Red Memory: The Afterlives of China's Cultural Revolution (Hardcover)
Winner of the 2023 Cundill History Prize
Shortlisted for the 2023 Kirkus Prize in Nonfiction
Shortlisted for the 2023 Baillie Gifford Prize for Nonfiction
One of the Wall Street Journal's Ten Best Books of 2023 • One of Time's 100 Must-Read Books of 2023 • A Kirkus Reviews Best Nonfiction Book of 2023
An indelible exploration of the invisible scar that runs through the heart of Chinese society and the souls of its citizens.
“It is impossible to understand China today without understanding the Cultural Revolution,” Tania Branigan writes. During this decade of Maoist fanaticism between 1966 and 1976, children turned on parents, students condemned teachers, and as many as two million people died for their supposed political sins, while tens of millions were hounded, ostracized, and imprisoned. Yet in China this brutal and turbulent period exists, for the most part, as an absence; official suppression and personal trauma have conspired in national amnesia.
Red Memory uncovers forty years of silence through the stories of individuals who lived through the madness. Deftly exploring how this era defined a generation and continues to impact China today, Branigan asks: 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?
About the Author
Tania Branigan writes editorials for the Guardian and spent seven years as its China correspondent, reporting on politics, the economy, and social changes. Her work has also appeared in the Washington Post. Red Memory is her first book. She lives in London.
What makes Branigan’s account special is captured in a line at the end of her work: ‘This book could not be written if I were to begin it today’…. Amid the growing difficulties of accessing lived experiences in China, Branigan’s lyrical style of writing lends itself well to intimate encounters with interviewees.… Her humanising approach to writing about China is particularly valuable amid our current polarising geopolitical narrative, which loves strong lines between enemies and allies. It is also appropriate for capturing a decade in which the line between hunter and hunted shifted with the political winds of the day.
— Yuan Yang - Financial Times
Compelling …. Red Memory is also an exercise in attempting the impossible, of trying to reconstruct what it was like to live through and then live with one of the most brutal periods of modern Chinese history. Branigan comes closer to doing so than anyone else has in the English language.
— Emily Feng - NPR
Red Memory... uses China’s Cultural Revolution as a timely template for an accessible exploration of what societies choose to remember, how they choose to remember it, what they decide to forget and why it is important. Beautifully written and sensitively reported.
— Gary Younge - New Statesman
Branigan’s book offers an equally important cautionary lesson: the perils of ignoring or distorting history. What a country downplays in its historical record continues to reverberate, whether it’s the Cultural Revolution in China or the treatment of Native Americans and the legacy of slavery in the United States.
— Pamela Paul - New York Times
This book is thoroughly deserving of prominence. It is complex … because so is China.
— Max Hastings - Sunday Times
[A] penetrating study of the buried stories of the Cultural Revolution of 1966 to 1976.
— Isabel Hinton - Prospect
This is a beautifully written and thought-provoking book.
— Yuan Yi Zhu - The Times
Branigan’s book is investigative journalism at its best, its hard-won access eliciting deep insight. The result is a survey of China’s invisible scars that makes essential reading for anyone seeking to better understand the nation today.
— Marina Benjamin - Guardian
[An] absorbing study of the legacy of the Cultural Revolution.
— Avro Chakraborty - Air Mail
[T]he past, as Ms. Branigan shows in this evocative book, is not so easy to suppress.
— Stephen R. Platt - Wall Street Journal
Tania Branigan’s prose is masterful and crystalline. It feels as if Joan Didion turned her powers of observation on China. Red Memory is the kind of book capable of altering your understanding of an unforgettable episode that is not a strange artifact of history but, rather, an urgent warning about our deepest, most durable frailties.
— Evan Osnos, National Book Award–winning author of Age of Ambition and Wildland
Red Memory shows how the psychic wounds of Mao Zedong’s decade of madness endure to this day, replicating themselves through the generations.
— Barbara Demick, author of Nothing to Envy and Eat the Buddha
Tania Branigan offers nuanced, humane portraits of people whose lives were transformed by those years, and also teaches the reader much about the politics of memory.
— Hari Kunzru, author of Red Pill
Without understanding the Cultural Revolution and its long-term influence, it is impossible to understand today’s China. I hope that all China experts, policymakers, think tankers, and the public perceive this and read Red Memory.
— Peidong Sun, associate professor of history, Cornell University
[E]xceptional… offers insights at once deep and clear into universal and timeless questions - of memory and forgetting, of horror and what it takes both to survive it and inflict it. It is haunting, evocative, and written with an almost painful beauty. I cannot recommend it too highly.
— Jonathan Freedland, author of The Escape Artist
Unfailingly acute, exceptionally humane—a masterpiece.
— Julia Lovell, author of Maoism
A veritable masterwork.
— Qian Julie Wang, author of Beautiful Country
Red Memory will tell you more about Xi Jinping’s rule than any tome on economics.
— Lindsey Hilsum, author of In Extremis
A breathtaking work.
— Oliver Burkeman, author of Four Thousand Weeks
A visceral history of the Cultural Revolution and a probing look at how modern-day Chinese Communist Party has sought to erase this chapter from its past…This is essential reading for China watchers.
— Publishers Weekly (starred review)
[Branigan delivers] poignant, engaging stories that reveal the deep scars left by the Cultural Revolution.…Across a beautifully rendered text, the author astutely examines the Maoist ideology that drove the tumultuous class struggle and destruction…. Sensitive [and] well-researched.
— Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Branigan weaves fascinating, unbelievable, and often terrifying personal narratives into her analysis. Her deep insight into a nation's painted-over trauma explains how mass hysteria, rampant betrayal, and even cannibalism have shattered a society for generations afterwards.
Stunning, profound and gorgeously written, “Red Memory” is a must-read for anyone interested in understanding China today.
— Patricia L. Hagen - Minneapolis Star Tribune
Branigan expertly documents both the power and the frailty of memory in the face of an unrelenting campaign by the Chinese Communist Party to bend and twist people’s recollections into whatever shapes best suit the CCP in the present…. Literature on the Cultural Revolution is a saturated market, but only rarely does it convey as Branigan does the continuing hold of that decade on a people otherwise transformed by economic development, technological progress, and newfound social and physical mobility.
— Mary Gallagher - Foreign Affairs