In 2 of the 3 types of classes we have, I am very fortunate to be able to hear students talk about some intimate things on a variety of subjects. It's a real window onto the culture that I think not many people get.
For instance, in a recent Face2Face (just the teacher and 4 students), we read an excerpt from a woman who talks about the idyllic 50s in England, and compares it unfavorably to today. She says they had bigger houses, lived in the country, played outside, had gardens, ate healthier food and ate together as a family--all in contrast to today.
I ask them if they think things are better today in China than they were in the 50's and 60's. I'm very interested to hear what they have to say because to me there is no doubt at all that it's much better today. But I'd heard and seen what I saw as evidence that there was a national amnesia about those days. They are not taught in school that millions of people died from starvation and violence due to the ruinous policies of Chairman Mao, and it certainly isn't covered in the media. I've had conversations with local teachers, who are well-educated, who seemed to be completely ignorant of this time and, what's more, didn't care.
I had this same class several times in the last week, so it was interesting to see the dynamic in each class. The first couple of classes, everyone said things were better back then, but they were quoting from the story, saying that food was healthier, etc. This speaks to the way they are trained in school to tell you what you want to hear rather than give their real opinion.
But don't these people hear stories from their parents and grandparents? Or do people from those generations simply not want to talk about it?
Finally, yesterday in my final F2F on this subject, a teenage girl spoke with passion about how it's much better now because people in her family died because they didn't have enough to eat and that they're still trying to recover from that time. A couple of others chimed in, acting as if they were letting me in on a secret.
So is this something everyone knows, but is reluctant to speak about to foreigners? Or do they not want to be seen as criticizing Chairman Mao? Or is it something else?