May 16 marks the 50th anniversary of the Cultural Revolution.
Such commemorations are a sensitive time in China and this year is no exception.
Already, a war of words is raging online between liberal intellectuals and supporters of Mao Zedong, triggered by a concert last month that featured revolutionary songs.
Mao launched the Cultural Revolution on May 16, 1966 with a secret document called the “May 16 Notice”, leading to the longest and most destructive political movement in the country’s history.
Mao supporters are planning a high-profile celebration, building on the concert which is being hailed as a triumph for their faction.
Shortly after the concert, Ma Xiaoli, a member of the so-called “second red generation” or descendants of the founding fathers, sent an open letter to the Communist Party central committee expressing her disapproval of the concert.
In a subsequent TV interview, Ma went into detail about why she is opposed to the idea.
She said seeing banners that read “Down with American Imperialism” on the stage while the choir was singing Maoist propaganda songs sent a chill down her spine because it reminded her of the painful memories of the Cultural Revolution.
Promoting its legacy contravenes a resolution passed unanimously by the Communist Party in June 1981 under paramount leader Deng Xiaoping, she said.
The resolution concluded that the Cultural Revolution was the “result of a series of fatal mistakes on the part of the party leadership which eventually brought huge disaster upon the party itself, the entire country and the people”.
Ma said the concert amounted to a public endorsement of the Cultural Revolution and the harm done to society.
Attempts to open old wounds and bring back the Mao personality cult will provoke public anger, she said.
She urged the party central committee to look into the matter and hold those who allowed the concert to take place accountable.
Also, she warned of the potential threat from a “sub-cultural revolution” that is taking place and undermining the stability of the country.
Ma, a former deputy director of the United Front Work Department, is a leading figure in the fight against the nascent movement.
She is fighting alongside other liberal intellectuals, warning that China cannot afford another catastrophe.
Many believe Ma’s letter is a subtle challenge to top party leaders in charge of propaganda and ideology.
Liberal academics, moderate officials and those who witnessed the horrors of the Mao purges are praising her for her courage.
Former premier Wen Jiabao once warned against reviving the “toxic legacy” of the Cultural Revolution shortly before he stepped down.
He might have opened the eyes of some of the most influential liberal voices like Ma Xiaoli to the dangers of a Maoist revival.
Mao, who died 40 years ago, will forever be linked to one of the darkest chapters in the country’s history.
But there are still those who refuse to learn from it.
It is the responsibility of every sensible person in China to make sure nothing like this ever happens again.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 12.
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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