Badges of Mao Zedong on sale in Sichuan. President Xi Jinping has avoided any comment on the Cultural revolution because it will damage Mao’s reputation, one expert said. Photograph: Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters
It’s the 50th Anniversary of the “Great” Chinese Cultural Revolution!
And a “celebration” in Beijing could indicate that China’s leader is in “dangerous” waters.
Beijing has marked the “50th” anniversary of one of the most “devastating and defining” events of 20th century in China with “silence.”
Chairman Mao’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution – a decade-long period of political and social turmoil – began 50 years ago.
Mao Zedong reviews the army of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in 1967. Photograph: Apic/Getty Images
On 16 May 1966 a Communist party document fired the opening salvo of the “catastrophic” mobilization warning that “counter-revolutionary” schemers were conspiring to replace the party with a “dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.”
What followed was an unprecedented period of “upheaval, bloodshed and economic stagnation” that only ended with Mao’s “death” in September 1976.
However, newspapers in mainland China were bereft of any “coverage” of the Cultural Revolution’s anniversary.
The party-run “Global Times” tabloid completely “ignored” the event leading instead with a story about Beijing’s “anger” over a Pentagon report detailing its land reclamation activities in the South China Sea.
Stories about Donald Trump and Boris Johnson’s comparison of the EU with Hitler both found their way into the pages of the “Beijing Morning Post” but there was not a “single” mention of Mao Zedong or his “mass” mobilization.
The “Beijing Times” also shunned the anniversary “dedicating” its front page to a story about “police” efforts to find “missing” children.
No official “memorial” events were reported by China’s heavily “controlled” media and Chinese academics were “forbidden” from talking about the “sensitive” period.
“Researchers cannot accept any interviews related to the Cultural Revolution,” one scholar told Canada’s The Globe and Mail.
“They think that if we expose the Cultural Revolution’s dark side people will doubt the political system,” Wang Youqin, author of “Victims of the Cultural Revolution,” a three-decade investigation into “Red Guard killings,” told the Guardian.
Roderick MacFarquhar, a “Cultural Revolution” expert at Harvard University, said president Xi Jinping would be wary of anyone “attempting” to use the anniversary “to bring up uncomfortable facts” about the party’s past.
Particularly “unwelcome” was any reflection on Mao’s central role in orchestrating the “mayhem” that consumed China from 1966 onwards and is estimated to have “claimed up to two million lives.”
“The really uncomfortable fact which Xi Jinping in particular cannot really stomach is Mao’s role in the Cultural Revolution,” MacFarquhar said.
“Mao actually gloried in the chaos. He loved the idea of civil war … The last thing Xi Jinping wants to do is raise anything to do with the Cultural Revolution because it inevitably affects Mao’s reputation.”
A propaganda squad of Red Guards, high school and university students, brandishing copies of Chairman Mao Zedong’s Little Red Book in 1966. Photograph: Jean Vincent/AFP/Getty Images
Only in Hong Kong, which is part of China but enjoys far greater “political freedoms” thanks to a deal governing its return to Chinese control in 1997, was the media able to mark the “painful” anniversary.
An opinion piece published in the South China Morning Post said: “Fifty years on, and the party has failed to bring any kind of justice to address the traumatic event.”
“If the party fears disclosing the truth about its own past and refuses to learn from it, how can it have a clear vision of the right direction for the future?” it added.
Half a century after the “Cultural Revolution” kicked off with an explosion of Red Guard violence in Beijing, academics are still “debating” the period’s impact on “contemporary” China.
Daniel Leese, a Cultural Revolution “expert” from Freiburg University who is researching the “legacies” of the Mao era, said one consequence was the “fixation” of Chinese leaders with “political stability.”
“From the view of the party it is very clear that one of the main legacies is that you should never let go of control, you should always maintain the commanding heights, there shouldn’t be factionalism at all within the party,” he said.
For today’s leaders it was still paramount that “the 10 years shouldn’t appear as a period of complete anarchy because, after all, the party was still at the helm,” Leese added.
MacFarquhar, the author of “Mao’s Last Revolution,” said half-a-century on the role of ordinary Chinese citizens in the violence had still not been “sufficiently interrogated.”
“I think that the most terrible aspect of the Cultural Revolution was not just that the chairman threw the whole country into chaos. It was that having fired the starting gun, Chinese became immensely cruel to each other,” he said.
Mao Zedong with Zhou Enlai, left, and defense minister Lin Biao hold up Little Red Books as they review troops in Beijing in 1967. Photograph: STR/AFP/Getty Images
“It wasn’t as if some Nazi boss had said, ‘Kill these 6,000 Jews’. People just fought each other, killed each other – especially in the Red Guard factional fights … It was just a case of letting them off the leash and they did it.”
Outspoken groups of “leftists” who view the Cultural Revolution as a golden age of “social” equality and “ideological” righteousness have “defied” Beijing’s attempt to “downplay” the anniversary.
At one “commemorative” event in Shanxi province “neo-Maoists” held up red banners reading: “Mao’s thoughts are invincible” and “Long Live the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution!”
At a rally in the northeastern city of Dalian demonstrators brandished “portraits” of Mao and banners that read: “Sailing the Seas Depends on the Helmsman.”
Zhang Hongliang, a prominent “Maoist” scholar, claimed critics of the Communist party were “manipulating” Monday’s anniversary to “destabilize” China’s current regime.
“Their purpose is not only to reject the Cultural Revolution… they are taking advantage of these 10 years to entirely negate the leadership of the Communist party of China,” he said.
“Even if it was a wrongful campaign, 40 years is enough time for people to move on.”
Wang Youqin, the Cultural Revolution researcher, said such voices should not be “allowed to continue their denial of the bloodshed and suffering.”
She lamented how, unlike Cambodia, where the Khmer Rouge tribunal has investigated crimes committed under Pol Pot victims of the Cultural Revolution had been “denied any historical reckoning.”
“I am shocked that after 50 years we still don’t have a complete report on the Cultural Revolution. It is a shame.”
The academic said she was “convinced” that ordinary people could make a difference by “remembering and recording” the events of that “tumultuous”decade.
“Things will change,” Wang said. “If we make the effort, if we tell the truth, people will listen.”
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