I was pleasantly surprised to see the media pause for a moment last week to recall China’s Cultural Revolution on the 50th anniversary of its regrettable birth. Unlike a lot of the media’s silly anniversaries this one is actually worth remembering.
If you aren’t familiar with the Cultural Revolution just think of Stephen King’s “Children of the Corn” being played out in China rather than rural Nebraska. The movement began in 1966 and lasted about ten years. Children rose up against their elders and seized for themselves the reins of power, humiliating their parents and teachers and sometimes even murdering them. The kids, who were known as Red Guards, had been indoctrinated in the mass murderer Mao Zedong’s unique brand of Marxism-Leninism. They learned almost everything they knew from Mao’s “Little Red Book,” a collection of his sayings that became a fetish object among Chinese youth. Mao whipped them into fits of rage then unleashed them like attack dogs on his political opponents.
So, all in all, it was not unlike contemporary America.
Okay, so that may be a slight exaggeration—emphasis on the slight. The difference between China in 1966 and the United States in 2016 is one of degree, not of kind. We aren’t as far down that dark path today as the Chinese were in the 1960s but it’s a common path nonetheless. We’re not likely to turn back until opinion-shapers stop pooh-poohing the warning signs.
CNN’s coverage of the anniversary included a heart-wrenching memoire from a former member of the Red Guards, Yu Xiangzhen, who was just 13 years old when the Cultural Revolution began. “Myself and millions of other middle and high school students started denouncing our teachers, friends, families and raiding homes and destroying other people’s possessions,” she writes. “Textbooks explain the Cultural Revolution — in which hundreds of thousands of people were killed and millions more abused and traumatized — as a political movement started and led by Mao ‘by mistake,’ but in reality it was a massive catastrophe for which we all bear responsibility.”
I disagree with her on this point. She was 13 at the time and I don’t blame her one bit. The guilty parties here are Mao and his allies in the Communist Party.
For those who refuse to see the parallels between Mao’s China and Obama’s America, allow me to examine some common threads.
It was not good to be a Christian during the Cultural Revolution—or for that matter a Buddhist, Taoist, or devotee of Confucius. Students defaced religious statues, for example, smashing the faces off of Buddha wherever his image could be found. I don’t find the Buddha-smashing to be all that different from today’s forced removal of anything remotely religious from the public square—and not just from governmental sphere as some on the anti-religious Left would have you believe.
But it wasn’t just statues that suffered. Ms. Yu writes: “I regret most what we did to our homeroom teacher Zhang Jilan. I was one of the most active students — if not the most revolutionary — when the class held a struggle session against Ms. Zhang. I pulled accusations out of nowhere, saying she was a heartless and cold woman, which was entirely false. Others accused her of being a Christian because the character ‘Ji’ in her name could refer to Christianity.”
Her teacher was not in fact a Christian, but what if she had been? What then?
The United States today is saturated with anti-Christian bigotry. Religious freedom, which happens to be the first freedom listed in our Constitution, is now a “cloak for prejudice.” Rather than being revered as the cornerstone of our American ideals, latter-day Maoists mock it as the last refuge of scoundrels.
Consider for a moment the horror that liberal media outlets expressed when the Supreme Court upheld the right of Hobby Lobby, a privately-owned Christian company, not to provide abortion-inducing drugs to its employees. Leftists blamed it on having too many Catholics on the Supreme Court. The Huffington Post shrieked: “The Uncomfortable Question: Should We Have Six Catholic Justices on the Supreme Court?” As if it were the justices’ religion rather than the Religious Freedom Restoration Act—signed by Bill Clinton no less!—that had won the day. The Daily Kos didn’t even try to shroud its bigotry with its headline “Five Catholic Appointees Betray their Oath.” The writer’s vitriol was on full display: “Now all [sic] the Catholic Supreme Court appointees to our Supreme Court—they no longer deserve the name ‘Justice’—have enacted Catholic dogma as the Supreme law of the land.”
No, not really.
An Obsession With Youth
It’s no surprise that Mao recruited an army of children to do his bidding. Besides being passionate, young people are also, to put it bluntly, kind of dumb. I don’t mean that to be cruel; I was a kid once too. Wisdom is nonetheless the result of experience and experience cannot be gained any other way than hanging around planet earth for a while.
Since at least the 1960s, we Americans have not revered our elders, something that I attribute to the rise of pop culture and a feeling that the World War II generation, with all its affection for God and country, led us into the ill-fated Vietnam War. Ironically, the Vietnam generation is now in its golden years and they’re finding out what it feels like to be tossed out like rancid leftovers. Paunchy, gray-haired baby-boomers are now considered a bunch of squares, clueless and outdated, which is basically how they viewed their own parents when they were young.
Our obsession with youth can be seen in the youth-oriented entertainment we consume and in the numerous adults who refuse to act their age. Getting old means getting ugly which means a quiet but humiliating exit from the public eye. The biggest criticism of the Tea Party movement has been that it’s too old and too white. Leaving aside for a moment the blatant racism of that statement, what exactly is wrong with being old? It occurs to me that such accusations are used only when persuasive arguments are lacking.
Old people may be wrong but they aren’t wrong because they’re old. That’s a lazy-minded fallacy.
Change for Change’s Sake
Mao Zedong was the “change” candidate before “change” was cool. It was his goal, never perfectly achieved, to strip China of its cultural underpinnings—namely, Confucianism. He sought to fundamentally transform his nation into something previous generations of Chinese would not have recognized, much the same way that our dear leader pledged to “fundamentally transform” America. Some of us, like me for example, liked our country just fine the way it was.
Mao’s wrath focused on the “four olds”—old ideas, old culture, old customs, old habits. Young Chinese were of course more enthused about demolishing these “vices” than their parents or grandparents who had witnessed their value in action.
Oldness is neither inherently bad nor inherently good. We were right to ditch some old ideas such as slavery but others have served us well. There’s something downright creepy about prying up the foundation of one’s own home for no other reason than because it’s been around a long time. Do these people ever wonder if older ideas are simply the ones that have stood the test of time?
Everywhere I look in contemporary society I see truly awful ideas gaining ground on the basis of their novelty. (Wouldn’t it be great if men could use the women’s locker room?) The flip side of this trend is that some really good ideas are losing ground for no other reason than that they’re old. In days gone by we protected our women but today we send them into combat. Does that make us superior to our ancestors? I say no. The old model of immigration was the melting pot—which served America well for the better part of two centuries. The new model is the patchwork quilt in which no one is obliged to adapt except the people already living here. The result of the new immigration ethos has been chaos and strife. The old conception of fundamental rights was negative—what government couldn’t do to you—and rights were understood to be endowed by God. The new conception is positive—what government must do on your behalf—and rights are granted by that same government.
Among Mao Zedong’s worst transgressions against humanity was his corruption of an entire generation of young Chinese. He taught them to hate on command, for which he should rightly be condemned. He cracked a lot of eggs but didn’t produce a single omelet. Are we any better? A little, I suppose, though I’m less convinced with each passing day.