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Red Memory

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More than fifty years on, the Cultural Revolution's scar runs through the heart of Chinese society, and through the souls of its citizens. Stationed in Beijing for the Guardian, Tania Branigan came to realise that this brutal and turbulent decade continues to propel and shape China to this day. Yet official suppression and personal trauma have conspired in national amnesia: it exists, for the most part, as an absence.

Red Memory explores the stories of those who are driven to confront the era, fearing or yearning its return. What happens to a society when you can no longer trust those closest to you? What happens to the present when the past is buried, exploited or redrawn? And how do you live with yourself when the worst is over?

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A fascinating oral history of China's Cultural Revolution - an era of history I knew happened but didn't know a lot of details about - as well as the ways China has moved to suppress documentation of it. Chilling and tightly-paced like a spy novel, but it's all real. Fantastic!

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A deep insight into the effects of the Cultural Revolution in China between 1966 and 1975 and the psychological impact still evident amongst today's generation. The story of how Chairman Mao succeeded in indoctrinating so many millions of young people to take up the mantle of the Red Guard is extraordinary. Impetuous youngsters, unused to being given the opportunity to be in charge, wreaked havoc on those who disagreed with Mao's doctrine. We read of teenage children who reported their own mothers and teachers for talking ill of Mao and then participated in punishing them - sometimes beating them to death. It is no wonder many of today's adults still suffer from depression for their actions.
Red Memory shines a light on a period that, even today, is very seldom spoken of in China such is the guilt of those who were swept along in the collective madness. For that reason alone it is a book worth reading

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Absolutely fascinating account of China's cultural revolution and the searing deep scars left on collective memory. If you're familiar with the work of Jung Chang then there will be a sense of familiarity here, however the author has collected accountsfrom many people and presented the whole in easy engahing prose. A poignant and moving avvount of the terrible suffering under Chairman Mao.

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An extraordinary, profound and moving book. Tania Branigan has achieved a near-impossible feat: that of making something as vast and sweeping as Mao's Cultural Revolution understandable to the lay reader. Drawing on fifteen years as a journalist in China, and a lifetime of China-watching, she gives a harrowing portrait of the unfathomable suffering that the Chinese people endured, through multiple interviews with survivors of the Cultural Revolution – both those who suffered and those who inflicted suffering.

Forcefully yet delicately written, with beautiful passages which offer extraordinary revelations, this is an important book on an important subject.

Very highly recommended.

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Great writing capturing the feelings surrounding the cultural revolution from the different perspectives. It made me get a way better understanding of the impact of the revolution on chinese society that still has its impact today

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Red Dragon is, in my view, a masterpiece. Eloquent, well paced and filled with detail it’s a well researched and honest account of modern China. As a teenager in the 1960s, I was fascinated by Chairman Mao and his little red book. A school headmaster used to extol the virtue of his wisdom and looking back, was quietly grooming children towards communism. China is a mystery to most of the West. For centuries, the Forbidden City and the hidden Emperors were at the heart of the country. There were opium wars and in the 1930s, The Long March after which Mao’s particular brand of communism was embedded. China accounts for something like a fifth of the world population. And that’s despite the fact that tens of millions died from famine or were put to death by the regime as part of The Great Leap Forward. This aimed to make China a dominating world power and move from an agricultural nation to an industrial nation. The Cultural Revolution was an excuse to turn the entire country into the most unimaginable dystopia.

It’s difficult to understand what it must be like to live in a country where thoughts are controlled. Opinions are not allowed and The Party way is the only way. To challenge means death. Violent, immediate and often for no reason. And now, 50 or so years after Mao’s death and many of his supporters discredited, China remains largely mysterious and often threatening. It’s a country totally shaped by its past but many elements of control remain. Social media is censored, emails may be censored and the author recounts being followed and photographed when she went to visit a museum, one which mysteriously closed just as she arrived.

Tania Brannigan has spoken to individuals who took a direct part in the Cultural Revolution. The young Red Guard on the cover was thirteen at the time. Proud to wear the uniform, she also denounced her teacher and was present when the teacher’s hair was cut and she was savagely beaten in the class by her pupils. Hers is first hand witness account if the reality of this appalling regime. It’s not light reading and some of the accounts are harrowing and disturbing, but that doesn’t make them any the less true. it’s challenging to realise that current attitudes are shaped by recent events and the past is being wiped out, or ignored under the rule of False Memory.

This is a very readable account; considered, articulate and intelligent and I’d urge anyone with an interest in social history to read it and recommend it. We need a better understanding of atrocities rather than ignorance and acceptance and this is a brave publication.

My thanks to the publisher for a review copy via Netgalley.

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Red Memory is a well written collection of personal memories of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Tania Brannigan is an experienced journalist who spent time in China. She knows how to keep the reader’s attention, how to change the mood around to enliven the writing, and how to put down someone else’s words in a coherent way. It is a very similar book to the account of living in North Korea – Nothing to Envy, by Barbara Demick. It is a fascinating book, though the stories are quite harrowing. It is shocking to think this was all happening in recent memory. Not a book I would recommend to everyone, but I know a lot of people who would thank me for recommending it.

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