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In a recent article in the Sunday Times, Matthew Syed, asserted that “the biggest threat to the world today is, as it has been for the past 30 years, the criminal mafia known as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The article pours scorn over President Macron’s efforts during his recent visit to Beijing to broker business deals between France and China. Syed then asserts, without numbers, allegations that China “has killed more people than were lost during the Second World War.”

In support of his assertions, Syed focuses on a Chinese table tennis player, Rong Guotuan, who won the world singles title in 1959. Rong, says Syed, was placed under house arrest and then solitary confinement during the Cultural Revolution by Red Guards prior to committing suicide after being forced to admit imaginary crimes. The thrust of Syed’s argument is to blame China for Rong’s suicide and by implication, for the Cultural Revolution. The error in Syed’s narrative is the assumption that the Cultural Revolution was caused by the present leaders of China when the exact opposite is the case.

The Cultural Revolution was a bad time for China as Far-Left leaders took control of the Party, mis-directed the revolutionary enthusiasm of the young Red Guards that led to a civil war which commenced on 1 May 1966 and ended with the arrest of the Gang of Four in October 1976 and the eventual return to power of Deng Hsiaoping (who had himself, along with President Liu Shaoqi been the principal target of the Gang of Four).

The Party, the main governing body in China, was split. The economy suffered as growth fell away. Schools were closed and many Red Guards imposed unspeakable brutality as they roamed the cities and countryside armed with the Little Red Book seeking to impose a far Left political programme.

The point to be made in this article is that it was the present leaders of China today who were the determined opponents of the very Red Guards that persecuted citizens such as Rong Guotuan. Today’s leaders were at the forefront of the struggle against the Far Left. They succeeded in overthrowing the Gang of Four and bringing China back to the path of sensible and prolonged economic development and political stability. This is disregarded by Mr Syed.

There is no question that the Cultural Revolution was a bad period in Chinese history. The Civil War was violent and many innocent citizens who refused to pay homage to the marauding Red Guards paid for their principled refusal with their lives. It also led to a re-assessment of the role of Mao Tsetung.

Now he is recognised as a leader who made a big contribution to the creation of the New China in 1949 but who is also blamed for much of the misplaced political extremism that damaged China so significantly between 1966 and 1976. Mao’s portrait still adorns the entrance to the Forbidden City in recognition of his leadership in creating the Peoples Republic of China. New China but a full assessment of his career needs to take into account his responsibility for the significant failings of the Cultural Revolution.

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