The recent 100 year anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party gave Chinese President Xi Jinping an opportunity to crow about the truly impressive rise of China in recent decades, and for the rest of us to reflect on lessons for the US of A. The highlights:
- 1921 - 1949, chaotic civil war and occupation by Japan;
- 1958-1962, Mao Zedong's Great Leap Forward with some 20 million dying of starvation in effort to transition from agrarian society to industrialized communes;
- 1966-1976, Mao's Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, in which hundreds of thousands were killed in an effort to eliminate traces of bourgoise history and thinking;
- 2012-present, paramount leadership of Xi Jinping, in an era of increasing wealth and global status.
The violent sociopolitical purge of the Cultural Revolution contains many lessons for observers of societal change. Launched by Chairman Mao, overseen by a shifting sub-set of the Politburo, and orchestrated by youthful Red Guard chapters throughout China, the intent was to sweep away the "four olds" - ideas, culture, habits, and customs - as anti-proletarian. Targeted were landlords, rich farmers, teachers, educated intellectuals, scientists, and resistant Communist Party officials who had survived the Great Leap Forward, but had lost their revolutionary fervor. In the process sanctioned massacres occured in Beijing, Guangxi, Guandong, Yunnan, and Hunan. Millions of educated urban youth were sent to the countryside. Many religious and historical sites were destroyed. Following Mao's death in 1976, and a brief power struggle, Deng led a formal program of Boluan Fanzheng (translated "eliminating chaos and returning to normal"), in which millions were rehabilitated, and the primary focus of the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese government changed from "class struggles" to "economic construction" and "modernization".
It has been a turbulent century for the world's most populous nation. A century of colonial humiliation has been emphatically ended. The introduction of capitalism has propelled economic growth and lifted some 850 million people from extreme poverty in the four decades following the Maoist period in which unfettered communist ideologues caused more death and suffering than did a century of European and Japanese conquerors. There are lessons to be learned.
We are different:
- Our Revolution and Civil War were fought to further the egalitarian goals of the Enlightenment rather than the class goals of the Chinese Communists. In our traditional ideology, the individual is paramount rather than the collective.
- Our system was designed with a skepticism of governmental power, institutionalizing separation between independent legislative, judicial, and executive branches and between local, state, and federal authorities. The Chinese system is centralized with the Chinese Communist Party Politburo, frequently in the hands of one individual, controlling everything. Our individual rights are constitutionally protected; not so in China.
- We are a nation of diverse immigrants built around common ideas; China is overwhelmingly a nation of the Han ethnic group dominating the 10% or so minorities.
But there are some echoes in China's story, particularly the Cultural Revolution, that should be concerning in the United States of 2021:
- The zealous Left sees American society in terms of racial division, and would discard Martin Luther King's admonition to judge people not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. Individuals are increasingly judged by the racial, gender, or class group to which they belong. Rewarding and penalizing groups becomes easy when one group (even the majority group) is tainted.
- The Left in Mao's China and the Left in America would re-write history to vilify the middle and upper classes as oppressors in a flawed sociopolitical system which needs to be washed away or fundamentally changed. Religion is to be minimized in a secular society. Schools are to teach that racial injustice is fundamental to American institutions.
- Ideological purity is more important than human interaction and dialogue. People who disagree are to be shunned. Dissenting voices are to be silenced. Consumer product and service companies must conform to the policies of the Left in their marketing, personnel policies, and political contributions. Colleges abandon merit-based admission.
- There is a revolutionary willingness to put society at risk - in China's case by destroying the agricultural economy in the Great Leap Forward; in our case by creating unmanageable debt as the role of government is expanded.
Despite his positioning during the 2020 campaign, Joe Biden has been unable to resist the advocates for an American Cultural Revolution - Bernie Sanders, AOC, and Nancy Pelosi with their media allies. But the reality is that America belongs to a middle class which China did not have in 1966. Fortunately we have a Joe Manchin and a likely 2022 Republican House committed to defend a few simple principles which are ingrained in 250 years of our history:
1. America is a meritocracy. We all benefit if we get everybody to the same starting point, but we should not do away with differentiated results;