The Unbuilt Wall of Sorrow

On the Centenary of the Russian Revolution


The 7th of November 2017 marks the official commemoration of the centenary of the Russian Revolution.


This third instalment of The Best China section of China Heritage features another essay from the ‘Ways of the World’ 世道人生, a column by the Hong Kong writer Lee Yee 李怡 published by Apple Daily 蘋果日報. In it Lee discusses how the Russian Revolution is being commemorated in Moscow, and what it means for the New Epoch 新時代 of the People’s Republic of China recently announced by Xi Jinping in Beijing.

— Geremie R. Barmé
Editor, China Heritage
Centenary of the Russian Revolution
7 November 2017


Related Material:

Walls of Sorrow


Lee Yee 李怡

Translated by Geremie R. Barmé


In his report to the Nineteenth Congress of the Chinese Communist Party Xi Jinping declared: 在十九大政治報告中,習近平說:

A century ago, the salvoes of the October Revolution brought us Marxism-Leninism.. Progressive Chinese intellectuals saw a way to resolve China’s problems in the scientific truths of Marxism-Leninism. 一百年前,十月革命一聲炮響,給中國送來了馬克思列寧主義。中國先進分子從馬克思列寧主義的科學真理中看到了解決中國問題的出路。

Tomorrow marks the centenary of the October Revolution in Russia. Intellectuals throughout the world hailed the founding of the Soviet state; their number included many of China’s most famous scholars and writers, including Hu Shi, later a famous anti-communist. Following a trip to the Soviet Union in 1925 the poet Xu Zhimo wrote the following for the Arts Supplement of Morning Post: 明天是俄國十月革命的100周年。100年前蘇聯新政權成立之初,備受全球知識分子讚美,包括中國當時的著名學者、作家,甚至後來反共的胡適在內。然而,詩人徐志摩,卻在1925年到蘇聯旅行後,回國在《晨報副刊》寫下這樣一段話:

They believe that Paradise really does exist and that it can be realised here on earth. But between their Paradise and reality there is a vast ocean, a blood-soaked sea. The Other Side can only be attained by swimming through that ocean. To do so they have decided they must first create a sea of blood. 他們相信天堂是有的,可以實現的,但在現世界與那天堂的中間卻隔着一座海,一座血污海,人類泅得過這血海,才能登彼岸,他們決定先實現那血海。

Over the following sixty to seventy years the Soviet Union fashioned just such a sea of blood. According to statistics, during the purge of kulaks and the Great Terror of Stalin’s reign, from 1922 to 1953, some 2.3 million people died unnatural deaths. What a vast ocean of blood! A famous quote [attributed to] Stalin says: ‘A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.’ 接下來那六七十年,蘇聯果然在實現那血海。據統計,在1922-1953年斯大林統治期間,因集體農業造成的饑荒及大清洗政策所導致的非正常死亡數字達2,300萬。這血海真夠龐大。斯大林的名言是:死一個人是悲劇,死一百萬人只是一個數字。

The Soviet Union was dissolved in 1991 bringing an end to Communist rule in that country. It took another quarter of a century, right up until the eve of the centenary of the 1917 October Revolution, in fact, on 30 October 2017 for that history to be acknowledged with the unveiling of a grand public sculpture called ‘The Wall of Sorrow’ in Moscow. The wall is made up of unrecognizable faces and contorted figures constructed in a curve. The sculptor Georgy Frangulyan said, given that innocent victims were mowed down indiscriminately by the machinery of the state, the wall is designed to represent the scythe of the grim reaper. The gaps in the wall are meant to allow people to walk into the sculpture and to feel its oppressive power. ‘It’s an expression of emotion,’ said the artist, ‘of terror and distress. It gives expression to all of the lives mercilessly obliterated.’ 蘇聯於1991年解體,結束了共產政權,又經過四分一世紀,到了十月革命100周年的前夕,即一周前的10月30日,在莫斯科樹立了一個巨大的青銅雕塑,名叫「悲傷之牆」。紀念碑整體是一座弧形的牆,形似一把巨大的鐮刀,由許多參差不齊、面目不清的人形構成,極具震撼力。設計者是雕塑家弗蘭古梁 (Georgy Frangulyan),他說,這個設計的含義是,一個壓迫性的國家機器像割草一樣扼殺了許多無辜的受害者。在牆中間有一些縫隙,他希望人們能夠走進去,用自己的肩膀親身感受歷史的重壓。「它表現的是情感,是恐懼和憂慮,它描繪的是所有那些被無情抹去的生命。」

The Wall of Grief, Moscow.

