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uni'wissen 01-2016_ENG

A public discussion and critical examination of the Maoist era and its consequences is almost impossible in China to this day. Even outside the country, hardly any research has been conducted on this topic. Thus, Leese is breaking new ground with his project. While researchers studying other historical contexts in which a regime was over- thrown have received access to archives, such as after the end of apartheid in South Africa or the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in Chile, the CPC does not grant access to its files. This means Leese has to resort to unusual methods to con- duct this research at all: He has spent the last 15 years combing through used book stores, private collections, and flea markets to find documents from the dissolved archives of courts or work units. “The Chinese government was somewhat more careless in the late 1990s and the early 2000s. They often made material they no longer considered important available to the public,” says the Sinologist. Leese has already collected around 6000 documents in this way. Internal orders explaining how courts or party committees should renegotiate verdicts made during the Cultural Revolution form the core of the collection. These directives were often based on sample cases that appeared in handbooks. The general approach was to seek the reasons for the wrongful convictions in individual misunderstandings of the political reality – as illustrated by the case of Ms. Wang. In public, the blame for the injustice was placed squarely on the shoulders of the so-called Gang of Four, a group of party officials led by Mao’s wife Jiang Qing that wielded great power during the Cultural Revolution. While the party did com- mission investigations to establish who was responsible for various offenses, the results were only rarely made known to the public. Leese and his team are using case studies to determine how the party leadership dealt with those who had been wrongfully sentenced. In addition, the researchers want to use the example of the cities Beijing and Shanghai, the province Jiangsu, and the autonomous region Guangxi to show how differently courts revised cases depending on local political constellations. In addi- tion to the court case files, their sources include interviews with contemporary witnesses, statistical data from regional authorities, and official party publications. It is the personal stories like that of the simple worker Wang that give Leese the mo- tivation to pore over thousands of mostly hand- “It’s important for me to show that the Chinese society of the time wasn’t just a conformist mass.” During the Cultural Revolution, the Communist Party of China dispossessed alleged capitalists of their property for keeping hidden wealth. Some of the property was given back to the owners after Mao’s death. Source: Institute of Sinology/University of Freiburg A handwritten personal court case file: China’s government does not grant official access to its files to this day. Photo: Thomas Kunz 30