Extracts from Redrawing History, by Hu Shuli. Published by Penguin Random House on 7 March 2018, £12.99
Picture the scene, in this enigmatic, superbly written and lucidly rendered, history of China, around the time when Xi Jinping assumed power in 2012: Xi standing between the two giant question marks of his glasses, a $900 million gift from a mysterious recipient with no surname, accompanied by his wife, becoming the emperor of the Republic of China. Or Xi meeting the real leaders from other ideological factions in China and observing the legitimacy of their authority through nine such meetings between 2011 and 2013.
Since the middle of the 20th century, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has maintained a process of revision, during which it transformed many aspects of history, including the nature of national and ideological conflict that have defined China since the revolution. The CCP began to replace written records of history in the early 20th century, soon after it formed in 1921 and the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) got under way in 1966.
“Xi just thinks that history is an objective reality; it’s not always the case,” says Prof Zhu, whose own discipline, the history of China, illustrates how history has been manipulated and modified over time.
“Actually, this is a mistake,” observes Prof Zhu, who examines for many of the periods under study the struggle between the CCP and other radical groups as well as factors that have influenced the pace of history. The second chapter of the book deals specifically with Xi’s revisionism, in which he has sought to rewrite China’s history to bring it in line with CCP aims.
The most notable change in official history Xi has sought to make, argues the author, is in his claim that the military disasters of the Cultural Revolution had been caused by the CCP’s tightening of its grip on power, although one particular incident remains the subject of unresolved controversy.