The New York TimesThe New York Times

The decade that cannot be deleted

By Pamela Paul

19 May 2023 · 4 min read

Editor's Note

The Chinese government has never been particularly eager to preserve the memory of the Cultural Revolution. The NYT argues that it's erasure would have grave implications for the country's future.

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.

Sign in to informed

  • Curated articles from premium publishers, ad-free
  • Concise Daily Briefs with quick-read summaries
  • Read, listen, save for later, or enjoy offline
  • Enjoy personalized content