The Cultural Revolution in China: Its 50th Anniversary Was Ignored but Its Legacy Lives on Today

07-06-2016

The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution was one of the most tragic periods in China's history. It unleashed a decade of violence, in which more than a million Chinese died, some 16 million were banished to the countryside and many others suffered imprisonment, seizure of property, torture or humiliation. It left in its wake a shattered country, a fractured society in turmoil and a devastated economy. The Chinese Communist Party ignored the 50th anniversary on 16 May of the start of the Cultural Revolution, with no official commemoration. The state-controlled media then exhorted the people to regard the Cultural Revolution as a closed chapter and to look ahead. They distanced the Party from its responsibilities for the disaster, in an indication that the country's leaders are still haunted by its spectre. Nonetheless, the Cultural Revolution's legacy lives on in modern China and some parallels are being drawn with the current President Xi Jinping's crackdown against corruption. Xi's use of some of the Revolution's methods seems to reflect a pragmatic attempt to reassert the Party's authority in response to the new challenges posed by the rapid transformation of China, rather than heralding a repeat of the Cultural Revolution. The Party has said its lessons have been learned and it must not be repeated. Nevertheless, the former Premier, Wen Jiabao, cautioned in 2012 that without effective political reforms, a similar historical tragedy might happen again.

The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution was one of the most tragic periods in China's history. It unleashed a decade of violence, in which more than a million Chinese died, some 16 million were banished to the countryside and many others suffered imprisonment, seizure of property, torture or humiliation. It left in its wake a shattered country, a fractured society in turmoil and a devastated economy. The Chinese Communist Party ignored the 50th anniversary on 16 May of the start of the Cultural Revolution, with no official commemoration. The state-controlled media then exhorted the people to regard the Cultural Revolution as a closed chapter and to look ahead. They distanced the Party from its responsibilities for the disaster, in an indication that the country's leaders are still haunted by its spectre. Nonetheless, the Cultural Revolution's legacy lives on in modern China and some parallels are being drawn with the current President Xi Jinping's crackdown against corruption. Xi's use of some of the Revolution's methods seems to reflect a pragmatic attempt to reassert the Party's authority in response to the new challenges posed by the rapid transformation of China, rather than heralding a repeat of the Cultural Revolution. The Party has said its lessons have been learned and it must not be repeated. Nevertheless, the former Premier, Wen Jiabao, cautioned in 2012 that without effective political reforms, a similar historical tragedy might happen again.