Reviews of Red Memory by Tania Branigan

Red Memory

The Afterlives of China's Cultural Revolution

by Tania Branigan

Red Memory by Tania Branigan X
Red Memory by Tania Branigan
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     Not Yet Rated
  • Published:
    May 2023, 304 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Grace Graham-Taylor
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About this Book

Book Summary

An indelible exploration of the invisible scar that runs through the heart of Chinese society and the souls of its citizens.

"It is impossible to understand China today without understanding the Cultural Revolution," Tania Branigan writes. During this decade of Maoist fanaticism between 1966 and 1976, children turned on parents, students condemned teachers, and as many as two million people died for their supposed political sins, while tens of millions were hounded, ostracized, and imprisoned. Yet in China this brutal and turbulent period exists, for the most part, as an absence; official suppression and personal trauma have conspired in national amnesia.

Red Memory uncovers forty years of silence through the stories of individuals who lived through the madness. Deftly exploring how this era defined a generation and continues to impact China today, Branigan asks: What happens to a society when you can no longer trust those closest to you? What happens to the present when the past is buried, exploited, or redrawn? And how do you live with yourself when the worst is over?


These two matters are not finished, and their legacy must be handed down to the next generation. How to do this? If not in peace, then in turmoil ...

Mao Zedong, in his last months, 
on the Cultural Revolution and forcing the 
Kuomintang to retreat to Taiwan

Ice sealed the lakes at the heart of the city and colour had leached from the streets and skies, smog dissolving into cloud: the horizon was just a memory. The ginkgos in the park were ink tracings now. Pet dogs wore thick jumpers this morning, and had scuttered past with a stony resolve I recognised. Though I was indoors again, still swathed in layer on layer of wool, the cold continued to insinuate itself. Soon it was bone-deep. These industrial buildings to the north of Beijing, once used to manufacture armaments, were beloved by artists for their bare concrete walls, lofty ceilings and expanses of glass, all of which contributed to the studio's mortuary chill.

I'd heard that the paintings were large, but ...

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BookBrowse Review


Tania Branigan's Red Memory is an astounding and often harrowing study of Mao's China. Through a series of interviews with people who experienced the Cultural Revolution first-hand, she preserves the reality of one of the darkest and yet most elusive chapters in China's recent past.

Media Reviews

The Guardian (UK)
Branigan's book is investigative journalism at its best, its hard-won access eliciting deep insight. The result is a survey of China's invisible scars that makes essential reading for anyone seeking to better understand the nation today.

Financial Times (UK)
What makes Branigan's account special is captured in a line at the end of her work: 'This book could not be written if I were to begin it today'…. Amid the growing difficulties of accessing lived experiences in China, Branigan's lyrical style of writing lends itself well to intimate encounters with interviewees.… Her humanising approach to writing about China is particularly valuable amid our current polarising geopolitical narrative, which loves strong lines between enemies and allies. It is also appropriate for capturing a decade in which the line between hunter and hunted shifted with the political winds of the day.

Prospect (UK)
[A] penetrating study of the buried stories of the Cultural Revolution of 1966 to 1976.

Sunday Times (UK)
This book is thoroughly deserving of prominence. It is complex … because so is China.

The Times (UK)
This is a beautifully written and thought-provoking book.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
[Branigan delivers] poignant, engaging stories that reveal the deep scars left by the Cultural Revolution.…Across a beautifully rendered text, the author astutely examines the Maoist ideology that drove the tumultuous class struggle and destruction…. Sensitive [and] well-researched.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Journalist Branigan debuts with a visceral history of the Cultural Revolution and a probing look at how the modern-day Chinese Communist Party has sought to erase this chapter from its past...Drawing on fascinating and often wrenching interviews with victims and perpetrators, Branigan...makes a persuasive case that the period is an unresolved national trauma lying just beneath the surface of modern China. This is essential reading for China watchers.

Reader Reviews

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