Commentary: Am I seeing Cultural Revolution in America, or “Washington”?
By Wen Liu Aug. 18, 2017
This is not exactly China watching, but you could call it reverse China watching, as I see China, or rather China’s Cultural Revolution, while watching America.
It is hard to believe what has been happening in the United States in recent days, or in recent months, with two camps of Americans, liberal vs. conservative, pro-Pres. Trump vs. anti-Pres. Trump, white supremacists vs. anti-fascists, clashing from verbal to physical, from street corners to college campus, from a baseball field to a city park, from sniper shooting to now car ramming. The two sides, each believing themselves to be the true representatives of American values, are not unlike the two factions in China during the Cultural Revolution, battling each other to prove themselves to be the true revolutionaries.
But the visual that became for me America’s Cultural-Revolution-like moment is what happened on Aug. 14: a mob in Durham, N.C. pulled down with a rope a Confederate statue, kicking it, stomping on it, and cheering all around it. That’s what the Red Guards used to do.
Armed with Mao’s authorization to rebel, the Red Guards went on a rampage to destroy everything that belonged to the Four Olds: old culture, old thinking, old customs and old habits. They raided temples, Confucian and Buddhist, and ancient sites, knocking down memorial statues, arches and steles. They raided people’s homes, confiscating and/or burning their collections of antiques, books and scrolls. And, of course, they attacked anybody associated with the “olds,” along with feudal, capitalist, bourgeois, and foreign, especially Western.
The “olds” also included street names that were not revolutionary. So for instance in Beijing, Wangfujing Street, or Wang Mansion Well, was renamed The People’s Road. Chang’an Avenue, or eternal peace, was renamed East Is Red. Dongjiaomin Lane, the embassy street, was renamed Anti-Imperialist Street. Other streets became Defend Mao Street, Red Flag Street, Long March Street, etc.
What seems to be in common between China in the Cultural Revolution and the U.S. today, in their removing statues or renaming streets or buildings, is an effort to white-wash, or “red-wash," if not re-write, history. That China is still doing it with Tiananmen or Liu Xiaobo, although in a different way, is another story.
And, in “sanitizing” history, how far would one go, or go back? A Confederate Soldiers statue is down. Robert E. Lee statue would soon. More statues have been removed in Maryland. What’s next or who? Jefferson Memorial? The Washington Monument? What about our own state of Washington, named after “the father of the country,” a slave owner? And what to do about the Democratic Party, which enforced Jim Crow laws of racial segregation in the South until 1965? How about go even further, that Americans return the land to the Indians?
I do not hope to see the United States repeat the folly and madness of China’s Cultural Revolution, with its extreme version of political correctness and identity politics. After all, Confucius, denounced then as the worst human being in Chinese history, is now considered a saint again, a symbol of the Chinese civilization. Or capitalists, attacked then as the ruthless exploiters of the working class, are now welcomed into the Communist Party. As for those “Four Olds?” They are all back, with a vengeance.
(For more information on major events in Washington state-China relations, go to WA China Chronicle.)