They must never know

An anecdote from Warren Meyer:

Not long after China was opened to the US for visitation, actress Shirley MacLaine made a visit to the country. As part of this visit she went to a rural agricultural commune where she met an ex-professor who had obviously been sent to the countryside during Mao’s cultural revolution. MacLaine thought it was wonderful that the professor expressed himself as so happy to have given up academics to do manual labor on the farm.

I don’t know if anyone in the US who had a firmer grasp of China’s history ever sought to correct MacLaine’s understanding of the conversation. The academic was very likely sent to the farm unwillingly, as were many other academics, as part of Mao’s virulent anti-intellectualism as well as the broader rustication movement that consigned a whole lost generation to dead-end lives in rural China.

But who could verify that?

In 1979, Deng Xiaoping was visiting the US for the first time and was seated near MacLaine at a dinner party. She retold her story about this wonderfully happy ex-academic she met on the farm. In response, Deng provided the honest response to her story that none of MacLaine’s American enablers seemed to be able to provide. Deng responded to her, referring to the ostensibly happy academic, “he was lying.”

Bless you, sir.


  1. fillyjonk »

    25 July 2019 · 6:35 pm

    I have a colleague, originally from China, who once mentioned he did not know some of his family history (names of relatives, even, I guess), because of the Cultural Revolution.

    If I weren’t already creeped out and disgusted by it, I would have been after hearing that.

  2. CGHill »

    25 July 2019 · 7:11 pm

    This particular brand of totalitarianism demands that certain people be unpersoned, because reasons.

  3. McGehee »

    25 July 2019 · 7:42 pm

    I’d half expected Deng to be the guy — knowing only that he had been sent to a similar camp, but not really when and having only the barest inkling of why.

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