Cultural Revolution 'a huge calamity'

 Tourists pose in front of a giant portrait of Mao Zedong at the gate of the Forbidden City in Beijing on May 16, 2016.  Official Chinese media stayed largely silent about Monday's 50th anniversary of the start of the bloody Cultural Revolution, with
Tourists pose in front of a giant portrait of Mao Zedong at the gate of the Forbidden City in Beijing on May 16, 2016. Official Chinese media stayed largely silent about Monday's 50th anniversary of the start of the bloody Cultural Revolution, with discussion of the tumultuous decade still controlled on the mainland. PHOTO: AFP

It must not happen again, say two Communist Party papers in clear warning to leftist factions

The Cultural Revolution was a "complete mistake" and a "huge calamity" that should never be allowed to take place again in China, two Chinese Communist Party (CCP) mouthpieces warned yesterday, a day after the 50th anniversary of the period was largely ignored domestically.

In a commentary, the People's Daily reiterated the CCP's official verdict in a 1981 resolution that the Cultural Revolution was a campaign launched wrongly by Mao Zedong and exploited by counter-revolutionary groups that turned into calamitous "turmoil" for the party, the country and the people.

It went on to condemn the Cultural Revolution - which began officially on May 16, 1966, and ended with Mao's death in September 1976 - for causing widespread and severe damage and to note that history has proven it to be a "complete mistake in theory and in practice".

"It cannot and is impossible to be deemed a revolution or social progress in any form," the paper added in the commentary published on page four and penned by political professor Ren Ping of Jiangsu Normal University.

The Global Times tabloid, which is linked to the People's Daily, in a commentary written by its editor Hu Xijin opined that upholding the 1981 appraisal would help maintain China's high alert against any form of unrest.

PAINFUL LESSONS

In recent years, many developing countries have experienced civil strife, but not China. A key reason is that the painful lessons from the Cultural Revolution have given the Chinese people a certain immunity. No one fears turmoil and desires stability more than us. 

GLOBAL TIMES EDITOR HU XIJIN, in a commentary published in the tabloid.

"In recent years, many developing countries have experienced civil strife, but not China. A key reason is that the painful lessons from the Cultural Revolution have given the Chinese people a certain immunity. No one fears turmoil and desires stability more than us," added Mr Hu, using the pseudonym Shan Renping.

Observers say the official rhetoric reflects President Xi Jinping's bid to reduce concerns and curb talk of the Cultural Revolution making a comeback, partly as a result of his Mao-like actions, such as a clampdown on intellectuals since taking power in late 2012.

Dr Liu Xiaomeng of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences said there was also a need to push back against the leftist factions, which held commemorative activities on Monday in provinces like Liaoning and Shanxi and have been calling for a more positive reappraisal of the Cultural Revolution, including a recognition of its role in mobilising the people to root out corrupt officials.

"There is a clear message to the leftists not to underestimate the leadership's commitment to reforms and modern development," Dr Liu, an expert on the Cultural Revolution, told The Straits Times.

"Any attempt to halt the progress and bring back the Cultural Revolution would be akin to tang lang dang che (a mantis trying to block a vehicle)."

Reflecting the official stance, Chinese censors allowed comments critical of the Cultural Revolution to remain in cyberspace but not those calling for its comeback.

But analysts also point out that there is little cheer for the liberals hoping for the CCP to free up discussion and reflections on the Cultural Revolution, which Mao launched to reassert himself by mobilising the people against his political rivals. About 1.5 million people were estimated to have died in the period.

For instance, the People's Daily commentary also stressed the need to distinguish the Cultural Revolution from the history of the 10-year period so as to strike back forcefully at those trying to use the event to negate the CCP's leadership and the socialist system.

Hong Kong-based political analyst Willy Lam said this message is in line with a speech made by Mr Xi in 2013 that the 30-year period before the reform and opening up in 1979 and the period since then cannot be used to negate each other.

"Xi is trying to strike the middle ground between the leftists and the liberals through the commentaries as he does not want to stir up any controversy over the Cultural Revolution (and wants) to prevent similar calls for reappraisal of other mistakes by the party," he told The Straits Times.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 18, 2016, with the headline 'Cultural Revolution 'a huge calamity''. Print Edition | Subscribe