A documentary filmmaker who spent years uncovering a Mao-era death camp; an independent journalist who gave voice to the millions who suffered through Covid; a magazine publisher who dodges the secret police: these are some of the people who make up Sparks: China’s Underground Historians and their Battle for the Future, a vital account of how some of China’s most important writers, filmmakers, and artists have overcome crackdowns and censorship to challenge the Chinese Communist Party on its most sacred ground – its monopoly on history.
In traditional China, dynasties rewrote history to justify their rule by proving that their predecessors were unworthy of holding power.
Marxism gave this a modern gloss, describing history as an unstoppable force heading toward Communism’s triumph.
The Chinese Communist Party builds on these ideas to whitewash its misdeeds and justify its rule.
But in recent years, critical thinkers from across the land have begun to challenge this state-led disremembering.
Using digital technologies to bypass China’s legendary surveillance state, their samizdat journals, guerilla media posts, and underground films document a pattern of disasters: from past famines and purges to the ethnic clashes and virus outbreaks of the present.
Based on years of research in Xi Jinping’s China, Sparks challenges stereotypes of a China where the state has quashed all free thought, revealing instead a country engaged in one of humanity’s great struggles of memory against forgetting – a battle that will shape the China that emerges in the mid-21st century.
‘An indelible feat of reporting and an urgent read…it’s a privilege to read books like these’ – Te-Ping Chen, author of Land of Big Numbers
‘A powerful reminder of the ways in which China’s future depends on who controls the past’ – Peter Hessler