May 16, 2016, marks the 50th anniversary of the outbreak of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.
On this day 50 years ago, China issued a top directive calling on its people to rid society of “members of the bourgeoisie threatening to seize political power from the proletariat” – marking the start of a decade-long violent class struggle.
For 10 tumultuous years from 1966, the country underwent massive sociopolitical upheaval that saw countless politicians and intellectuals driven to their deaths, civilians killed in armed conflicts, and cultural relics and artefacts destroyed. The official death toll numbered more than 1.7 million.
We detail the birth of the movement – Mao Zedong’s brainchild – and how the hardline political campaign shook the nation even as its effects rippled across the globe. Former Red Guards and rebels share their personal accounts of the difficult decade that the country and its people are still struggling to come to terms with half a century on.