16 May 2006


40 Years Since the Cultural Revolution Began

May 16th 1966 marked the start of the Cultural Revolution, what would become one of the darkest and most destructive periods in the history of China and Tibet.

It began as a purge of Chinese Communist Party leaders by Chairman Mao Tse-Tung, but it quickly spiraled out of control into a mass denunciation of many of China’s leaders and academics and the rejection of everything associated with the past. Chinese youths in particular, under the guise of the Red Guard, took it upon themselves to punish officials and intellectuals they deemed to be opposed to the work of Mao and to physically destroy most of China’s historical and religious buildings.

In Tibet, the Cultural Revolution had appaling consequences. Across the country hundreds of thousands of Buddhist monks were forced to disrobe or were killed and more than 6000 monasteries were destroyed. Religious statues were melted down and the gold shipped to China for government use and sacred texts were burned or used as toilet paper. In a country where religion, culture and politics are intertwined, the loss of the monasteries also meant the loss of libraries that held centuries of learning, philosophy, poetry and art and it meant a loss of cultural centres and the focal point of communities across Tibet. The loss of human life during that period is unimagineable.

What little has been done to undo the damage of the Cultural Revlution in Tibet is mainly through the work of Tibetans themselves. To this day the Chinese government remains unaccountable for the killing and destruction that happened in the decade following 1966, their paltry attempts to restore Tibetan culture have mainly been gaudy stereotypes for the benefit of tourists. Even now public debate on the Cultural Revolution is banned, the government satisfied to just sweep it under the carpet.

But sadly, the atrocities of the Cultural Revolution are not confined to the past. Today Tibetans are still being arrested and tortured for practicing their culture and beliefs or for speaking out against the occupation. So today we remember those who suffered during the Cultural Revolution and those who suffer still.

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