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Latest update : 2016-07-15

Video: China's Cultural Revolution, 50 years on

In May 1966, as part of the Cultural Revolution, China's communist leader Mao Zedong declared war on bourgeois ideology. Through show trials, humiliation and mass murder, the Red Guards imposed a reign of terror in the name of Maoism. It took the death of Mao himself to end a decade of political fanaticism that claimed millions of lives. Fifty years on, the survivors remain traumatised.

From 1966 to 1976, China was gripped by a horrific form of political terror. The Cultural Revolution tore families apart and killed millions, all in the name of Maoism. Anyone who dared criticize Chairman Mao was arrested. For the majority of people in China who lived through it, the period remains taboo. Most of Mao’s atrocities remain hidden, but the father of the Cultural Revolution is still worshipped.

Mao Zedong was born in Shaoshan, a small village in the southern province of Hunan. There, he is still honored as a hero. For many, Shaoshan is not just a place of historical curiosity, but more of a place of worship and a 15-metre statue of Mao still stands there. Despite the millions of victims created during the Cultural Revolution, the Great Helmsman's official status is still not up for debate. According to the official historical review undertaken by the Communist Party, Mao Zedong was 70% right and only 30% wrong. To this day in China, this official leadership report card has not been debated.

The Cultural Revolution may have ended 40 years ago, but many people in China still feel some nostalgia towards that time, as can be seen by a visit to Panjiayuan, a Beijing antique market. Many of the symbols of those years are still on sale at the market, including the most famous one: the little Red Book. The market is full of curiosities from the Cultural Revolution showing an idyllic image of a united country, where everyone worked for the greater good. None of the propaganda found there contains any mention of the violence. On the contrary, the Cultural Revolution is often portrayed as a type of Golden Age.

The market in the heart of Beijing is supposed to celebrate the past. But today, a new face has emerged: that of Xi Jinping. The latest Helmsman of the Communist Party of China became president in 2013. Many consider him China's most powerful leader since Mao himself.

Click on the video player above to watch FRANCE 24's full report.

By Pierre-Philippe BERSON

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