China: Muted 50th Anniversary Of The Cultural Revolution – Analysis


By Bhaskar Roy

May 16, 2016 marked the 50th year of the Great Proletariat Cultural Revolution (GPCR) launched by the founding father of communist China Mao Zedong. In this hey days Mao was known as the Great Helmsman.

In Chinese practice every ten years of an event is either celebrated with great fanfare, or equally vociferous condemnation, depending on how the event is perceived at that point of time. But under President Xi Jinping’s regime, the event was given a pass over.

The only mention this year was a short commentary in the Communist Party’s mouth piece, the People’s Daily, and paraphrased by the official news service, the Xinhua (May 17). To note, the commentary was not published on the day the Cultural Revolution started, but a day after, thus downgrading the event. Next, it was not an article but a commentary, meaning it was vetted and directed from a very high level. In this particular case it may be safely speculated that the commentary went through the desk of President and Party General Secretary, Xi.

The commentary cautioned: “the Cultural Revolution was a major detour in the development path of the Party and the nation”, and emphasised that China had learned the lessons of that decade (1966-1976) of “tumult” and was “determined to avoid any social unrest that would disrupt national progress”. The focus, the commentary pointed out, was the great national rejuvenation (GNR)” and nothing would be allowed to disturb the path of this objective.

There was no mention of Mao Zedong, the architect of the Cultural Revolution. Nor of the “Gang of Four”, who later led the havoc.

A quiet burial to the Cultural Revolution?

Perhaps. But the last word on the Cultural Revolution has not yet been said in China. All research and writing on those ten years, and events leading upto it, when the paranoid Mao began his evil machinations in high gear in 1965, is banned.

Mao feared that Moscow was out to remove him. His fears may not have been misplaced. But he decided to look at internal enemies. He first targeted the intellectuals, inviting criticism through the “hundred flowers” invitation to identify those who were critical especially of his economic policies. The “hundred flowers” movement led to the action denoted by the Chinese proverb – “smoking the snakes out of the grass”. Mao destroyed as many of them as possible. His idol was Emperor Qin Shi Huang, who buried intellectuals alive. Mao hated intellectuals and named them the “stinking ninth category”, unleashing terror on teachers through the young Red Guards.

Mao had no economic sense. In 1958 he launched the “Great Leap Forward”. He declared ‘steel mills’ in the backyard of every household, and peasants across the country melted their agricultural implements. Peasants were asked to kill sparrows because they ate up grains. At the end, there was nothing to plough the land with, and no sparrows to eat insects that destroyed the grain fields. His commune system did not work either. On the side corruption creeped in.

During the Cultural Revolution Mao not only destroyed his perceived enemies, but all institutions including the army. The only bodies perhaps, left untouched were those involved in nuclear weapons and missile programmes.

Mao trusted no one, and few trusted him. As he used people, they used him. None came out unscathed after Mao’s death in 1976. China had to be rebuilt brick by brick and Deng Xiaoping was the head architect.

Mao Zedong is stuck in communist China’s throat. Much of the rigid Marxism has been diluted with redefining Marxism according to new realities through “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics”, officially, the basic tenets of Marxism remain as does Mao. The Mao Mausoleum in Tiananmen Square still attracts Chinese visitors who hold him in awe and high respect as well as inquisitive foreigners.

To the top leaders of the Chinese Communist Party, including the huge Central Committee of the Party, and most military leaders, negating Mao would amount to denial of the Revolution and the Communist Party. That would be catastrophic, because the Party history has been written in that way. After his death Mao was assessed as 70 percent good and 30 percent bad. This assessment is no longer heard.

The common belief among Chinese Communists is that denouncing Mao will lead to the fall of the Party and the fragmentation of China. How far that is true is difficult to say, but a democratic multi-party system will lead to different voices and opinions being heard, and an atmosphere created which will persuade ethnic minorities like the Tibetans and Uighurs to look at China differently. Why would they leave an increasingly economically powerful China if it becomes inclusive? Neighbouring India has far more ethnic and linguistic diversity but all have developed a stake in the country. Thoughts of breaking away is alien except for a few groups in North-East India but their grassroots support is dwindling, or vanished.

H. H. the 14th Dalai Lama, would be delighted to return to Tibet if his minimum conditions under China’s own law, the Autonomous Region Proclamation, was given to him. Beijing, however, decided to demonise him. Han Chauvinism is palpable in China. As a Communist Party member told this writer some years ago, Han Chinese people had “two brains”, making the Han race far superior to others. This idea was ingrained into him from the entry level at school.

The central point is the Party. With a strength of over 90 million selected party members, it is stronger than the armed forces many times over. Every single member from top to bottom has a stake in the Party and makes the Party almost invincible. The Tiananmen Square incident which actually demanded accountability from the party and freedom under the constitutions of both the Party and the State, has been buried.

Yet, no one can blame Xi Jinping for striving to make China a strong country next only to the United States for now. Every responsible leader of any country would legitimately take such a road depending on its internal capacity.

Many children, or sons primarily, of old revolutionary leaders who had suffered under Mao are leading China today.

Xi Jinping is one of them. All of them, however, do not have the same ideas and vision. Bo Xilai, Politburo member and Party Secretary of Chengdu, brought back Maoist Flags, became over ambitious and was brought down by Xi.

Is Xi reviving Maoism? It does not seem so. But he is holding on to the Revolution with periodic visits to revolutionary bases. He is using the “purge” of leaders using corruption as the handle. On the one hand he is correct – corruption was eating into the Party and the army. But he has used it cleverly to get rid of his opponents and their huge network. He has spared those in areas where the ground will be difficult to tread. The punishments meted out to the culprits have not been demonic like that of Mao, who delighted in torturing. What he did to President Liu Shaoqi was worse than cannibalistic. Under Xi punishment is said to be according to law but more people are saying that the law is “Xi Jinping’s law”.

Who are Xi’s Liu Shaoqi, Lin Biao, Zhou Enlai, the “Gang” and Deng Xiaoping? Very difficult to say unless one is a Zhongnanhai insider. And characteristically they are not talking.

Xi has neutralized his predecessor Hu Jintao, especially by charging Hu’s political advisor Ling Jiahua of taking bribes, illegally obtaining state secrets and abuse of power.

He had tried to bring down former President, Party Chief and Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC), Jiang Zemin. As yet, he has not been successful. Jiang has three of his protégés in the seven member Politburo Standing Committee. But they will retire at the 19th Party Congress in 2017.

The remaining two will be Xi himself and Premier Li Keqiang, Li belongs to the Communist Youth League (CYL), a Party body which throws up senior leaders. Xi is revamping the CYL and a weakened Li cannot do anything about it.

Xi has taken most of the powers directly in his hands – political, security, strategic and military, with the revamping of the military structure and appointing himself as commander-in-chief of the Joint Command, a newly created post.

All powers in one hand may become too heavy. In many ways like Mao, but in a more sophisticated manner, Xi is making himself the only power centre. This is something that Deng Xiaoping broke when he remained as a vice-premier by his own choice. Deng had to retain the chairmanship of the CMC because there was no alternative. Xi will sail through the 19th Party Congress. After that what? Will he retain his posts after 2022, the 20th Party Congress? As the Chinese saying goes, China will have “interesting times”, Remember Mao Zedong!

*The writer is a New Delhi based Strategic analyst. He can be contacted at e-mail [email protected]


SAAG is the South Asia Analysis Group, a non-profit, non-commercial think tank. The objective of SAAG is to advance strategic analysis and contribute to the expansion of knowledge of Indian and International security and promote public understanding.

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