From China comes news, reported in the Chinese-language newspaper World Journal, that the works of Lu Xun—the country’s greatest modern author, a founder of the Chinese League of Left-Wing Writers, and a longtime favorite of the Communists—are being removed from high school curricula. These classics will be replaced by contemporary fantasies about ancient knights and swordplay by the popular Hong Kong author Jin Yong. The reason for this censorship? The Tiananmen Massacre, of which Lu Xun’s works uncomfortably remind the Chinese government.
The most troublesome of Lu Xun’s writings, from this perspective, is In Memory of Miss Liu Hezhen, a story about the death of a student shot as she and her colleagues attempted peacefully to present a petition to the military government of Duan Qirui on March 18, 1926. Lu addresses the events with his characteristic mixture of detachment and suppressed passion:
I did not see this, but I heard that she—Liu Hezhen—went forward gaily. Of course it was only a petition, and no one with any conscience could imagine such a trap. But then she was shot before Government House, shot from behind, and the bullet pierced her lung and heart.
Many a Tiananmen parent could speak similarly of the final moments of their dead son or daughter. Those parents and others may share as well Lu’s anger and despair:
[W]e are not living in the world of men. In a welter of . . . young people’s blood I can barely see, hear or breathe, so what can I say? We can make no long lament till after our pain is dulled. And the insidious talk of some so-called scholars since this incident has added to my sense of desolation. I am beyond indignation.
General Duan’s government showed public remorse for the murder of Liu Hezhen. (The junta, in fact, fell from power just one month later.) By contrast, since 1989 Chinese governments consistently have refused to say anything at all about the Tiananmen Massacre, every trace of which they have sought obsessively to remove. Google has agreed not to provide images or information about the massacre for its Chinese service; the asphalt in Tiananmen Square, formerly marked by the prints of tank treads, has been replaced by granite slabs. New flowerbeds have been planted. Bullet marks in walls have been plastered over. Public denial has been complete for seventeen years.
All this denial has had some success. Chinese born after 1989 have only vague notions of what happened at Tiananmen. Foreigners are far too courteous to mention the massacre. The media are silent. But have the bloodstains truly been washed away? Evidently not.
In Memory of Miss Liu Hezhen is being censored, after all, despite it’s once having received praise from Mao himself. (As one of the censors responsible explains, “[W]e are touching things that previously one dared not touch.”) Even the Soviets, no great appreciators of literature, taught Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. To exile Lu Xun from Chinese school curricula reveals the wide-ranging and desperate nature of the government’s effort to efface completely the memory of Tiananmen.