Our Chinese Connection

Department of Languages & Literatures name in the news! Jian Guo, faculty member in the English program is one of two translators who have worked extensively on the recently published book _Tombstone: The Great Chinese Famine, 1958-62_ written by Yang Jisheng whose uncle was among those who died.  Thirty-six million people starved to death during the Maoist revolution while the government was exporting grain; cannabalism may have resulted.  The book is banned in China, but was published in Hong Kong, Japan, and the West and has been getting attention here.  Already it has been reviewed in the Washington Post and the New York Review of Books.  Yesterday, a brief summary appeared on the Op Ed page of the New York Times, also translated by Jian Guo.  Recovering historical documents, correcting “historical amnesia,” insuring that events such as this remain a part of the historical record, and making that history known requires great courage.  As more parts of the past are uncovered, history becomes more complex. I’m reminded of what George Santayana said:  “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  The Op Ed piece ends this way: “I intended my book to be a memorial to the thirty-six million victims, but also a literal tombstone, anticipiating the ultimate demise of the totalitarian political system that caused the Great Famine.  I was mindful of the risks in this endeavor:  if something happens to me because I tried to preserve a truthful memory, then let the book stand as my tombstone, too.”

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