Tuesday marked the 40th anniversary of the infamous May 16 Notice that officially started China's Cultural Revolution, leading to the ferreting out of "capitalist roaders" and encouraging the Red Guards to embark on a campaign of chaos.
This period has been termed a "disaster" with official Chinese figures putting the death toll at 2 million, 7 million injured and the breakup of 70,000 families.
Chinese culture has a history that dates back thousands of years -- a fact that the Chinese have always been proud of. How then could have the country descended into such a period of self-destruction when there weren't even outside aggressors involved? Never before in Chinese history had such levels of cruelty, violence and lack of morality been seen.
The Cultural Revolution's rise can be attributed to two main causes: the despotic rule of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the dictatorial hold of Mao Zedong (毛澤東). If China had not been under a communist regime at the time, the Cultural Revolution would never had taken place even if Mao were on the scene. Likewise, if Mao hadn't ruled China, the country could have avoided the bloodshed and tragedy even with the CCP in power.
There is, however, another easily overlooked factor. Without the fervent participation of hundreds of millions of Chinese, Mao and those around him could never have instigated wanton destruction on the scale they did. But why did the Chinese get involved on such a scale? For this, one needs to look at Chinese history.
Within the context of a traditional culture devoid of the values of individualism, honor and freedom, the humiliation felt by the Chinese people following their defeat in the Opium Wars led to a sense of unity and nationhood. But as the Chinese -- from public officials to the masses -- learned and moved toward a consensus subordinating life and the individual to the state, this led to the suppression of the intelligensia and the public's capitulation of their own rights, making it possible for Mao to cast himself as emperor and teacher.
During the Cultural Revolution itself, the Chinese became like wild beasts, a situation made possible by their atheist background and the violence at the heart of communist ideology. They stopped at nothing to achieve their objective, with husbands and wives betraying each other, children denouncing their parents, and students attacking their teachers. It was a time when virtually everyone in China was transformed into a monster complicit in the bloodshed.
As these events unfolded, people were only concerned about ideology: They cared little for individual human lives, much less for honor. The Cultural Revolution brought out the beast in the Chinese; it was a cathartic release of the will to sin.
Today, the CCP does not wish to dwell on the Cultural Revolution because they were implicated in it, including high-ranking party officials such as Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) who was once a Red Guard leader. It is also impossible for the Chinese people to reflect on this period of their history as the dictatorial system that gave birth to it remains in place, and the government still monopolizes the right to interpret history.
Given the current Chinese mentality stressing the importance of achieving one's goal by whatever means, as well as belief in national supremacy and the country's rise as a superpower, it is not too far-fetched a claim to say that the Chinese cultural revolution is alive and well. This poses a threat not only to Taiwan, but to all humanity.