40 years on, the people of Mao's brave new world

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 May, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 May, 2006, 12:00am

Over 10 bloody years, the Cultural Revolution caused the deaths of millions. But at the time of its genesis - 40 years ago this week - the brainchild of Communist Party chairman Mao Zedong was supposed to be a great new wave of socialism and to entrench Maoism as China's central political ideology.

From its beginning, Mao encouraged Red Guards and the masses to rebel and seize power from the Communist Party authorities, and to form revolutionary committees. In August 1966, the party's central committee issued the '16 Points', a decision defining this 'new stage in the development of the socialist revolution in our country'. It instructed the proletariat to battle the 'old ideas, culture, customs and habits of the exploiting classes' - the bourgeoisie and the march of capitalism.

As the pictures on this page help to recall, it was a movement that from its inception - and before the political power struggles and rank infighting took hold - drew a fervent following from many quarters. This makes it all the harder to believe, in this anniversary week, that the ensuing chaos and violence eventually killed up to 20 million people.