Now, helpless and indignant in the face of such ugly realities as environmental degradation, income disparity, pervasive corruption, theft and murder, drug abuse, human trafficking, land seizures and forced demolitions, many who lived through the Cultural Revolution have begun to wax nostalgic. That’s because, when Mao was lord and everyone was under the regime’s thumb, social problems were not so widespread and contradictions were not so acute.
Since efforts to confront the Cultural Revolution have so long been stifled, people born since then have no idea what happened. In June 2012, members of the graduating class of Central China Normal University in Wuhan took a graduation photo, all dressed in Red Guard uniforms. To these young people, the Cultural Revolution seems to have been nothing more than one huge party. Canny businessmen have latched on to this, using the Cultural Revolution to peddle their wares. Last August, on my way to Hangzhou Airport, I saw a huge billboard on the expressway that featured a female Red Guard, arms outstretched. “Comrades, here I am!” she cried.