Q&A with Stamps Scholar Jessica Tong ’17

Jessica Tong ’17, a philosophy major and government minor from Sydney, Australia, is a recipient of the Dartmouth Stamps Scholar Award. Her project, “Untold Stories from the Chinese Cultural Revolution,” aims to reveal personal histories from that period. Tong is working under the guidance of her research mentor, Nien Lin Xie.

How did your project come to fruition?

I’ve always wanted to record the experiences of my parents, who grew up in the Cultural Revolution. I’ve been aware of the multitude of stories that my parents’ generation have and the fact that these stories haven’t really been circulated. It was one of the greatest tragedies in the 20th century. The number of people who died from famine, from labor, and from political persecution was extraordinarily high. I’ve always wanted to at least write down the stories of my parents. As I started turning it into a project, I thought I might want to write down more stories than just my parents’, because people had really different experiences depending on their class, age, gender, and profession. 

I talked to Professor Pamela Crossley, who pointed me to Nien Lin Xie, because she happened to be working on a related project. Nien Lin Xie told me about the Stamps Scholarship. So I applied for the scholarship and was able to go with her to China to record an oral history. 

Where and how have you conducted your research?

I went to China to interview the people who had firsthand experiences during the revolution. A lot of it was led by my research mentor. I got to see how these interviews were done, what kind of questions you should ask to actually build a coherent story, and what questions you need to ask to get people’s honest opinions instead of subconsciously looking for a political answer. It wasn’t difficult to get people to open up because even among the Chinese people this topic isn’t spoken about a lot and is still taboo. Some people showed up with old diaries and old photos. It was really moving and I felt very privileged to have access to these stories. 

How has the Stamps Scholarship allowed you to conduct your project in ways that you otherwise could not?

It allowed me to do my project in a more structured way. It also helped a lot financially. Without the scholarship, I wouldn’t have been able to travel to China.

What has been the most rewarding moment in your project?

What was really rewarding was how encouraging people were. They thought it was wonderful that I cared about their history, because not even their own children knew much about it. The fact that people appreciated what I was doing was really rewarding. It made me realize I wasn’t doing this just for myself or my friends, but that I was also offering these people an avenue to express their thoughts and remember their experiences.

The Dartmouth Stamps Scholars Program was established in 2014 in partnership with the Stamps Family Charitable Foundation to recognize and reward exceptional students who exemplify leadership, perseverance, scholarship, service, and innovation. Dartmouth Stamps Scholars are part of a national network of Stamps Scholars located in 40 elite universities across the country. Read more here.