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In Luoyang I have seen a temple in which multiple Buddha heads were carved into the walls. Many of the faces were smashed off. As I often travel in Hong Kong tour groups I was not surprised when the guide said it had been done by foreign collectors in order to increase the value of those they had cut out and exported. At other times they will say it was done by the invading Japanese (equally unlikely as they were Buddhist). But of course both explanations are nonsense. It was done by marauding Red Guards carrying out Mao’s explicit instruction to smash the ‘Four Olds’: customs, culture, habits and ideas. Of course Zhou Enlai is credited with saving many important relics, but even he had to carry out the dictates of the Cultural Revolution committee which had become the new ‘centre’ under Mao’s rejection of party authority.

At many sites you can see Mao’s shame, but you can’t blame him entirely. A major thrust of the May 4th Movement which broke out after 1919 was the rejection of China’s traditional culture, given the convenient label of ‘Confucianism’. China could not become modern, and thus the leading power again until it had been destroyed.

It is ironic therefore that the government refuses to restore the Yuanmingyuan, the Old Summer Palace, destroyed by French and British troops in 1861, as a monument to the evils of Western Imperialism, when the Red Guards sacked thousands of such sites, especially religious sites, all over China.

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