However, Fan says he is reluctant to exhibit items implicating his fellow citizens in violent crimes “out of respect for their privacy,” adding that the items he collected “touch on too many painful memories.”
One group that hopes to break the silence are Chinese liberals, who see the chaos as an illustration of the need for democracy and independent checks on the power of the one-party state.
Any mention of the era at China’s upcoming party congress — where a once-in-a-decade leadership transition will be announced — could be interpreted as expressing the new leadership’s commitment to legal and political reforms.
Some commentators have speculated on the basis of recent official statements that “Mao Zedong thought,” a traditional part of Communist Party dogma, might be dropped altogether, marking a clear break with the era.
“If the Cultural Revolution is referred to in detail at the congress it will probably be as an impetus to push forward political reform,” Yang said.
However, Chinese leaders, who remain focused on stability, are unlikely to make such a reference “unless the new leadership wants the transition to mark a big turning point,” Yang said.
Fan, who plans to open a seventh museum about the Cultural Revolution next year, dodges questions about whether the excesses of the period show the need for further political reforms.
“I can’t talk too much about these issues, it could bring me all kinds of problems,” Fan said. “Above all, I need to preserve my collection.”