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November 9, 2017

Library Insider

Oral History Project Gathers Stories of China’s Cultural Revolution

The University Library System (ULS), in association with the Asian Studies Center and the University Center for International Studies, has created an experimental oral history project called CR/10. Its aim is to neutrally collect the memories and impressions of ordinary people of China’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, which lasted 10 years, from 1966 to 1976. It also includes interviews that illuminate individuals’ understanding of this historical incident after it happened, and it seeks to document the unequal impact of this historical event in China.

We believe these videos have enormous value for both classroom use and in research. They are an uncensored look at the effects of the Cultural Revolution on Chinese from different geographic locations, ages, professions, family background and other demographics. One remarkable feature of the interviews is that the vast majority of participants chose not to have their face or voice disguised, electing to speak on the record about their experiences (though they are not identified by name in the videos).

As one can imagine, the effects of the Cultural Revolution are deeply felt. The Cultural Revolution was a period of major upheaval in China, and many of the participants in CR/10 faced corresponding upheaval in their personal lives. While each participant might very well have hours and hours of recollections from this period in their lives, the interviews are purposefully limited to 10 minutes. (The Cultural Revolution lasted 10 years, and each interview lasts approximately 10 minutes, hence the name of the project, CR/10.) Interviewees were asked to discuss the experiences that left the deepest impressions on them — that is, what they most want to share with the audience, given a limited amount of time.

A sampling of quotes from the interviews helps to illustrate the depth and breadth of feelings and recollections captured in the videos:

“[My] deepest memory is ‘horrible.”

“The [boarding] school’s way of cultivating us as ‘seedlings of Revisionism’ left a deep impression on me.”

“Two people born in the same year have completely opposite feelings about the Cultural Revolution.”

“Our teacher said the school entrance exam would not cover the Cultural Revolution, so we just skipped it.”

“I think China has the soil for the Cultural Revolution to happen again.”

Interviews began in December 2015 and continue to the present. In September 2017, 32 interviews were posted on the University of Pittsburgh’s Digital Collections website and additional videos will be posted in 2018. Most interviews were conducted and recorded in person, while some were recorded via Skype. Most of the interviews were collected in the United States, while others were recorded in China, Canada or elsewhere. The videos have accompanying English subtitles. To get a better feel for the content, take a look at the trailer for the series.

What makes this project special? Haihui Zhang, head of the East Asian Library, explains:

  • Neutral stance: It prioritizes individuals’ authentic experiences and impressions over limited political or academic viewpoints.
  • Origins: It is supported by the University Library System at the University of Pittsburgh, with the East Asian Library responsible for collecting the resource material.
  • Uniqueness: Many electronic databases collect original documents and secondary research documents; CR/10 is the first database on the Cultural Revolution to collect video interviews about personal experiences.
  • Sustainability: It is an ongoing project with far-reaching applicability. Not only will it preserve people’s memories of the Cultural Revolution, but faculty also will be able to use it in the classroom to inspire students to look at things from multiple points of view, in history and in many other disciplines.

We are excited by the potential uses of these videos in research and teaching and are happy to work with the University community to leverage this uniquely valuable resource. Contact Haihui Zhang at for assistance.

More information about the project is available at the CR/10 website.


Jeff Wisniewski is the web services and communications librarian for the University Library System.


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