Yesterday marked 50 years to the day of the start of Chairman Mao Zedong and his Chinese Communist Party’s decade-long reign of terror that was The Cultural Revolution.
Much to the contrary of its name, China’s “Cultural Revolution” was not a period of supreme cultural growth in China, as I had once believed. When I first heard this phrase, my mind tied together the epic phenomenons of the United States’ “Industrial Revolution” with something reminiscent of Europe’s Age of Renaissance. I imagined an exquisite medley of the two; a China thriving in its rich history of art and culture, medicine, theater, and more – not only thriving, but bursting with beauty and potential – a true “revolution”.
However, with a simple click of the mouse, I immediately learned the words “Cultural Revolution” was a euphemism for “bloody political upheaval” and “the deliberate destruction of China’s former culture and its people”.
Masked by its uplifting-sounding name, in truth, Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution had the stated goal of preserving ‘true’ Communist ideology, as well as purging the country of any remnants of capitalist or traditional elements of Chinese society. The infamous dictator aimed to reimpose Maoist thought as the dominant political outlook within the Party.
In an attempt to regain and reestablish his authoritarian rule of China, Mao launched the Revolution in May 1966, subsequently catapulting China into a decade of political brutality, violence, massive persecution, public humiliation, torture, abuse, and the destruction of historic and religious relics.
China has since been successful at keeping the atrocities that occurred those years hidden from its citizens. Major news outlets on Monday remained mostly silent on the matter – except one.
In a shocking move, CCP’s main newspaper, the People’s Daily, broke that secrecy.
Late Monday night, the newspaper’s web-based version released an article speaking to the 50th anniversary of Mao’s Cultural Revolution, urging the people to accept the past condemnation of the event and to focus on the future.
“History always advances, and we sum up and absorb the lessons of history in order to use it as a mirror to better advance,” the article read.
“We must certainly fix in our memories the historic lessons of the Cultural Revolution.”
This article has been the government’s strongest public commentary so far on the 50th anniversary of the Revolution. However, the story broke no new grounds, The New York Times reported Monday. It asserted that the Communist Party’s verdict condemning the Cultural Revolution (which it delivered in a resolution in 1981) was “unshakably scientific and authoritative,” as well as urged the public to be in full support of current President Xi Jinping’s governance.
“There will not be a re-enactment of a mistake like the Cultural Revolution,” it stated.
New York Times reporter Chris Buckley contends that the commentary was unlikely to satisfy historians and those who lived through that time and “have called for a more thorough and candid examination of its lessons.”
“The more time passes, the more difficult it’s become to acknowledge these mistakes,” writes Dai Jianzhong, a sociologist in Beijing who attended the high school that was the birthplace of the first Red Guards, the zealous group of student militants devoted to carrying out Mao’s toxic cause. “Intellectual closure has left the younger generation almost completely ignorant of the past.”
While discussion of the Cultural Revolution has not been completely muffled, the superficiality of this mention is a disgrace. The citizens of China deserve to learn and understand the truth of their nation’s past, not a glossed-over G-rated version of the truth.