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University of Pittsburgh University Library System Receives Luce Grant to Create a Documentary on China’s Contemporary History

January 9, 2019

The University of Pittsburgh University Library System (ULS) has received a one-year, $180,000 grant from the Henry Luce Foundation to support the creation of a feature-length documentary film titled Unreconciled Memories: Reflections on China’s Cultural Revolution, a collaboration between the ULS East Asian Library (EAL) and Dartmouth College.

Unreconciled Memories will be based on two video oral history projects, one by the EAL, and the other by Dartmouth College Library. The Cultural Revolution: 10 (CR/10) project was initiated by the EAL in 2015 to record, preserve, and publish video interviews with Chinese citizens sharing their memories and impressions of China’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, which occurred from 1966 to 1976. The "10" in "CR/10" stands for this 10-year time span, as well as for the 10 minutes allotted to each interviewee. At Dartmouth College Library, the Illuminating Firsthand Experiences from China’s Rusticated Youth project includes interviews with former “Rusticated Youth,” young people who were relocated to China’s rural areas during the "up to the mountains and down to the countryside" movement of the Cultural Revolution.

Unreconciled Memories will feature selections from the interviews from these two projects, as well as images contributed by interview participants, archival footage and photos, and commentary by scholars of modern Chinese history.

“A primary goal of CR/10 is to preserve memory. CR/10 shows how one historical event can be experienced in very different ways”, said Haihui Zhang, Head of the EAL and director of The CR/10 Project. The Cultural Revolution remains a controversial subject, but, as Zhang noted, academic libraries strive to collect and preserve the cultural record in its entirety and CR/10 offers interviewees a platform to share personal memories or opinions of the Cultural Revolution, whether positive or negative. Dartmouth College Library’s Illuminating Firsthand Experiences from China’s Rusticated Youth project shares a similar objective, which Zhang said will be maintained in the upcoming documentary.

The title of the film, Unreconciled Memories, reflects the continuing debate over the Cultural Revolution’s legacy and the oftentimes conflicting feelings of people who lived through the era. Dr. Edward Gunn, Professor Emeritus, Cornell University, who will direct the film, said the documentary will “serve as a dramatic introduction to the unprecedented, ongoing oral history of the Cultural Revolution contained in the collected interviews of the CR/10 Project.” These personal interviews “give the film its unique and enduring value to learning how people experienced and have since lived with the power of that era,” Gunn said.

These two oral history projects are examples of new directions taken by contemporary academic libraries. “Today’s research libraries go well beyond traditional collecting and preserving of materials,” said Dr. Kornelia Tancheva, Hillman University Librarian and Director of the University Library System. “They also create primary sources, of which CR/10 is a prime example, thus collaborating with scholars and enhancing research opportunities.” Unreconciled Memories will debut in 2020. The CR/10 Project interviews may be viewed at https://digital.library.pitt.edu/collection/chinas-cultural-revolution-memories-the-CR10-project. Dartmouth College Library’s digital collection of interviews is currently under construction.