Modern Chinese History Through Family Stories

Ji Xiang's '16 independent study  in Modern Chinese history sprang from a desire to compare official Chinese texts on the Cultural Revolution with American versions. It has become much more: an evaluation of Mao’s position within the Communist Party, and political tactics of the 60s. Ji Xiang has read several American textbooks on the 1950s and 60s in China, as well as the leading biographies of Mao. He has watched films, especially a couple with documentary footage, to better grasp the personalities, aims, and constraints at work in shaping the Cultural Revolution. But this independent study has become much more than a question of history texts.  Ji Xiang has uncovered a treasure trove of information about his own family's roles in the major events of China. Often, older Chinese relatives do not discuss their experiences in the painful and confusing events of the 50s and 60s - the Great Leap Forward, the ensuing famine, and the Cultural Revolution. Perhaps such turmoil is simply too complex to share with today's well-ff young people, or perhaps the changes in China's economy have alienated older Chinese from the goals they so passionately strove to achieve, and suffered for as well.  However, Ji Xiang's curiosity is inspiring his family to tell him and each other stories and memories. He is conducting a set of interviews among his family members and compiling a fascinating oral history of his family’s position since the revolution of 1949. Part of this study is a search to recreate genealogies lost during the Cultural Revolution. Descended from Manchurian royalty, Ji Xiang is discovering that the impact of China’s changes on his own family have been graphic at every stage. From noble great-grandparents holding positions in the Qing court to aunts in the Red Guards to his own education in the U.S., Ji Xiang’s family history tells the story of the evolution of Chinese society. He has worked passionately on this study, discovering newly public documents from government sources online to memoirs of Mao’s nurse.. Ji Xiang has written a comprehensive first draft of the paper, is creating a new family tree, and compiling the oral histories of his family. This work is truly original scholarship. Perhaps Ji Xiang is starting a revolution of his own by breaking through silences in his family and society.