Skip to main content
Canada’s most-awarded newsroom for a reason
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
Canada’s most-awarded newsroom for a reason
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

A tourist poses in front of a giant portrait of Mao Zedong at the gate of the Forbidden City in Beijing on May 16, 2016.

Fred Dufour/AFP / Getty Images

It's understandable, if historically contemptible, that China prefers to ignore the 50th anniversary of the disastrous Cultural Revolution.

The Chinese Communist Party has found a way to survive in a constant state of denial and selective ignorance. It retains power in a controlled system where individual dissent is routinely punished in the name of collective forward progress. The present is defined according to the Party's needs and the future is perpetually malleable. This is the essence of one-party, authoritarian regimes, that they always get to dictate the terms of what is and will be in their own interests.

But the messiness of the past is a different matter. What's done can't be undone, only suppressed and ignored – and that is why the self-proclaimed heirs to Mao Zedong are looking the other way as the anniversary of all that torture and tumult slinks by so shamefully. China's leaders clearly have no interest in celebrating their connection and complicity with the murderous Red Guard purification program that saw a million people killed and the country torn apart.

Story continues below advertisement

Even to raise the issue is to burst the bubble of the progress narrative. How could anyone in China safely and rationally critique the bloody purges orchestrated by Mao and carried out by dutiful student militants with inhuman zeal? As proof of China's long-term refusal to learn from its darkest moments, the man who ordered his country's descent into ideological insanity is now revered as the patron figure of President's Xi Jinping's regime, providing a reassuring continuity to China's founding principles just as they're being eclipsed by the gratifications of the market economy.

For how long can a country that aspires to be great treat its history, and the abject suffering of its citizens, with such contempt?

At the heart of the Chinese Communist system, as its own experience 50 years ago revealed to the rest of the world, is a dark, dangerous and ever-available force of superiority and hatred that thrives in a system where beliefs go unquestioned and power is in the hands of a few.

"History always advances," said a contented commentator in Beijing's People's Daily this week, as if that were that. But of course this is untrue – history recurs, and a China that can't confront its demons may be doomed to face them again.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies