This month marks the 50 years since the beginning of China's infamous Cultural Revolution -- a decade-long struggle that left more than 1.5 million people dead and millions more injured, displaced, imprisoned or starving.
Newly released government archives have uncovered new details on this dark period of China's history. In today's Seeker Daily dispatch, we look at the history and legacy of the movement.
Despite government rhetoric of the time, the Cultural Revolution was essentially a massive and lethal power play by Chairman Mao Zedong to shore up power in China, and the Communist world at large.
China's neighbor and rival, the Soviet Union, was undergoing massive change as new leader Nikita Khrushchev denounced his predecessor, Joseph Stalin. Fearing a similar fate for himself, Mao launched a radical campaign to jump-start China's economy.
Dubbed The Great Leap Forward, the initiative redistributed land among China's rural peasants and organized workers into communes. This massive shift in the social order was a complete failure and nearly destroyed the nation's economy.
RELATED: How China Is Reviving The Silk Road
Desperate to maintain control, Mao organized a conference in May of 1966 in which he proclaimed that dangerous bourgeois elements had infiltrated Chinese society and government. These elements, Mao insisted, could only be purged through violent class struggle.
Thus began a reign of terror that would last for more than a decade. Schools were shut down entirely, with students recruited into violent paramilitary units called Red Guards.
Cities and urban centers, considered the primary threat by Mao, were torn apart. Tens of thousands of "intellectuals" were forcibly relocated to rural work farms. Millions suffered arbitrary imprisonment, abuse, torture and rape. The Cultural Revolution didn't officially end until Mao's death in 1976.
For the most part, these atrocities were kept secret for decades, as China was almost entirely closed to Western observers. Only in recent years have historians been able to plumb government archives and reveal the extent of the horrors.
Modern-day China continues to deal with power struggles and human rights issues, but nothing on the scale of the Cultural Revolution.
-- By Glenn McDonald Learn More:
New Yorker: The Cost of the Cultural Revolution, Fifty Years Later
NPR: Newly Released Documents Detail Traumas of China's Cultural Revolution
New York Times: 50 Years of Communism in China
History: Cultural Revolution