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7

Saudi Gazette, Saturday, January 21, 2017

Perspectives

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LOCAL VIEWPOINTS

LOCAL VIEWPOINTS

HELEN

GAO

A scar on the Chinese soul

W

HEN Zhang Xiaomo

worked on a farm in

Manchuria in the early

1970s, she shuddered at

the screeching noise of trucks pulling

over on the icy roads. Her mind would

dart back to the summer of 1966, when

gangs of men would arrive most nights

in large trucks, banging on the door

and ransacking the courtyard house

she lived in by herself. It was the be-

ginning of the Cultural Revolution, and

her mother, hunted for her contact with

the Japanese during World War II, had

gone into hiding.

“They kept coming day after day,”

she recalled in her Beijing apartment

recently. “They were a bunch of grown-

up men, and I was 13 years old, all by

myself. I felt like I couldn’t take it any-

more.” The experience still haunts her.

Half a century has passed since Mao

Zedong plunged China into the “10

years of chaos,” as the Cultural Revolu-

tion is often called here, wrecking the

Communist Party apparatus and upend-

ing the lives of ordinary people like Ms.

Zhang. Mao’s obsession with ridding

the country of enemies brought public

humiliation, political exile and starva-

tion upon countless individuals. Per-

haps more than a million lost their lives.

But the party, whose legitimacy and

image remain inextricably tied to Mao,

has refused to fully reckon with his his-

torical sins. And with public discussion

of the Cultural Revolution’s legacy still

largely forbidden, it remains difficult

to gauge one of the most serious con-

sequences of the tumultuous period: its

impact on the Chinese soul.

“The essence of the Cultural Revo-

lution is not just that Mao unleashed it

and caused the chaos,” the Harvard Chi-

na historian Roderick MacFarquhar told

me. It “is that the Chinese, without di-

rect orders, were so cruel to each other.”

Born in 1988, more than a decade

after the end of the Cultural Revolu-

tion, I grew up hearing my relatives’

occasional reminiscences of daily life

in the era: the food coupons, the Mao

badges, the exchange of greetings with

quotations from the ubiquitous “Little

Red Book.” In one of my earliest recol-

lections, my grandmother showed me a

pile of old sweaters, explaining with a

proud smile that she knitted them as a

distraction from the “struggle sessions”

taking place on the stage in her work

unit’s auditorium in the late 1960s.

Yet the emotional scar has never

faded away. In late 2015, when a singer

stepped onto a neon-lit stage in Shang-

hai to perform a song about the tribu-

lations of his family of six during the

Cultural Revolution, the outpouring of

public emotion surprised many people.

One web commenter, quoting a line

from the song, reflected: “ ‘After the

Cultural Revolution, there were five of

us left.’ That is not just the story of his

family, but that of many others.”

The psychic damage of the Cultural

Revolution has been the subject of only

a few small-scale studies. An interview

project carried out by Chinese research-

ers in collaboration with German psy-

chotherapists in the early 2000s showed

that people with Cultural Revolution-

related trauma exhibited symptoms typ-

ical of post-traumatic stress disorder:

Many reported intense anxiety, depres-

sion and frequent flashbacks of traumat-

ic experiences; some showed emotional

numbness and avoidance behaviors.

Cultural Revolution trauma dif-

fers from that related to other hor-

rific events, like the Holocaust and the

Rwandan genocide, studies have noted,

in part because in China, people were

persecuted not for “unalterable” charac-

teristics such as ethnicity and race, but

for having the wrong frame of mind.

Constant scrutiny of one’s own think-

ing and actions for signs of political

deviance became a necessity for sur-

vival that sometimes carried unbearable

weight.

Recalling her high school years in

the early 1970s, my mother describes a

nagging fear of “letting an ‘unrevolu-

tionary’ word slip in public.” It did not

dissipate until more than a decade after

Mao’s death in 1976.

Such vigilance offered no guaran-

tee against becoming a victim. A 2007

survey of 108 Cultural Revolution par-

ticipants showed that neither joining the

Red Guards nor believing in Maoism

protected someone from suffering long-

term trauma.