Despite the fact that he has encouraged Russian nationalism in recent years and minimised Stalin’s terror, in his speech at the unveiling of the Wall of Sorrow [Russian President] Vladimir Putin said:   儘管近年普京為了鼓動俄羅斯的民族主義,故意淡化斯大林的殘暴,但他仍然在「悲傷之牆」的立碑儀式中說:

for over 25 years… It is very important that we all and future generations — this is of great significance — know about, and remember this tragic period in our history when entire social groups and entire peoples were cruelly persecuted… unwarranted and absolutely absurd charges could be brought against anyone. Millions of people were declared ‘enemies of the people’, shot or mutilated, or suffered in prisons, labour camps or exile. This terrifying past cannot be deleted from national memory or, all the more so, be justified by any references to the so-called best interests of the people… . 已經25年了……對於我們所有人,對於未來的世代來說,了解並記住我們歷史上這一悲慘時期是非常重要的,當時各個階層、全體人民……都遭遇了殘酷的迫害……每個人都可能以杜撰的、荒唐的罪名被指控。幾百萬人被控為『人民的敵人』,被槍斃或遭受精神折磨,飽受監獄、集中營和流放之苦。這段可怕的過去不能從民族的記憶中抹去,尤其是不能以任何方式、以任何最高的所謂人民的利益為名而正當化。……

In the global mass media Top Ten Most Evil Dictators of All Time (in order of kill count) Stalin still comes in second place to the man whose portrait still hangs on Tiananmen: Mao Zedong. Xi Jinping’s declaration at the Nineteenth Party Congress that ‘The salvoes of the October Revolution brought us Marxism-Leninism’ is actually a quotation from Mao Zedong [in his 30 June 1949 speech On the People’s Democratic Dictatorship]. According to available statistics, during Mao’s rule and as a result of various political movements and the Great Famine created by the Great Leap forward, 49 to 78 million people died unnatural deaths in the People’s Republic. The scale of that bloody sea is many times larger that that of Joseph Stalin. 在近年國際媒體的「世界十大魔頭」的排名中,斯大林只是排在第二位。排第一的是天安門仍然掛着他的頭像的毛澤東。習近平在十九大說的「十月革命一聲炮響」,原話就是毛澤東說的。據統計,在毛的施政下,因各次政治運動和大躍進造成的饑荒,非正常死亡人數共達4,900萬-7,800萬。這個血污海比斯大林所製造的大好幾倍。

The Wall of Sorrow built in Russia signifies at least the negation of the slaughter of innocents. As Frangulyan said, ‘There will always be those who don’t want to acknowledge history, but I hope that with this monument their number will decrease over time.’ 在俄羅斯,樹立了「悲傷之牆」,至少意味對過去那段濫殺無辜暴行的否定。弗蘭古梁說:「總會有些人不想承認過去的歷史,但我希望有了這個紀念碑,這種人將會越來越少。」

The salvoes that delivered bloody violence to China have not fallen silent. They reverberate still; I fear they will now echo ever more loudly. 而這「一聲炮響」給中國帶來的血污暴行,卻至今沒有否定。不,其實還在肯定,因此恐怕還在擴大中吧。

— 李怡,《悲傷之牆》,2017年11月6日

Editorial Coda:

It must have been 1980 when I first heard one of my mainland friends describe the dead Great Helmsman as ‘Bandit Mao’ 毛賊. He was a veteran writer who had suffered terrible persecution from 1957, a man exiled to the Great Northern Wilderness 北大荒 and whose actress wife had been brutally beaten and left for dead in the first months of the Cultural Revolution.

We first met shortly after the arrest of the ‘Gang of Four’ in late 1976 at a gathering of literary bon-vivants who had been kept apart by two decades of political persecution. From then on this friend — a man now lauded in the Chinese media as a great talent abused during the years of ‘leftist supremacy’ — would often refer to Mao as Mao zei, even, according to both him and other friends, at meetings where pro-Maoist Communist Party elders were present. He was also an early and strident proponent of removing Mao’s corpse from his mausoleum, and in favour of taking down the portrait that to this day looms over Tiananmen Square. In no uncertain terms he declared that unless Mao was despatched from Tiananmen Gate the Chinese ‘would never know peace’ 永無寧日.

National Day facelift, Tiananmen, Beijing.

My friend was only one of many men and women of conscience, people who had endured the brutalities of the Mao years, who would speak out in various forms against the Chairman and his baneful legacy. There was Wang Keping 王克平 of the Stars avant-garde art collective, who produced a memorable sculpture of Mao as Buddha in 1978; Bai Hua 白樺 who published the scenario ‘Unrequited Love’ 苦戀 in 1979; and then, in January 1980, the Sichuan writer Sun Jingxuan 孫靜軒 who wrote a powerful poem on the lingering leader. In it he ominously warned his readers that,

A loathsome spectre
Prowls the desolation of your land.

Despite Deng Xiaoping’s canny move to put Mao in his place, and Party Central’s 1981 decision on post-1949 history that provided a definitive official ruling on the leader’s historical role (and mistakes), throughout the 1980s and beyond Chinese writers and thinkers continued, as best they could, to excoriate and interrogate the burden of Mao’s legacy.

The essay written by Lee Yee to mark the centenary of the Russian Revolution is only the latest contribution to this long and agonised process.

Adapted from Geremie R. Barmé, I’m So Ronrey,
China Digital Times, 27 April 2006