Mao's Cultural Revolution ended over 40 years ago, but for the country's leaders fear of the darkness it released still justifies their authoritarian controlby Rana Mitter / May 16, 2016 / Leave a comment
Published in June 2016 issue of Prospect Magazine
In mid-March this year, a document titled “A Thousand Yes-Men Cannot Equal One Honest Adviser” appeared on the website of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, a top Chinese Communist Party (CCP) body. In a pointed, though anonymous, message to Xi Jinping, the Chinese President and CCP Secretar-General, the author quoted Mao Zedong to argue that “the Secretary of the Party must be a good ‘team leader,’ and… must put all the problems on the table and pay attention to the work of those comrades whose opinions differ from his own.”
The Cultural Revolution: A People’s History, 1962-1976, by Frank Dikotter (Bloomsbury, £25)
The Cowshed: Memories of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, by Xianlin (NYRB Books, £17.50)
Wish Lanterns: Young Lives in New China, by Alec Ash (Picador, £16.99)
Nobody has yet identified the source of the admonishment, but there was widespread speculation that it came from a senior political figure concerned at the increasingly autocratic appearance of Xi’s rule. Internal fighting between competing factions is nothing new in Chinese politics. But it usually happens within an empire of whispered rumours: people talk about who’s up and who’s down at private dinners and in restaurants, not on public websites. One of the last occasions when senior leaders criticised each other in public, albeit in newspapers and with placards daubed with slogans in huge Chinese characters rather than online, was half a century ago, during China’s Cultural Revolution. In those days, the denunciation of a top leader could mean his sudden disappearance without a trace, or else public vilification. While 2016 is a different era from 1966, 50 years after the outbreak of the Cultural Revolution, much of Chinese politics remains an unstated reaction against that period—when China was at its most violent and least comprehensible.