China's painful past displayed under political shadow

The spectacular downfall this year of Bo Xilai (in picture)has thrust the Cultural Revolution into the spotlight.

CHENGDU, China - A group of museums commemorating China's violent Cultural Revolution is opening up normally tightly controlled discussion of the chaotic era - but only up to a point.

Businessman Fan Jianchuan has opened six museums about the ten year period beginning in 1966 when China's then-leader Mao Zedong called on ordinary citizens to struggle against entrenched interest groups - including government officials.

The 55-year-old says he's filled six warehouses with artefacts from the period, when young people formed often violent "Red Guard" groups and those labelled as "capitalist roaders" were publicly tortured at mass rallies.

"I see myself as an archaeologist of the Cultural Revolution," Fan, a former government official who made a fortune as a real estate developer, told AFP in his museum office in the southwestern city of Chengdu.

But what he calls "political sensitivity" has meant that he keeps the vast majority of his collection hidden from view.

"What I have on display is barely five per cent of what I've collected," said Fan, who plans to open a seventh museum on the era next year.

The ruling Communist Party keeps detailed discussion of the Cultural Revolution out of mainstream Chinese media, worried that an open debate could be used to justify unrest and also undermine its official history of a period it refers to as a "serious setback" for the party.

Mao Zedong set the period of lawlessness in motion to boost his authority, previously undermined by the disastrous effort to modernise China known as the "Great Leap Forward," which led to a famine that killed millions in the late 1950s.

China has never stated estimates of how many died in the decade of political campaigns, which saw citizens turning on their neighbours and caused half a million deaths in 1967 alone, according to US-based British historian Roderick MacFarquhar.

The spectacular downfall this year of Bo Xilai - former party boss of the southwestern megacity of Chongqing, who is set to face trial for corruption and other crimes - has thrust the Cultural Revolution into the spotlight.

Bo's revival of "Red culture," which saw Maoist quotes sent to citizens' mobile phones and massive "Red song" concerts, along with his charismatic leadership style, reminded many party insiders of Mao's excesses.

China's Premier Wen Jiabao - lawyers for whom this week rejected a New York Times report on the wealth of his family members - hit out at Bo's administration in March, when he also called the period "a historical tragedy."

Page
1 2 3 
Become a fan on Facebook