The 50th anniversary of China’s Cultural Revolution on Monday was quietly ignored by the government with little mention of the tumultuous decade in state media or no official commemoration of the day.
On May 16, 1966, when Chairman Mao Zedong was at height of his power, the Communist Party of China (CPC) released a document that started the Cultural Revolution – broadly defined as a mass movement of people against those perceived as “class enemies”.
The violent movement ended in 1976 with Mao’s death but not before, according to many experts, it had scarred China for decades to come.
Millions of educated youngsters were banished to the countryside - a young Xi Jinping was among them - and teachers and academics were hounded out while the CPC became rife with factional rivalries.
In following decades, debate about the Cultural Revolution has grown within China. Mao continues to be revered in the country but more and more experts have criticised the decade and its impact on China.
Probably, the silence on the 50th anniversary of the Cultural Revolution was in deference to Mao.
But a state media article published last week in the influential Global Times, closely linked to the CPC’s mouthpiece People’s Daily, clearly indicated the opinion on the chaotic decade.
Carried with the headline “Cultural Revolution ‘won’t’ recur”, the article said the topic remains a divisive one in China and “has even become a proxy of the current debate, where leftists and rightists have long clashed over China's political route”. It added that “reflections on the tumultuous period have been gaining momentum while a minority of radical leftists is holding commemorative events to challenge the long-held official judgment defining the movement as ‘10 years of catastrophe’, a decade experts believe will not be repeated in China”.
It gave examples of those who mistreated others during the Cultural Revolution and have publicly apologised to victims since then.
“After Chen Xiaolu, a former Red Guard and son of Chen Yi, a marshal who was among those who led the revolution, made a public apology to his high school teachers for attacking them during the Cultural Revolution in 2013, others who participated in the revolution have showed public remorse,” the article said.
On China’s Twitter-like Weibo, netizens discussed the event.
“The (Cultural Revolution) is like the fascism campaign in China. The 10 years of revolution can lead to a century with no rebels, because a sense of fear and the spirit of the Cultural Revolution can pass down in every family. In fact, the remains of the (Cultural Revolution) still affects our society, this is why profound rethinking should be done,” wrote user Chabao.
Another user posted: “Face up the past and be introspective. It’s the way a nation can go ahead.”