SOURCE: The New Yorker
The “History of the Chinese Communist Party, Volume 1,” the first entry in the Party’s official autobiography, appeared in 2002. Its authors had the luxury of hewing to a narrative of birth, growth, and triumph, covering the years between 1921 and the revolution, in 1949. After that, history gets dicier.
Volume 2, on the period from 1949 to 1978, had to tiptoe through a chronological minefield of purges, famine, policy disasters, and other awkward artifacts of history that many living officials would prefer to leave unexamined. The volume, a thousand and seventy-four pages long, was edited for sixteen years. It needed four major rewrites. It was vetted and scrubbed by sixty-four different government and Party agencies, and then received line edits from the most powerful families mentioned in its pages.
By the time it was released, in 2011, only one of the original three editors, Shi Zhongquan, had lived long enough to see it in print. “Writing history is not easy,” he saidto the journalist Andrew Higgins. For all of the editors’ labors, the reception from independent scholars was not flattering; the official history explained that, once Chairman Mao’s Great Leap Forward drove the nation into famine, he “worked hard to correct” the mistakes, a judgment that a Dutch scholar called a “barefaced lie.”
Tiananmen Massacre Presentation