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Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > June 2016 > The chaos still haunting China

The chaos still haunting China

Mao’s Cultural Revolution ended over 40 years ago, but for the country’s leaders fear of the darkness it released still justifies their authoritarian control

The Cultural Revolution: A People’s History, 1962-1976

by Frank Dikötter (Bloomsbury, £25)

The Cowshed: Memories of the Chinese Cultural Revolution

by Ji Xianlin (NYRB Books, £17.50)

Wish Lanterns: Young Lives in New China

by Alec Ash (Picador, £16.99)

In mid-March this year, a document titled “A Thousand Yes-Men Cannot Equal One Honest Adviser” appeared on the website of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, a top Chinese Communist Party (CCP) body. In a pointed, though anonymous, message to Xi Jinping, the Chinese President and CCP Secretar-General, the author quoted Mao Zedong to argue that “the Secretary of the Party must be a good ‘team leader,’ and… must put all the problems on the table and pay attention to the work of those comrades whose opinions differ from his own.”

Nobody has yet identified the source of the admonishment, but there was widespread speculation that it came from a senior political figure concerned at the increasingly autocratic appearance of Xi’s rule. Internal fighting between competing factions is nothing new in Chinese politics. But it usually happens within an empire of whispered rumours: people talk about who’s up and who’s down at private dinners and in restaurants, not on public websites. One of the last occasions when senior leaders criticised each other in public, albeit in newspapers and with placards daubed with slogans in huge Chinese characters rather than online, was half a century ago, during China’s Cultural Revolution. In those days, the denunciation of a top leader could mean his sudden disappearance without a trace, or else public vilification. While 2016 is a different era from 1966, 50 years after the outbreak of the Cultural Revolution, much of Chinese politics remains an unstated reaction against that period—when China was at its most violent and least comprehensible.

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In Prospect’s June issue: Bronwen Maddox lays out the case for Britain to stay in Europe—the position taken by the magazine. Mikhail Gorbachev explains his hopes for Russia, suggesting that the claim democracy is bad for Russia is “balderdash.” Rachel Sylvester looks at the Conservative Party and explores what might happen to the Tories after the EU referendum. Also in this issue: Nicholas Shaxson and Alex Cobham unpick the world of hidden money and what Britain can do about tax havens. Neil Kinnock argues that Labour isn’t making progress under Jeremy Corbyn and Jason Burke examines Islamic State and the networks that underpin their attacks. Plus Stephen Bayley asks was BritArt any good?