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China: at war with its history

The Chinese leadership refused to commemorate this year’s centenary of the overthrow of the last imperial dynasty. Obsessed with survival, will it allow challenges to its version of the past? Plus, a former Red Guard writes of new fears

By Isabel Hilton   October 2011

A propaganda poster showing Mao Zedong with peasants during the Cultural Revolution. Discussion of his role in history is still banned

I was having dinner recently in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou when the conversation took a dark turn. A Chinese think tank director was talking about his doctoral thesis, written in the early 1980s, on the Cultural Revolution. The party archives still hold many documents that remain “sensitive,” in the official euphemism. The extent of cannibalism in the Cultural Revolution is something he had discovered during his research.

The documents included, the director claimed, a manual on how…

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