In 1980s, late famous Chinese writer Ba Jin (1904 – 2005) brought the idea of building a cultural revolution museum in his book Sui Xiang Lu (随想录, Recording random thought). But his dream has not come true until the first cultural revolution museum was established in Chenghai of Guangdong province in 2005, 30 years after cultural revolution (full name: Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, 无产阶级文化大革命) was ended.
Public discussion of Cultural Revolution remains largely tabu
The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (Chinese:无产阶级文化大革命) or simply the Cultural Revolution (文革) was a violent mass movement in the People’s Republic of China that started in 1966 and officially ended with Mao Zedong's death in 1976. Set into motion by Mao Zedong, then Chairman of the Communist Party of China, it was designed to further advance socialism in the country by removing the alleged capitalist and revisionist elements from Chinese society. The real purpose of Mao to start cultural revolution is widely thought to wipe out his political contenders and establish his god-like status in China.
The movement paralyzed China politically and pushed Chinese economy to the brink of collapse. Official documents calls the 10-year-long cultural revolution as “Ten-Year Great Calamity”. During the cultural revolution, tens of thousands of Chinese were killed, millions were persecuted in the violent factional struggles that ensued across the country, and suffered a wide range of abuses including public humiliation, arbitrary imprisonment, torture, sustained harassment, and seizure of property. Historical relics and artifacts were destroyed. Cultural and religious sites were ransacked.
Although the Chinese Communist Party after Mao’s death officially condemns the Cultural Revolution, public discussion of the Cultural Revolution is largely prohibited in China. The government apparently considers itself, at least in part, an inheritor of its legacy and thinks that academic probing and popular discussions will lead to ideological conflict and increase social instability. It may threaten the foundations of Communist rule.
Former vice mayor of Shantou, Peng Qi An is the major contributor to the establishment of China’s first cultural revolution memorial
While the idea of establishing a cultural revolution museum (文革博物馆) was put forward by late writer Ba Jin (巴金), it is Peng Qi'an (彭启安), former vice mayor of Shantou city of Guangdong province that contributes most to bring the idea into reality.
The establishment of the cultural revolution museum was sponsored originally by some retired cadres of Shantou city. They are survivors of cultural revolution and decided to raise fund to build the museum in the non-government name. And among the cadres, Peng Qi’an , former vice mayor of Shantou, has contributed most.
Peng Qi’an, born 1932, is a native of Chenghai county (澄海县) and was executive vice mayor of Shantou city of Guangdong province (广东省汕头市). Shantou is one of the four special economic zones of China that opened to foreign investment in 1979. In 1994 Mr. Peng Qian was appointed as government counselor and he retired in 1999.
400 people killed, 4500 injured during Cultural Revolution in Chenghai of Guangdong, where Tayuan Garden is located
Chenghai district is former Chenghai county, which is the hardest-hit area in cultural revolution in Shantou. As many as 400 people died and 4500 were injured in armed struggles. And just in Tucheng Village, Dilian Town in Tashan Mountain (塔山莲上镇涂城村), the shocking Nanhui Incident (南徽事件) happened: the Chenghai revolutionary committee sent military to oppress the fighting between Tucheng Village (涂城村) and Nanhui Village (南徽村) and the incident claimed 22 lives of Tucheng and 2 lives of Nanhui.
Among the 400 cultural revolution victims, 71 including 24 villagers of Tucheng Village were buried on the slope of Tashan.
In early 1996, Chenghai county planned to build the Tashan Mountain (塔山) which is famous for its scenic beauty into a tourist spot. Peng Qi An, that time government counselor of Shantou, was invited to inspect the area. He found some disordered graves there and when getting to know they belonged to victims of Cultural Revolution, he asked himself whether it was possible to establish something commemorative at the spot of the tombs.
Peng Qian himself is a survivor of China's catastrophic Cultural Revolution, which claimed the life of one of his brothers
It is not by coincidence that Peng had the idea of building a Cultural Revolution Memorial. Peng Qi’an himself is a survivor of the catastrophic Cultural Revolution and has been keenly aware of the disastrous characteristics of the national movement. As vice party secretary of Jieyang county of Guangdong province, Peng Qi an was publicly humiliated for more than 300 times and was imprisoned for three months and even on the list of to-be-executed. And among the 71 victims was his fifth elder brother Peng Linhua, who was president of the Chenghai Middle School. Linhua was beaten to death at the age of 46 by red guards.
