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Cultural Revolution: China’s media breaks silence over anniversary


China’s state-run media has said the country can never allow a repeat of the “error” of the Cultural Revolution.

The editorial in Communist Party mouthpiece the People’s Daily is the first official comment following Monday’s 50th anniversary of the start of the unrest.

The campaign to “purge” society of Mao Zedong’s political opponents ushered in years of bloodshed and turmoil.

The era was “entirely wrong in both theory and practice”, the paper said.

China’s ruling Communist Party has consistently restricted open discussion of the Cultural Revolution era, fearing it could undermine its legitimacy and public confidence in its leadership.

But it has previously also acknowledged that the Maoist policies of the era were flawed.

‘Tyranny’, suicides and a personality cult

The Cultural Revolution was a campaign launched by Chinese leader Mao Zedong in 1966 to purge his rivals in the ruling Communist Party. It ended up destroying much of China’s social fabric.

What happened during it?

Chairman Mao gave licence to Chinese youth to destroy the so-called four “olds” or perceived enemies of Chinese culture: customs, habits, culture and thinking. In the early years, a chaotic kind of youth “tyranny” prevailed which saw schools and temples destroyed. Children turned on their parents and students turned on their teachers, intellectuals were exiled. Thousands were beaten to death or driven to suicide. Mao also encouraged a personality cult around himself, which led to people almost worshipping his writings and image.

How long did it last?

It officially ended only with Mao’s death in 1976. Millions were denounced and punished during this time, but there are varying estimates as to how many people actually died.

The main state media outlets had made virtually no mention of the anniversary on Monday. Only Hong Kong media, which enjoy greater freedoms than their counterparts on their mainland, gave coverage to the anniversary.

No official events were planned by the Chinese authorities to mark day, but it was being widely discussed on social media.

The People’s Daily’s editorial said the Communist Party had “long taken a solemn attitude toward bravely admitting, correctly analysing and firmly correcting the mistakes of our leadership figures”.

It also said the 1981 resolution by the Party to condemn the revolution was “unshakeably scientific and authoritative”.

“History always develops in a forward direction. We sum up and absorb lessons from history in order to learn from it and better move forward ourselves.”

Both People’s Daily and the state-run Global Times also ran an editorial in English under the headline “Society firmly rejects Cultural Revolution”, noting that discussion of the day had been “emerging on the internet”.

The paper said the era “cannot and will not come back. There is no place for it in today’s China”.

“The decade of calamity caused severe damage, leaving permanent pain for many Chinese,” it said, but added that the lessons learned from the era had “given the nation a certain immunity”.

“Nobody fears turmoil, and desires stability more than us,” it said.