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Chinese Whispers

Healing the 'cancer' of the Cultural Revolution


It's not easy to talk about the Cultural Revolution inside China - let alone teach it. In recent years, one of the last professors to have taught the period has been hounded out of her role at a top university. Sun Peidong has now taken a post at Cornell, after Chinese journals stopped publishing her work, the university party secretary banned her lectures, and even her students turned on her - denouncing Sun as if she were an 'anti-revolutionary' of the very period she taught.

In this frank discussion, I interview Sun about academic freedom and diversity of thought on Chinese campuses; about what it was like to shed light on a taboo subject to younger generations; and why she left China. It's an indictment on modern Chinese discourse that an internationally-renowned scholar such as Sun is now lost to Chinese academia.

‘Look at China, now we have a huge impact. If we cannot handle our own social problems, what kind of impact will we leave to the whole [of] humankind?’ She asked me. And on whether China has got over the Cultural Revolution:

‘If you forbid people, professors, or students, or young generation, to have [the] opportunity to fully discover the history – and the dark side of the history – how can you imagine that our nation can move on?’