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Red Army soldiers read from Chairman Mao's Little Red Book (c 1970)
The Cultural Revolution radicalised young Chinese into acts of violence against “elites”

The trial in China of an elderly man accused of murder during the Cultural Revolution has sparked online debate.

The man, reportedly in his 80s and surnamed Qiu, is accused of killing a doctor he believed was a spy.

The Cultural Revolution, launched by Mao Zedong in 1966, was an era of violence against intellectuals and other alleged bourgeois elements.

Some have questioned why one man is on trial so belatedly when so few officials have been brought to account.

Prosecutors say that in 1967 Mr Qiu, from Zhejiang province, strangled the doctor with a rope.

Charges were filed against him in the 1980s and he was arrested last year, Global Times reported.

Mao’s 10-year Cultural Revolution was intended to produce massive social, economic and political upheaval to overthrow the old order.

Ordinary citizens – particularly the young – were encouraged to challenge the privileged, resulting in the persecution of hundreds of thousands of people who were considered intellectuals or otherwise enemies of the state.

The BBC’s John Sudworth in Shanghai says the topic of what went on during the Cultural Revolution remains highly sensitive in China and public discussion of it is limited, but that the trial has caused fierce debate online.

One user said on the Weibo micro-blogging site described the case as a farce, saying: “Do they really think this reflects the rule of law?”

The South China Morning Post quoted one internet user as asking: “What about those big names who started the Cultural Revolution? “How come they never took any responsibility?”

However some internet users was a step in the right direction.

“This is good, at least it sends out the message that those who did evil will pay back one day,” wrote one user.

The state-run China Youth Daily published an outspoken editorial comparing the excesses of the period to the Nazi atrocities in Europe.

“The most shocking thing about the Cultural Revolution was the assault on human dignity. Insults, abuse, maltreatment and homicide were common. The social order was in chaos,” it said.

It suggested that unless the period was finally allowed to be openly reviewed there was a danger of the chaos and violence returning, warning that many people harbour nostalgic views of it.

 

Analysis

image of Zhuang Chen
Zhuang Chen/ BBC Chinese

Many Chinese today want the party to face up to the wrongs of the Cultural Revolution era. It is not as taboo a subject as the Tiananmen Square protests. The party’s wrongdoings during the Cultural Revolution are discussed openly in the state media, but without discrediting or undermining the party’s legitimacy.

Chinese children are not taught in detail about events from that period, which makes it difficult for the younger generation to understand the country’s traumatic past.

Mr Qiu’s trial has sparked vigorous public debate. Some say it’s more important to hold those at the top responsible, rather than make one individual a scapegoat for the party’s wrongs.

Nearly 40 years since the Cultural Revolution ended, China is still haunted by events from that period. As recently as last year, Premier Wen Jiabao said the country risked another “historical tragedy” like the Cultural Revolution unless it pushed political reforms.

 

 

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