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Oral History in China


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I've been reading Second-Hand Time by Svetlana Alexievich. It's been a fascinating read - what was it like for ordinary people in Soviet and immediately post-Soviet times. (it reminds me of something I was told many years ago by a diplomat in Beijing - China's going to do better than Russia, as Russia ruined two generations with Communism. China only ruined one.)


So that got me wondering if there's anything similar in Chinese. I suspect not. You have plenty of memoirs, no doubt, but that's not quite the same. Plenty of novels cover times of historical import, but again, not quite the same. 


There's a 中国传媒大学崔永元口述历史研究中心 which doesn't seem to have much of an online presence  beyond a Douban mini-site (崔永元 is CCTV presenter 小崔). There are some interesting videos on there.  Here's an elderly actress lamenting the loss of her beloved photo albums to her son and his Red Guard mates.  There's perhaps more here, or could just be the same content. These are all actors or directors, etc, which I guess might be what happens when 崔永元 sets something up at the 中国传媒大学. 


Some interesting looking stuff turns up on Amazon.cn. Working women in pre-1949 Shanghai, Veterans of the war with the Japanese. But not a great deal, and the assumption has to be that many of the most important stories simply won't get recorded, let alone published. Which is a shame. 

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I used to know this bloke: https://www.chinadialogue.net/authors/73-Zhou-Qing and he ran something called the 中国口述历史博物馆 or similar that was actually a magazine he circulated with an attached blank cassette tape (this tells you how long ago, kids) that readers could use to record something and post in. Lost touch but he may have an archive somewhere and I've definitely seen other efforts.

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There is the "One Day in China" series, both the 1936 Mao Dun edition, 《中國的一日》 and the 1987 replay, 《新中国的一日》. These aren't oral histories as such, but short essays from Chinese throughout the country recalling what they did in their lives on May 21 of those years. Interesting to browse through and read about a few lives at random, but numbing to digest in whole: the 1987 version fills two volumes and over 1200 pages.


If you look around, I think you'll also find some "Remembering Blankety-Blank" kind of books, assembling reminiscences of those who were privileged to work with the great and good of China. These are often drawn from interviews.


Of this sort, I enjoyed 《周恩来和他的秘书们》. On the surface, respectful and reverent, but read between the lines a bit and it's clear that Zhou, for all his intellect and devotion to China, was personally rather cold and something of a martinet. Similar books portray Mao so differently, in a warmer, more human light.

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2 hours ago, roddy said:

and the assumption has to be that many of the most important stories simply won't get recorded, let alone published.

True.  I've been told various stories and first hand accounts of things that happened during those times, and such stories will likely die out when those people do, or at most one generation later.

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Another thing came to mind but having found it after a search it's not quite as I recalled; I thought it was oral histories of a Sichuan village but it describes itself as a "digital ethnography", so you get the landscape and other aspects too, though if you read the narrative it's got a lot of local first hand input and more of an idea of everyday life than the usual: http://sichuanvillage.org/index.html

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Try 《红太阳是怎么升起的》.

It is not about the lives of ordinary people, but it is the most honest account of Communism in China and Communism did affect ordinary people. 




Not sure about anything more 民间. 

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1 hour ago, Zbigniew said:

Some interesting ambiguity there concerning what the adverbial phrase "in China" is meant to qualify. Is it "Communism" or "the most honest account"?


It is a book about Communism in China and it is not propaganda. 








Available in English since August 2017. Interesting. I did not know about this translation. 


How the Red Sun Rose




and the translators of that book translated what looks like oral history 


The Killing Wind: A Chinese County's Descent into Madness during the Cultural Revolution



Years after the massacre, journalist Tan Hecheng was sent to Daoxian to report on an official investigation into the killings. Tan was prevented from publishing his findings in China, but in 2010, he published the Chinese edition of The Killing Wind in Hong Kong. Tan's first-hand investigation of the atrocities, accumulated over the course of more than 20 years, blends his research with the recollections of survivors to provide a vivid account exploring how and why the massacre took place and describing its aftermath. Dispelling the heroic aura of class struggle, Tan reveals that most of the Daoxian massacre's victims were hard-working, peaceful members of the rural middle class blacklisted as landlords or rich peasants. Tan also describes how political pressure and brainwashing turned ordinary people into heartless killing machines.



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