Fickle political winds turned at-

tackers into targets overnight, causing

people to label one another class en-

emies less out of ideological conviction

than out of revenge or pressure to toe

the right line. The blurry distinction be-

tween perpetrators and victims makes

collective healing by confronting the

past a thorny project.

Wu Di, a co-founder of Remem-

brance, a journal of history and culture,

invited members of opposing factions

on a university campus during the peri-

od, now in their twilight years, to share

their accounts. But his attempt at bring-

ing reconciliation brought back un-

settled scores. Each side, rejecting the

story of the other, claimed victimhood

from the events.

“They’ve never sat down and talk-

ed about it,” Mr. Wu told me last year.

“They still can’t.”

More personal reasons may also

shape people’s response to mental trau-

ma.

Mental illness remains deeply stig-

matized in China. Private despair was

incompatible with the collectivist spirit

and the bright Communist facade under

Mao. Many traumatized people, as a

result, would describe their emotional

pain as physical ailments.

Xu Xiaodi, a retired teacher who

saw her relatives beaten to death during

the Cultural Revolution, is more forth-

right than most about the mental toll.

She said she had experienced bouts of

bad temper and powerful mood swings

in its aftermath. She averts her eyes

from elderly women performing bois-

terous dances on public squares — a

popular pastime here — because they

prompt her memories of struggle ses-

sions staged by Red Guards.

But people “tell me just to move

on,” she said to me. “They say, because

the whole generation suffered in those

years, even the national leaders.”

Rejecting such arguments, many

people like Ms. Xu have refused to let

go of the past by choosing to bear its

psychic impact. But a growing body of

research suggests that the past can have

a way of plaguing the offspring of those

who directly experienced it through

the transgenerational transmission of

trauma. The idea that life experiences

could cause inheritable genetic changes

has been identified among children of

Holocaust survivors, who have been

shown to have an increased likelihood

of stress-related illnesses.

The possibility of epigenetic in-

heritance has been raised by Chinese

academics regarding the Cultural Revo-

lution, but to research the topic would

most certainly invite state punishment.

Ms. Zhang, who spoke of the mid-

night house raids, mentioned another

event that weighed on her. During the

“rustication movement” in late 1960s,

when millions of youths left the cities

to work in rural areas under Mao’s com-

mand, she reported to her teacher that a

classmate had hidden her age to evade

the order. The classmate, Ms. Zhang

said to me, had once insulted her family

at a struggle session. She was promptly

sent to northwestern China, where she

labored for years.

After the Cultural Revolution end-

ed, Ms. Zhang looked for her, and found

her working as an usher in a small mov-

ie theater in her hometown. Ms. Zhang

admitted to the classmate what she had

done and apologized. “She was stunned

for a while.” Now they both live in Bei-

jing, Ms. Zhang told me. “We see each

other every now and then.”

— The New

York Times

A 2007 survey of 108 Cultural Revolution participants showed that neither joining the Red

Guards nor believing in Maoism protected someone from suffering long-term trauma. Fickle

political winds turned attackers into targets overnight, causing people to label one another

class enemies less out of ideological conviction than out of revenge or pressure to toe the right

line. The blurry distinction between perpetrators and victims makes collective healing by

confronting the past a thorny project.

Helen Gao

is a social policy

analyst at a research company.

It’s time to reconsider the sponsorship system

Mazen Abdulrazzaq Balilah

T

HE National Society for Human Rights

(NSHR) in Saudi Arabia was the first

body that discussed the Kingdom’s

sponsorship system. The NSHR

carried out a study that showed that the

system consists of bylaws that contradict the

Kingdom’s labor and resident laws. Since 2008,

the NSHR has demanded its cancelation.

According to a local newspaper, Dr.

Bandar Hajjar from the NSHR said that

Bahrain has started implementing a

new labor law that will see the country’s

sponsorship system draw to an end in April

this year. The new system will be gradually

introduced and implemented by granting

48,000 foreign workers temporary, yet

legal, work permits; 2,000 employees will be

granted legal work permits each month.

A new law regulating the exit-entry of

migrant workers in Qatar has also recently

been implemented. It will completely cancel

the previous sponsorship system and ensure

flexibility, freedom and greater protection for

more than 2.1 million foreign workers in the

country.

