More than fifty years on, the scars of Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution still run through the heart of Chinese society, and through the souls of its citizens. Stationed in Beijing for the Guardian, Tania Branigan came to realise that this brutal and turbulent decade continues to propel and shape China to this day. Yet the official suppression of information about the state-sanctioned violence which took place and the personal trauma of those affected have conspired to create a national amnesia: it exists, for the most part, as an absence.
In February 2023, Branigan came to Intelligence Squared. In conversation with former BBC China editor Carrie Grace she explored the stories of those who are driven to confront this dark period in China’s history and why they fear its return. Drawing on her new book Red Memory Branigan asked what happens to a society when you can no longer trust those closest to you. What happens to the present when the past is buried, exploited or redrawn? And how do you live with yourself when the worst is over?