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Remembering a revolution

'Your search word could violate related laws.'

That is the message that pops up if you look for "Great Cultural Revolution" on, China's most popular search engine today.

40 years ago this month, Mao Zedong, chairman of the Communist Party of China, launched a bloody revolution which ended a decade later with his death, and with China in economic and political chaos.

Today, the Chinese leadership remains on the horns of a dilemma. How should it remember the Cultural Revolution, which brought untold death, pillage, destruction and misery?

To answer that question is not easy, because to do so honestly would involve denigrating the memory of Mao, a Communist icon whose portraits and busts still adorn most government buildings and the gateway to Tiananmen Square. To attack Mao would be to attack the Communist Party.

It was the early 1960s, and Mao was watching his power ebb away. His 'Great Leap Forward,' or attempt at self-reliance by forging communes in the countryside charged with producing both food and steel, lay in shambles around him. At least 20 million people would die in the famines that followed.

That failure forced Mao to step down as chairman of the People's Republic, though he remained chairman of the Communist Party of China. The three moderates who were threatening to sideline him were his successor Liu Shaoqi, Premier Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping.

But Mao would have none of that.

Mao greets a peasant from the Uighur ethnic minority during a visit to Xiinjiang Uighur region in 1958.

Also see: From Mao to Bin Laden

Photographs: AFP/Getty Images

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