Taipei Times: May 18, 2006 - Tuesday was the 40th anniversary of former Chinese Communist Party (CCP) chairman Mao Zedong's "May 16 Notice," which is generally agreed to have marked the official start of the Cultural Revolution in China.
The CCP recognizes the 10-year-long Cultural Revolution as "a disastrous decade" which not only brought the economy to the verge of collapse but which also caused the death and persecution of countless thousands; the actual number is still not known. Research has indicated that millions of people, perhaps as many as 20 million, lost their lives as a consequence of the movement. Even more suffered persecution, an estimated 100 million to 200 million people out of a population which at the time stood at only 800 million to 900 million. The CCP brought an end to discussion on the Cultural Revolution in 1981, and it is said that the party tried to distance itself from it. From that point on they did not permit any more discussion or reflection on the subject, and it remains taboo to this day. The CCP even barred Chinese citizens from taking part in any discussion on the matter abroad.
But why distance itself from it, and forbid commemoration of the event? Fifty years ago, following the death of former Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, during the 20th Party Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev released a confidential report denouncing Stalin's violent abuses and immoral conduct. After this, Mao began to worry that people would give him a similar epitaph, and his May 16 notice clearly stated that "people like Khrushchev are nestling among us."
After years of observation, Mao finally decided that the No. 2 man in the CCP, Liu Shaoqi, was none other than this "Chinese Khrushchev." At the time Liu himself had a considerable following, and so Mao bided his time before enlisting the aid of General Lin Biao and Mao's own wife, Jiang Qing, to create a personality cult around him and instigate the "Great Democracy." The Red Guards sowed chaos and succeeded in bringing Liu's so-called "bourgeoisie headquarters" and supporters down in the process, replacing it with Mao's own "proletariat headquarters," supposedly to clean up the mess they had created. To accomplish this, he roped in the "revolutionary cadres" and had the leaders of the Red Guards he had used for his own ends thrown behind bars. It wasn't until after 1976, the year of Mao's death and Jiang Qing's arrest, that social order gradually returned.
The CCP's distancing itself from the Cultural Revolution fell short of a genuine denial, and because of this, de facto Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping and other members of the old guard who had been toppled during the 10 years of the Cultural Revolution were at first unable to regain their power. Nevertheless, it was impossible for the CCP to actually deny the Cultural Revolution, for to have done so would have been to cast Mao as the chief protagonist of the disaster. Mao is the spiritual symbol of the CCP itself, and to have pulled him down would have divested the CCP of the legitimacy to govern China.
This is what led the party to propagate the nonsense that Mao had been exploited by Lin Biao and Jiang Qing. Mao may have made mistakes, but there is no denying that he represented the collective intellect. Deng was to exploit the CCP's refusal to deny the Cultural Revolution to settle old scores of his own, designating three types of undesirable personality and unprincipled characters, and branding Lin Biao and Jiang Qing as members of a "counter-revolutionary group."
The Cultural Revolution originated in the despotic structure of the CCP, and Mao's approach was, at base, a philosophy of violent revolution. Despite the reforms and the opening up of the party, the CCP is still as grounded in avarice and violence as ever, with no real likelihood of change. Deng saw the 1989 student movement as another attempt to wrest power from him, and so he gave the order for the massacre. In the ensuing religious and moral vacuum, Falun Gong arose, only to be banned by former Chinese president Jiang Zemin, who saw them as a threat to the CCP's rule. It was just a replay of the Cultural Revolution.
At the moment the CCP is trying to create two camps in Taiwan, conscripting the pro-China element within Taiwan, represented as the "unification headquarters," to come out in opposition against the localization camp, which is being recast as the "independence headquarters." The CCP is trying to win over the hearts of the Taiwanese, but once it has used the pro-unification element to defeat the pro-independence elements, it will side with the pro-independence groups against the pro-unification groups. It is a classic "pitting the barbarians against each other" strategy, and they intend to use it to bring Taiwan to its knees.
Paul Lin is a New York-based political commentator.