In: Jahrbuch für Historische Kommunismusforschung 2009. Berlin: Aufbau-Verlag, S. 49–64
communities along the strict lines of a United Front with conditions for religious practice deteriorating sharply after 1957. Religious life in the first few years after the founding of the PRC is usually well-documented in history books and historical papers, but there is almost total silence on the part of members of religious communities as well as academic researchers on the massive problems caused by the anti-religious campaigns in the period covering circa 1955 to 1976. The years after the Cultural Revolution, however, which saw a reawakening of religious life, again receive extensive coverage.
This paper is based on a rare, as yet unpublished, document. A group of young Chinese theologians communicated with each other in the years 1955 to 1958 by way of a chain letter. This letter chronicles political events of the 1950s in a frank manner, but it also contains the writer’s reflections on what was going on in those years, which in turn led to this group being harshly criticized in 1958. Meanwhile developments in the 1950s have come to be commented upon by literary and academic writers in China in a critical vein. It may be true that the Chinese political leadership still strives to retain the exclusive right to interpret history, but other agents have now joined the process of reconstructing the 1950s. Traditional party historians keep on portraying the People’s Republic as a success story. An alternative viewpoint has been assumed by those who can be counted among the victims of political events. Their testimony provides an autobiographical perspective on national history.
Wang Weifan, who was one of the main contributors to the chain letter, follows a quite different path in coping with that fateful decade. His point of reference is the religious concept of guilt and atonement. Wang’s point of departure is an unsparing documentation of those years. At the same time he presents a very personal but non-exculpatory piece of writing thus reappraising the past. In doing so the author has staked out a new path for a fundamentally altered discourse among Chinese intellectuals in their approach to dealing with a very difficult past.