There are so many questions at a press conference, and they generally deal with all sorts of issues. But facing two entirely different questions yesterday, Premier Wen Jiabao mentioned China’s [1981] Resolution on Certain Questions in the History of Our Party since the Founding of the Republic twice. And that is something significant indeed.

Following President Hu Jintao’s mention of the Resolution in his July 1, 2011, speech to commemorate the Party’s 90th anniversary, the resurfacing of the Resolution in yesterday’s context is important and unforgettable. To review, Premier Wen Jiabao made the following two mentions of the Resolution.

First Mention: The Resolution in the Context of Political Reform

Answering a question from The Straits Times, Premier Wen Jiabao said that while the Party had, after the breaking up of the Gang of Four (四人帮), made a resolution concerning problems in its history and had carried out economic reform and opening, the impact of the errors of the Cultural Revolution and of feudalism had never been eliminated.

Further, Wen pointed out: “Reforms are now at a crucial stage (攻坚阶段), and without the success of political reforms, economic reforms cannot possibly be carried out fully, the gains we have already made stand to be lost, and we will be unable to fundamentally resolve newly emerging problems. There is also the possibility that we might repeat such historical tragedies as the Cultural Revolution.”

Second Mention: The Resolution in the Context of the Wang Lijun Incident

Answering a question from a Reuters reporter about his views on the Wang Lijun (王立军) case and whether it “would affect the central government’s confidence in the Chongqing government”, Premier Wen first addressed the issue of the investigation of Wang. He said “the people would have an answer, and that would be tested by the law and by history.” He went on to state clearly that, “the current Chongqing Party and government leadership must engage in reflection, earnestly drawing lessons from the Wang Lijun incident.”

Afterward, Wen clearly had something prepared. He mentioned the Resolution again and said: “We have traveled a winding path, and we have drawn lessons from this. Since the Third Plenum of the 11th Central Committee, and particularly with the central Party’s resolution on certain questions in our history, we made liberation of thought and seeking the truth through facts (实事求是) the basic ideological line of the Party, and we made the critical choice of opening and reform, which determined China’s destiny and prospects.” He added: “History tells us that all practices that accord with the interests of the people must be earnestly draw on the lessons of experience, and must withstand the test of history and experience.”

Connecting the two instances above we can see that the Resolution is mentioned first in connection with the Cultural Revolution and second with an emphasis on having a sense of history and of the important lessons of history.

In his second response, Wen Jiabao emphasizes that the authorities in Chongqing must draw on the lessons of the Wang Lijun incident, and then he talks about the lessons of the Cultural Revolution. In the first response, Wen voices concern that political reforms might be avoided and even that the Cultural Revolution might be replayed. Without a doubt, the re-mentioning of the Resolution again reveals a concern that the Cultural Revolution might be repeated.

Approved by the Sixth Plenum of the 11th Central Committee of the CPC in June 1981, the Resolution on Certain Questions in the History of Our Party since the Founding of the Republic offered a review and assessment of the 32 years since the founding of the People’s Republic of China. The most substantial thing about the Resolution was its complete rejection of the Cultural Revolution of May 1966 to October 1976, which was ruled as having been “erroneously initiated by [Party] leaders and manipulated by counterrevolutionary cliques, and bringing serious disaster and internal chaos to the Party, the nation and our people.” The Cultural Revolution “had not in any sense been, nor could it ever be, a revolution or mark of social progress.”

There has been debate ever since about the Resolution and its limitations. But whatever the case, the critical importance of such a senior-level rejection of the Cultural Revolution cannot be denied.

This year brings the 46th anniversary of the onset of the Cultural Revolution, and the 36th anniversary of its end. This history is not so far behind us, and yet two generations already have been shielded from it. In China today the memory of that period of internal chaos is not so keen. A museum to the Cultural Revolution proposed by the aging writer Ba Jin (巴金) has still not been built, and so much of the history of the Cultural Revolution has not been richly observed or examined. Files on that episode in our history remain “secret,” and the healthy process of academic research and discussion in the media has been routinely inhibited.

In the face of a “collective amnesia” in our society, some have defended the Cultural Revolution. And as others have even called rancorously for another Cultural Revolution, this has found some measure of sympathy. When Premier Wen Jiabao said that the influence of the Cultural Revolution had not been entirely eliminated, this was in fact an important and accurate assessment on the part of the collective central leadership.

Older generations do not dare look back, while our younger generations don’t have the remotest inkling of the Cultural Revolution. But can we truly forget it? At the very least, the Premier, in his final press conference at the “two meetings”, suggested that we do not have the right to forget.

The above is a translation of an opinion piece posted by Hu Shuli to Caixin Online on March 14, 2012.

————-

[NOTE: Hu Shuli’s commentary above was also reposted to the top of the commentary section at QQ.com on March 15, 2012. A screenshot follows.]