Yesterday, a group of people dressed in red and yellow, carrying banners emblazoned with the slogans of The Great Helmsman, marched together to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the launch of the Cultural Revolution — through the streets of Hong Kong of all places.
Apple Daily reports that around 80 men and women made their way through the sweltering heat in Kowloon yesterday afternoon, while singing and chanting the praises of former Chairman Mao Zedong.
Channel News Asia spoke with the leader of the rally, Lim Mun Chik, a wealthy factory owner who was a red guard during the Cultural Revolution. Lim says he still holds Mao under high regard.
“The Cultural Revolution was a movement to purge the capitalists within the communist party,” he said. “Chairman Mao was the leader of the party. He wanted to punish his officials and make them serve the people and stick to the socialist path. What is wrong with that?”
Well, quite a bit actually. While Mao’s focus may have been on taking down his political enemies, the movement he ignited plunged China into a decade of upheaval and bloodshed, costing between half a million and 2 million lives, according to recent estimates, and shaping the thinking of an entire “lost” generation (including today’s top leaders).
While Mao himself has been deemed “70% right and 30% wrong,” his body still lies embalmed in the middle of Beijing. Meanwhile, Beijing has branded his Cultural Revolution a “10-year catastrophe” that they will not repeat, but refuse to discuss it openly.
Therefore, while the Chinese government has been more than happy to pull out the big guns to celebrate other anniversaries, there has been no public commemoration for the moment on May 16, 1966, when Mao issued a notification that officially launched the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.
Earlier this month a Mao-themed extravaganza hosted at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing received very mixed reviews, with some observers linking the show to political infighting at the very top of the halls of power.
Ironically then, the only place left for Maoists to congregate and pay homage to this crucial event in socialist history is in the capitalist haven of Hong Kong, which was left largely untouched by the ravages of the Cultural Revolution. (Though there was another pro-Mao march in Dalian yesterday of about 80 people, pictures from that rally have been censored online.)
Experts believe that Maoists are growing in strength and number in China as Beijing plays a dangerous game of cultivating a cult of personality around Xi Jinping, while also eliminating neo-Maoist competitor demagogues like Bo Xilai.
Channel News Asia spoke with one of these individuals, who yearns to go back to the days of collectivism and Maoism, though he never really experienced them in the first place:
Mainlander Jiang Weidong was one of those who travelled across the border to attend this rally.
“Things in China right now are not very good. I think they were actually better under Chairman Mao,” said Mr Jiang, citing grievances like poor food safety, job security, official corruption and a widening income gap.
Mr Jiang was only four years old when the Cultural Revolution ended in 1976. He admitted he was too young to remember what happened, but said criticism of Mao is a smear campaign organised by later leaders. He pins great hope on President Xi Jinping, who has shown a penchant for Maoist rhetoric.
“I feel President Xi Jinping supports Maoist thought. He says the party is to serve the people. This is something previous leaders never mentioned,” Jiang said.
Watch Apple Daily’s video of the rally below:
While the Chinese government may be taking this anniversary off, the foreign media certainly isn’t. Enjoy some reading below:
– SCMP – Cultural Revolution, 50 years on
– AFP – 50 years on, talk of cannibalism during China’s Cultural Revolution remains taboo
– NYT – 50 Years After the Cultural Revolution, a Son Awaits Answers on His Father’s Death
– The Guardian – China’s Cultural Revolution: portraits of accuser and accused
– CNN – Confessions of a Red Guard, 50 years after China’s Cultural Revolution
Apple Daily front on cannibalism during Cultural Revolution – "I hated him so ate him" – & Maoists' gathering in HK pic.twitter.com/av3gNjUFtm
— Benjamin (@garveyhk) May 16, 2016
— Chris Buckley 储百亮 (@ChuBailiang) May 16, 2016
[Video via Apple Daily]