It would seem impossible to forget or minimize the Cultural Revolution in China, which lasted from 1966 to 1976, resulted in an estimated 1.6 million to 2 million deaths and scarred a generation and its descendants. The movement, which under Mao Zedong’s leadership sought to purge Chinese society of all remaining non-communist elements, upended nearly every hallowed institution and custom. Teachers and schools long held in esteem were denounced. Books were burned and banned, museums ransacked, private art collections destroyed. Intellectuals were tortured.
But in China, a country where information is often suppressed and history is constantly rewritten — witness recent government censorship of COVID-19 research and the obscuring of Hong Kong’s British colonial past in new school textbooks — the memory of the Cultural Revolution risks being forgotten, sanitized and abused, to the detriment of the nation’s future.