Harboring the idea of establishing a Cultural Revolution museum in memory of Cultural Revolution victims, Mr. Peng asked for opinions from other retired party officials. Most of the retirees were victims of cultural revolution and they universally supported Peng Qian's initiative, but they also had reservations. “They feared if the museum was not well designed it would provides excuse for other conservatives to accuse them”, Peng Qi’an once said.
Peng Qian was not satisfied with simply using rose and chrysanthemum to commemorate victims of Cultural Revolution
And once a retired cadre suggested Peng Qi'an planting some rose and chrysanthemum on the graves to commemorate the victims of Cultural Revolution. In local Chinese dialect, the pronunciation of Chinese character 玫(瑰, rose) sounds similar to 文(革, cultural revolution), and 菊(花, chrysanthemum) similar to 革. Rose plus chrysanthemum just mean 文革(cultural revolution).
But Peng Qi’an was not satisfied with simply using rose and chrysanthemum to commemorate cultural revolution. In late 1996, he started the work of establishing a Cultural Revolution memorial in the Tashan Mountain scenic area. And he named the establishment as Tayuan (塔园, Pogoda Garden). The name has nothing to do with Cultural Revolution, although in fact the main theme of the Tayuan Garden is commemoration of victims of Cultural Revolution and warning the Chinese future generation. And the construction is in the name of a tourist spot, avoiding political sensitivity.
Although the Cultural Revolution memorial was a non-governmental project, with help of his official background and close connection with many high ranking officials, the initial funding of 600,000 RMB, which has been the largest sum of donation so far, came from the Shantou government. Peng Qian managed to raise large donation from state-owned companies, private enterpreneurs and even 300,000 RMB from Hong Kong tycoon Li Kashing.
With his continuous efforts, the Tayuan Garden dedicated to recording and commemorating cultural revolution was finally completed in 2002 with 12 major view spots. In the museum, several important commemorative architectures have been gradually erected: Beilangmingshi (碑廊铭史, literally: Monument gallery memorizing history), Sianta (思安塔, literally: Pagoda for wishing safety), Mingjingtai (明镜台, literally: Mirror platform), Shibishushi (石笔书史, literally: Stone pen writing history) and Jingzhongchangming (警钟长鸣, literally: Alarm bell sounds all the time).
Although the Tayuan Garden is in memory of Cultural Revolution victims, there was no architecture that was named as Cultural Revolution until in 2004, the 13th spot, Cultural Revolution Museum broke ground within the Tayuan Garden. And in 2005, the Cultural Revolution Museum opened to public.
Although the museum has remained a low profile, so far thousands of domestic and oversees Chinese as well as foreigners have visited it.
Chief achitect Mr. Qiu Chuangping employs Chinese classic style to build the Tayuan Garden
Tashan Mountain scenic area is located northeast of Chenghai district in Shantou. The landscape of Tashan Mountain is so fascinating that it has a nickname as Chenghai Wonderland. Previously the major view spot was a lake and an Song-dynasty monastery. And there was no pagoda in Tashan and only the name Tashan (Pogoda Mountain) came from its shape looking like a pagoda according to Chenghai Xian Zhi (Chenghai County Annals). In 2000, after the Si An Ta (思安塔, Pagoda for Wishing Safety) was completed, the Tashan Mountain matches its name.
All architectures in Tayuan Garden are of classic style. And the chief architect is Mr. Qiu Chuangping, a retiree from Chaozhou Architecture Institute. According to Mr. Qiu Chuangping, he employed classic style (or antique style) to make the garden harmonious with the surroundings in which a Song Dynasty monastery lies.
The Cultural Revolution Museum is designed to be mimicking an traditional heaven altar. According to Mr. Qiu Chuangping, this classic style is harmonious with the major theme while not repeating each other.
Lang term aim is to transform the Chenghai Cultural Revolution Museum to a patriotic education base
The Chenghai Cultural Revolution Museum has a total construction area of 570 square meters in three storeys. The project has cost 2 million RMB, among which carving cost 300,000 RMB. In total, the entire Tayuan Garden cost 11 million RMB. Most of the money comes from donation, according to Peng Qi’an.
Within the Cultural Revolution Museum, besides 623 carvings, as many as 300 books concerning cultural revolution, badges of Mao Zedong and armbands used by red guards and pickets are displayed. Most of the books are collected by Peng through buying in China and the world.
To criticism that the purpose he built the Tayuan Garden and Cultural Revolution Museum was to expose the history trauma, Peng Qi’an responded that he just wants to record the facts of history in order that similar mistake not be made again, so that China can go on a smooth road to prosperity.
“Our aim is to transform Tayuan Garden to a base for patriotic education”, Peng Qian said.