The UAE and Kuwait are also seriously

considering the issue. Kuwaiti sources have

confirmed the abolition of the country’s

sponsorship system and the introduction of

new measures in cooperation with Kuwait’s

General Authority for Manpower.

The abolition of the sponsorship law

and radical changes to the system cannot be

undertaken in isolation from the other states

of the Gulf Cooperation Council. We have to

reconsider the sponsorship system in light of

the fact that we were the first to discuss the

issue via the NSHR.

There is a Twitter campaign to defame Saudis

Saad Al-Quwai’ee

S

OME countries around the world are

using social media websites, especially

Twitter, to wage an electronic war

against the Kingdom with a view to

damaging our reputation.

It was announced at the security and

information conference organized by the Naif

Academy for National Security in late 2015 that

there were around 6,000 Twitter accounts with

the sole purpose of attacking the Kingdom.

Furthermore, there were around 4,000 Twitter

accounts whose job was to retweet whatever

appeared in the 6,000 accounts. The main

objective of all these accounts is to sow sedition

and destabilize the Kingdom.

What is worse is that the number of such

accounts reached around 10,000 in 2016.

There are hundreds of fake accounts that

are run by the same groups that operate the

10,000 accounts. It is an electronic war in the

full sense of the word. All these accounts try to

influence and sway public opinion. There is no

doubt that the people who run these accounts

belong to the intelligence agencies of certain

hostile countries.

Our enemies think that by spewing venom

through hashtags they are able to sow sedition

and destabilize our security. The fake accounts

can be divided into three types: accounts whose

sole job is to retweet, accounts targeting public

opinion and accounts that take part in hot social

issues related to the Kingdom. The second type

of account posts news reports to agitate public

opinion.

Each and every member of the public

should fight these fake accounts on social

media. Each one of us should be aware of

these accounts and we should all work together

to protect our country and ensure that its

reputation remains positive.

Where is

my change?

Ali Yahya Al-Zahrani

O

NE day, on my way to

Makkah with a friend, I

stopped at a gas station

to fill up my car. I asked

the gas station attendant to fill

the tank and when he finished, I

gave him the money and waited

for my change. Instead, the worker

walked away. Thinking that he

might have forgotten to give me

my change, I called him back and

asked for it. He looked at me

surprised and said: “It is only one

riyal!” I said: “Even though, I want

my one riyal back.” He gave me

the one riyal and then I gave it

back to him saying: “I do not want

you to take my money behind my

back, but I will give it to you with

my full knowledge.”

After we left the gas station,

my friend told me that thousands

of people use these gas stations

but not many ask for the exact

change. My friend told me that this

sort of thing is common in most

stores where workers do not give

small change to customers. What

created this phenomenon is the

carelessness of many people who

think that there is shame in asking

for small change. However, those

who are unconcerned about small

change will end up losing even

more money in the future.

I told my friend that I understood

why some rich people are stealing

millions, but I could not understand

what a gas station attendant would

earn from stealing small amounts. My

friend laughed at me and said that

small amounts add up and one day

will be a large amount.

I was reminded of this

situation when I read a story of a

charity commission in Jeddah that

was able to collect SR6 million

and pay the housing rent of the

families of martyrs. The strange

thing is that they collected the

entire amount from the small

change donated by customers

of Panda supermarkets. Then

I remembered my friend saying

that small change would add up to

large amount one day.

I wonder why we do not ask for

small change and donate it so that

it can be used for a good cause? I

know that our society is charitable

and will approve such an initiative.

I call on the Ministry of Labor and

Social Development to adopt this

as a social initiative and spread it

everywhere.

I was reminded of

this situation when

I read a story of a

charity commission in

Jeddah that was able

to collect SR6 million

and pay the housing

rent of the families of

martyrs. The strange

thing is that they

collected the entire

amount from the small

change donated by

customers of Panda

supermarkets.

Each and every member of

the public should f ight these

fake accounts on social media.

Each one of us should be

aware of these accounts and

we should all work together

to protect our country and

ensure that its reputation

remains positive.

A new law regulating

the exit-entry of migrant

workers in Qatar has recently

been implemented. It will

completely cancel the previous

sponsorship system and

ensure f lexibility, freedom

and greater protection for

more than 2.1 million foreign

workers in the country.