05/16/2016, 14.15
CHINA
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Silence shrouds 50th anniversary of Cultural Revolution in China and in the West

by Bernardo Cervellera

The bloody campaign launched by Mao Zedong killed nearly 2 million people and sent  a further 4 million to concentration camps. Every Chinese has been marked by fear. But today, no memorial service has been planned and no newspaper article has appeared. The Party’s internal struggles and Xi Jinping’s fear of ending up like the USSR. Even today, as then, there are those in Europe who keep quiet and laud the myth of China. Many are predicting a return to the "great chaos".

 

Rome (AsiaNews) - Fifty years ago, May 16, 1966, Mao Zedong launched a campaign to eliminate his rivals, beginning a period of Chinese history referred to as the "Cultural Revolution". In an attempt to hide his failures in the Great Leap Forward (which led to starvation at least 35 million people), Mao encouraged young people to oust the "old" party in order to "purge" society. This became a full-scale civil war, in which children sentenced their parents to death, the students their teachers, the young Red Guards elders of the party and the army. It is estimated that in the period, which lasted until the death of Mao in 1976, at least 1.7 million people died. At least 4 million Chinese were imprisoned or sentenced to concentration camps, including many intellectuals, professionals, religious personalities.

Under the slogan of a "permanent revolution", Mao pushed young people to fight and destroy the "Four Olds ": Old Customs, Old Culture, Old Habits, and Old Ideas. Not only people, but books, paintings, buildings, temples, were destroyed freezing studies and research into Chinese culture, religion, relations with universities and the international community (which includes the Churches and the Vatican) for over 10 years.

This period is remembered by the Chinese with anguish and described as "the great chaos" (da luan), but little more is said in public.

So it comes as no surprise - although it is rather strange - that none of the major newspaper in China today made reference to this anniversary, which has so deeply marked and indeed  hurt the memory and fears of so many Chinese. And it is curious that while many foreign universities have courses that study this period so crucial to the history of China, the Communist Party does not allow any study or public debate about the period.

Last March, at the approach of the anniversary, an editorial in the Global Times, the magazine of the People's Daily, warned against anyone daring to present interpretations or reflections on the Cultural Revolution that differed from the official interpretation. "Reflections – reads the editorial - are normal ... but they must not add or change the official political verdict".

This political verdict issued by the Party in 1981, was that the period was "a catastrophe", mainly attributable to the famous "Gang of Four", the closest associates of Mao Zedong. Nothing is said of the responsibility of Mao himself, who called the Cultural Revolution one of his greatest achievements.

Still today, the Party does not dare to lift the veil on the responsibilities of the "Great Helmsman" and those of the other leaders, and 50 years later has yet to grant justice to the victims, or issue an apology to those who have suffered.

The issue is relevant, particularly given that many observers inside and outside China argue that the country is heading towards a new cultural revolution: Proof of this is in the massive media clampdown, control over the internet, academic teaching, religions, as well as the rise a new personality cult in praise of President Xi Jinping.

According to many reformists, the disaster and the violence of the Cultural Revolution should be studied because it shows the fragility of the system built by Mao, with the identification of the Party and the state and the centralization of power in one person.

This is why they seek economic reforms - valuing private businesses and letting the market decide the fate of the huge state-owned enterprises - but also political reform , ensuring independence of the judiciary, encouraging internal elections, leaving more freedom to civil society.

While the reformists want a more liberal society that gives more breathing space to the economy, there are also groups who wish to return to the Cultural Revolution, and demand a strengthening of the Party-State, blaming the economic modernization for having destroyed the Maoist ideal  of equality, giving way to corruption and a deep chasm between rich and poor.

Perhaps the official show held on May 2 last in Tiananmen Square was organized by this faction, in which the choir of "56 Flowers" paid tribute to Mao filling the air with "red songs", hailing "the eternal sunshine of Mao Zedong thought "and urging people to "cling to the party ".

The different positions result in an internal struggle, but where Xi Jinping’s personality dominates and eventually silences criticisms of the Party, fearful that China could meet with the same end as the Soviet Communist Party.

The anniversary of the Cultural Revolution should also be an opportunity to review all of those Western politicians and intellectuals who at the time hailed Mao and the "permanent revolution" as if it were heaven on earth, and hid the violence, torture, killings and destruction. The Western silences of that time are similar to the silences of today. With one difference: Yesterday they wanted to save the Maoist ideology, today they want to save Chinese investments in Europe or European investments in China. But the conclusion is always the same: it is the people who suffer.

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