excerpts from Ji Xianlin’s The Cowshed, courtesy of New York Review Books. As the publisher notes:

In contemporary China, the Cultural Revolution remains a delicate topic, little discussed, but if a Chinese citizen has read one book on the subject, it is likely to be Ji’s memoir. When The Cowshed was published in China in 1998, it quickly became a bestseller. The Cultural Revolution had nearly disappeared from the collective memory. Prominent intellectuals rarely spoke openly about the revolution, and books on the subject were almost nonexistent. By the time of Ji’s death in 2009, little had changed, and despite its popularity, The Cowshed remains one of the only testimonies of its kind. As Zha Jianying writes in the introduction, “The book has sold well and stayed in print. But authorities also quietly took steps to restrict public discussion of the memoir, as its subject continues to be treated as sensitive.”

The Cowshed is invaluable in its own right as a harrowing story of how the Cultural Revolution played out on an urban campus, but perhaps even more importantly as a glimpse into how those years of turmoil are remembered in mainland China.

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