A heroine, blocked
May 24, 2002
Last summer, I introduced Impromptus-ites to Youqin Wang, an amazing woman at the University of Chicago. She has dedicated her life to memorializing the victims of Mao’s Cultural Revolution: telling their stories, merely recording their names — struggling against forgetting and oblivion. Her website is www.chinese-memorial.org. It bears the legend, “We Will Never Forget You.” Youqin is simply one of the most enterprising, bravest, and most admirable people I’ve ever encountered.
After my original NRO item, I wrote a piece about Youqin for The Weekly Standard, published in their August 20/August 27, 2001, issue. When she was young, she got a hold of a copy of The Diary of Anne Frank. This is the book that inspired her to take notes on what was happening around her (and it was ghastly). She even addressed her diary as “Kitty,” just like Anne. But, unlike Anne Frank, she destroyed her jottings shortly after making them — you could have been killed for what you said in your diary. A lot of people were.
Later, at Beijing University, she discovered Solzhenitsyn: read Cancer Ward, read one of the few copies of The Gulag Archipelago existing in China. That set her life’s course. She wanted to speak for the Chinese imprisoned, tortured, ruined, and dead, as Solzhenitsyn had for the Russian. She told me, “I had the idea that I shouldn’t waste my life. I had to make it useful.” Youqin pressed forward with Anne Frank and Solzhenitsyn at her back — and these are the two greatest chroniclers of the 20th century.
Why do I bring up all this now? The Chinese government has just blocked Youqin’s “web memorial” (as she calls it), in China. The PRC has a web police, which does its job effectively. You can get in trouble for even looking at a disapproved website.
This is a cruel blow to Youqin, for she has received many important and heartfelt e-mails from China — from people telling her how her site had let them overcome fear and indifference; from people offering to help. One day, she hopes to write about the people who have helped her, as Solzhenitsyn did in his Invisible Allies, once it was safe.
Youqin wonders, Why does the government feel the need to ban a website having to do with the past? But then she remembers her Orwell: that those who control the past, control the future; and that those who control the present, control the past. She says that this is a perfect description of her predicament.
We will perhaps know that great change has come to China when the truth about mass murder is told and acknowledged.