The Aurelian Column "Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth."

America's Cultural Revolution

The most frightening book I ever read was not something written by HP Lovecraft, or Edgar Allen Poe, or Stephen King. It wasn’t even a work from the classic horror genre. It was a historical biography about someone who lived through and survived China’s Cultural Revolution.

Life and Death in Shanghai was written by the late Nien Cheng. She was a Western-educated employee of a foreign company operating in China. After the revolution that brought Mao Zedong to power, she decided to stay. But eventually, her crime of being tainted by the West caught up with her. And the horror she experienced, and the pain she endured at the hands of communist fanatics, can best be described as a wake-less nightmare that lasted for many years.

Nien Cheng survived and eventually was able to make it to the United States. Millions of other Chinese were not so fortunate. They died immersed in a horrifying existence of physical privation and mental torture.

Life and Death in Shanghai was not a pleasant read. It took me more than a year to get through. The hardest parts were the descriptions of the mental torment everyone in 1960s China was forced to endure. The fear of saying the wrong thing to the wrong person at the wrong time was never-ending. There was no escape from the insanity, anywhere. Down was up, up was down. Even looking at someone in authority the wrong way could get you imprisoned, or killed.

When I first read the book back in the late 1980s, I could not have imaged a future where any civilized Western country would allow such behavior. The toppling of statues, the burning of books, the destruction of art, the smashing of cultural treasures, the terrorizing of citizens by roving mobs of armed thugs. These are not traits of a rational, civilized nation. Not then. Not now. Not ever.

Yet, here we are. The turmoil that had been building for years was unleashed following the events in the quite Virginian town of Charlottesville. Once home to Thomas Jefferson — a man who has been compared to Leonardo da Vinci — it is now synonymous with riots, street brawls, and death.

The fire that began in Charlottesville has started to spread and spread quickly. But when things start to burn, the flames tend to get out of control and destroy more than what the arsonists had intended. It is not just some controversial statuary under threat. People are publicly attacked and privately threatened for not going along with a particular viewpoint or opinion. Assaults have been committed, and blood has been drawn. And unless the madness is stopped, it will only be a matter of time before a body count is compiled.

The current situation in our country did not come into being overnight. It’s been building for years as people have felt less and less comfortable speaking their minds. Political correctness was originally thought of as a joke, of sorts. And individuals who made a big deal about the importance of what to say and when to say it so as not to offend someone were considered a little eccentric. But no one is laughing now. Attaching social and physical punishment to someone who has the wrong comment or viewpoint is a tactic right out of China’s Cultural Revolution.

Another tactic being implemented in this
American Cultural Revolution is the attack on friends and relatives of those who publicly align themselves with a particular ideology or group. Guilty by association or, in a sickening replay of history, by blood. There are a growing number of reports of family members being harassed and threatened who have nothing to do with the viewpoints of their kin. This is a tactic that is very common in places like North Korea and should be unheard of in North America.

It’s unpleasant to mention but needs to be: A growing number of Americans are becoming fearful of expressing themselves. You can detect it at a super market, at a restaurant, or any other place you find a cross-section of American society congregating. People are avoiding eye contact and becoming exceedingly careful of their words. Nobody wants to discuss anything that in any way may seem controversial. The fear is real. Anyone who speaks their mind in traditional American fashion may be putting themselves at risk.

Sadly, the people who are probably the most frightened over current events are recent immigrants. Whatever one’s view of current immigration policies, it's a fact that most of the people who have recently come to our country have left places that were, to put it mildly, rather unpleasant. For centuries now the United States has been the place to get to if where you were was going down the pipes. If you were being persecuted for your opinions, your religion, your class status, or just didn’t have enough food to eat, with some tenacity and luck you could probably get into the United States and start life anew. But nobody likes to make it out of one bad situation and see another one develop where they have decided to put down roots. Many of them have seen similar things elsewhere in the world, and know what can happen.

Nien Cheng’s book is highly recommended for
every American to read right now; especially those who are on the younger side of this growing conflict. Her descriptions of the young Red Guards, driven to total insanity by the ideology that had been drummed into their heads, seem remarkably similar to what we are now seeing at our universities, and on our streets.

The horror that China’s Red Guards created will forever be a blot on human experience, and a stain on the souls of those who participated. If previous generations have taught us anything, it’s to always choose wisely which side of history you will find yourself. For its judgment is eternal.

© 2017 Thomas Michael Caldwell. All Rights Reserved. This written work is not to be copied or reproduced without the permission of the author. Links to this page from other websites is permitted and encouraged.