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Why China’s Cultural Revolution Still Matters, with Tania Branigan and Carrie Gracie

What happens to a society when you can no longer trust those closest to you?

More than fifty years on, the scars of Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution still run through the heart of Chinese society, and through the souls of its citizens. Stationed in Beijing for the Guardian, Tania Branigan came to realise that this brutal and turbulent decade continues to propel and shape China to this day. Yet the official suppression of information about the state-sanctioned violence which took place and the personal trauma of those affected have conspired to create a national amnesia: it exists, for the most part, as an absence.

In February 2023, Branigan came to Intelligence Squared. In conversation with former BBC China editor Carrie Gracie she explored the stories of those who are driven to confront this dark period in China’s history and why they fear its return. Drawing on her new book Red Memory Branigan asked 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?




Tania Branigan

Guardian leader writer and author of Red Memory

Foreign leader writer for The Guardian newspaper. She spent seven years as the Guardian's China correspondent, reporting on politics, the economy, and social changes. Her new book is Red Memory: Living, Remembering and Forgetting China's Cultural Revolution.

Carrie Gracie

Former BBC China Editor and author

BBC News Presenter and the BBC’s first China Editor from 2014 until 2018. She resigned that post last year to protest unequal pay at the BBC and now works in the BBC newsroom. She is the author of Equal: A Story of Women, Men and Money.