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Story highlights

May 16th anniversary mostly unobserved in China

People's Daily commentary says revolution was "mistakenly launched"

Cultural Revolution caused the death of thousands and plunged country into chaos

(CNN) —  

Chinese state media have broken their silence on the 50th anniversary of the Cultural Revolution, with a commentary in the People’s Daily, the official mouthpiece of the Communist Party.

The anniversary of the movement, which began May 16, 1966 and consumed the country in 10 years of chaos and bloodshed, has otherwise been largely ignored by official voices in the country.

The commentary, published late Monday, said the Cultural Revolution, when Chairman Mao Zedong’s Red Guards rampaged across the country, was “mistakenly launched” and caused “comprehensive and serious” damage.

“History has fully proved that the Cultural Revolution was completely wrong in theory and in practice. It was not and will not be any revolution or social progress in any sense,” it said.

READ: How the Cultural Revolution changed China

04:10 - Source: CNN
A survivor's account of the Cultural Revolution

The Global Times, a more tabloid newspaper, also ran a piece similar in tone that was published online Tuesday:

“We have said ‘bye-bye’ to the Cultural Revolution. And we can say it again today that Cultural Revolution cannot and will not start all over again. The Cultural Revolution doesn’t have its place in today’s China.”

Andrew Walder, author of “China Under Mao: A Revolution Derailed” said that period is still a sour subject in China.

“The government today is no where near as open as discussing this period as they were in late 1970s and 1980s when they widely described what happened in great detail to turn the country in a new direction,” he told CNN.

Officially, the Chinese Communist Party denounced the Cultural Revolution decades ago and the two commentaries toed the official line, but many Chinese still revere Mao.

“The entire history of the Chinese Communist Party revolves around the personality of Mao,” Frank Dikotter, author of “The Cultural Revolution: A People’s History,” told CNN. “Which is why the Party will never, ever promote a critical examination of its own of its own history.”

Critics and some survivors of the Cultural Revolution also say that current President Xi Jinping has taken a page from Mao’s playbook, consolidating power and demanding total party control over society.

It remains to be seen whether the lip service paid by state media to the anniversary will satisfy those who lived through the chaotic period.

READ: Confessions of a Red Guard

“Fifty years on, however, I am worried by the increasing leader-worship we see in state media, similar to the ideological fervor that surrounded Mao,” Yu Xiangzhen, a former Red Guard, told CNN before Monday’s anniversary.

“We must stay vigilant. We can’t have the gruesome brutality of the Cultural Revolution start again.”

CNN’s James Griffiths contributed reporting.