Sinica Podcast: Orville Schell on China's unexamined, unreconciled past - SupChina

Sinica Podcast: Orville Schell on China’s unexamined, unreconciled past

This week’s Sinica Podcast is now live: Listen to it now!


“Can a society which has not…come to terms with its own past go on to have a successful future, or do the sins of the past somehow…come back to haunt it and re-express themselves in some mutant form?”

This is a question that seasoned historian and scholar of China Orville Schell has been thinking and publishing academic articles about in recent years, and is now writing a book on. Schell has stated that “nowhere is history more relevant to the future than in China, a nation that has for millennia seen its destiny inextricably connected to the dynastic record of what has preceded.”

On the one hand, the idea that a psycho-reconciliation with the past is necessary for a country is a very Western, and a very Freudian, concept. But partly, that’s because it seems to have worked in the West — if Germany had not recognized its own past atrocities, could it have amicably dealt with its neighbors and become a leader in today’s Europe?

But the Chinese Communist Party’s official position is that no reconciliation is necessary. A Party communiqué called Document No. 9, which was leaked in 2013, made clear that certain historical events and ideas were strictly off limits, and that discussing them publicly was nothing but “historical nihilism.” That is not to say that there haven’t been attempts in China — by intellectuals, activists, and even the government, particularly in the 1980s leading up to 1989 — to critically analyze the past to avoid similar mistakes in the future. But the status of historical inquiry in China today is bleak, and Schell has a lot to say about what that may mean for the country’s future.


Listen now to: The Chinese Communist Party’s refusal to reconcile with its past, explained by Orville Schell

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One Comment

  1. Richard Yu-Hsing Chen Reply

    Well Kaiser….

    滾滾長江東逝水,浪花淘盡英雄,是非成敗轉頭空。 青山依舊在,幾度夕陽紅。 白髮漁樵江渚上,慣看秋月春風,一壺濁酒喜相逢。 古今多少事,盡付笑談中。

    The Romance of Three Kingdom’s starting poem seems quite relevant to this topic.

    As someone living in Taiwan and seeing how it tries to address its past, I’d say I’m quite pessimistic and end up wishing we just gone the let’s not talki about it path. The reality is this only works if everyone approaches it in good faith. when you have as in Taiwan (which isn’t the worst case granted, but still significant.) where at least some segment of the population approach this mostly with just playing it to win an election in mind, we just end up in the worst of both world. Where not only is there no real reconciliation, there is instead now just an attempt to install an alternative narrative of history (that is in many ways even more wrong than the one presented in the martial law era (which was actually more about not talking about it instead of now where we’re really getting deliberate lies that are being pushed which just isn’t backed up by serious history and the motive is clearly to push hate to win votes. the exact opposite of what was supposedly the goal. )

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