History is written by the victors. The observation – purportedly from Winston Churchill – is true in China too. The country’s official narrative, The Twenty-Four Histories, covers five millennia to the Ming Dynasty in the 17th century, with scholars from each dynasty compiling the history of the last.
China’s ruling Communist Party (CPC) has also been keen to keep a tight grip on how to interpret its revolutionary past.
Take the tale of five Communist soldiers who fought to their last bullet before leaping off a cliff in Hebei, rather than surrender to the Japanese invaders.
For decades the “Five Heroes of Langya Mountain” have been lauded in textbooks, museums and movies as martyrs. Their self-sacrifice is particularly precious for the CPC, as the core of the resistance against the Japanese came from the Kuomintang (KMT), which later fled to Taiwan under Chiang Kai-shek.
Indeed, Taiwanese historians have argued that Mao Zedong kept his forces out of most of the battles with the Japanese and that this helps to explain why the depleted KMT was defeated by the Communists in the years after Japan had surrendered (see WiC286).
Perhaps that accounts for some of the interest in a court case surrounding the tale of the Langya heroes. Last month a Beijing court ruled that Hong Zhenkuai and another former editor of Yanhuang Chunqiu, a political journal, had defamed the group and that they should make a public apology to the sons of two of the five men.
“The sentiment, historical memories and national spirit reflected in the five heroes of Langya Mountain and their story are important sources and components of modern China’s socialist core values,” the verdict read.
It was the second legal setback for Hong in a tussle that goes back to 2013, when he published an article in Yanhuang questioning the story, including whether two of the men jumped at all. The suggestion stoked fierce criticism from leftist scholars whom Hong later filed a defamation lawsuit against, which he lost in January.
In the latest case Hong was found to have presented “ambiguous speculation” and “groundless doubts” in two articles that went viral on the internet, the court said in a statement, that was then reported by Xinhua. “Free speech is not without boundaries, and it should be protected on the premise that it does not infringe on other people’s legal rights,” one of the judges concluded.
Hong says he plans to appeal against the latest ruling. “This result was not unexpected,” he told the New York Times. “We’ve been seeing the political winds shifting to the left, and leftists want to safeguard so-called ‘red culture’.”
Last week China’s president, Xi Jinping, reminded his colleagues to stay true to their political mission as part of the celebrations for the CPC’s 95th birthday. “We must forever remember the will of our martyrs and never forget the dream that they have sacrificed their lives for,” he urged.
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