Studying History Locked in a Black Box

EXCERPTS from ``White Snow, Red Blood,'' by Lt. Col. Zhang Zhenglong: On writing history, (from the book's preface):

``People say writing modern history is more difficult than writing the history of the universe ... Some veterans [I interviewed] said, I know all about what you have asked, but I can't say anything. Looking at the veterans, I felt like someone who had searched everywhere and finally found the black box left after a plane crash, but then could not open it ... How can I study history that is locked in a black box?''

On the 1948 Red Army siege of Changchun:

``Starvation went from bad to worse. Those who suffered from hunger swarmed out during the day and night. After we turned them back they gathered in the no man's land between the enemy and us. As a result, many starved to death.

``... When we didn't let people out of the city ... both the refugees and soldiers found it difficult to understand. The refugees complained, saying the Eight Route Army [Red Army] would not even help when people were dying. They knelt down in crowds in front of the sentries and begged to let them pass. Some refugees threw down their babies and ran away, others hung themselves with ropes right in front of the sentries. Soldiers were deeply moved....

``Before the siege, Changchun's population was about 500,000. After five months of siege ... Everything that could be used as food, the bark of trees, leaves, had been delivered to mouths to sustain the breath of life. Only about 170,000 people remained....

``Piles upon piles of white bones. Should we evade the fact and not discuss them, or just blot them out? Should we not establish a monument ... so as to prevent another tragedy ... so as to defend the rights of ordinary Chinese people, their dignity and value?''

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