China's Cultural Revolution was a result of Mao Zedong's (
Mao convinced Chinese people that his "Great Proletarian Cultural Movement," launched 40 years ago on Tuesday, was necessary to destroy the evil influences of Western bourgeois and Confucian feudal culture and free them from the exploitation of the bureaucratic class.
But the next decade was one of bloodshed and hardship now known as "10 years of catastrophe," as the country descended into chaos that claimed millions of lives and pushed China to the brink of economic and social collapse.
Analysts now say Mao's purported reason for the revolution was merely an excuse to eliminate those he perceived as a political threat -- such as president Liu Shaoqi (
"I don't think he really believed this but he was just using it to mobilize the masses to attack the bureaucrats in the party," Wu Guoguang, a former government adviser and now political scientist at Canada's University of Victoria.
Forty years on, the militant movement's legacy continues to haunt many Chinese. And still more question how such senseless brutality could take place on such a mass scale for a decade.
Mao, a suspicious man by nature, saw Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev's 1956 denunciation of Stalin after his death as a warning for himself.
Mao was also criticized by the Communist Party for his Great Leap Forward movement (1958-1961), an ambitious experiment to put China on a fast track to industrial development. It failed miserably and caused an estimated 30 million famine-related deaths.
Analysts said it left a proud Mao deeply humiliated and he voluntarily withdrew from the party apparatus while watching with discomfort the rise of Liu.
"He deceived people by saying that [inequality] was due to his enemies, like Liu Shaoqi and [late paramount leader] Deng Xiaoping (
Dubbed "China's Khrushchev" by Mao, Liu was ruthlessly attacked during the Cultural Revolution, and died after being tortured in prison in 1969.
"He felt resentful. The Great Leap Forward had a tremendous impact on Mao ... he was forced to reflect on his faults," says Li Datong (
But military leader Lin Biao's (
"Lin Biao turned our belief of Marxism into purely a belief of Mao," says Xu.
Mao's "cult of personality," coming on the heels of two decades of orthodox communist education in a highly isolated country, became a recipe for disaster when combined with Mao's personal ambition for power.
"Our brains were full of political legend ... even if Mao were to have asked me to become a human bomb then, I would have regarded it as a great honor," Xu recalls.
Part of the blind trust in Mao was rooted in a traditional wish of Chinese people for a wise and just emperor, others say.