And this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And this I must fight against: any idea, religion, or government, which limits or destroys the individual. This is what I am and what I am about. I can understand why a system built on a pattern must try to destroy the free mind, for that is one thing, which can by inspection destroy such a system. Surely I can understand this, and I hate it and I will fight against it to preserve the one thing that separates us from the uncreative beasts. If the glory can be killed, we are lost.
– John Stienbeck, (East of Eden)
Sunday evening, the day before Memorial Day, I’m flying over the Land of the Free with a perspective that renders our nation’s flaws invisible. We are heading West and I’m looking down at deep snow on the Rockies; a late spring thaw feeds the Colorado River as it begins its long trip South to the Sea of Cortez. There is a vast flat layer of clouds ahead, stretching out over Arizona, all brilliantly lit with the golden glow of another perfect sunset over the beaches of my native California. It is a fittingly glorious return from a weekend in the presence of inspirational greatness.
I had been invited, by my friend Tang Baiqiao (My Two Chinas) to spend two days crammed into an unremarkable, hot, and crowded conference room in a small hotel in the Flushing neighborhood of Queens. I was there to speak to a group that by Sunday afternoon had agreed to name itself the China Democratic Revolution Federation.
My hosts were a group of Chinese men and women from a variety of backgrounds that shared a long and hard-earned resentment against the regime in Beijing. They had gathered to commemorate the Centenary of China’s lost democratic revolution and hold an annual observation of the June 4 tragedy in Tiananmen Square.
Many Americans are sadly ignorant of the story of China’s 1911 revolt that buried the corpse of the corrupt Qing dynasty. The democratic movement was led with high expectations by the brilliant Sun Yat Sen. A new China had woken from its long opium coma and was prepared to boldly step forward and take its rightful place among the ranks of great progressive nations. Tragically, Sun’s embryonic republic was trampled by warlords, Japanese invaders, and finally stolen by Mao’s gang of Communist thugs.
The stuffy room in Queens was packed with businessmen, lawyers, waiters, and artists. They were Buddhists, Christians and non-believers. They’d come out of Hunnan and Yunnan and fled Beijing and Shanghai to settle in California, Georgia, Alabama, and New York. I encountered a collection of disparate souls who had fled from a vast and diverse nation and had been scattered across another. And yet, their differences were invisible. Although many of them had not met before, they were at once a family, united by decades of suffering and resigned to years of hard work ahead. Work in bringing down the criminal government that rules their homeland. This remorseless regime has recently accelerated what is already the world’s biggest campaign of repression against the mind and spirit of humankind. This ratcheting up of arrests has pulled in thousands of citizens and a few notables like world renowned artist Ai WeiWei.
What was to be a most insightful weekend began with a ride from JFK in the company of Guo Baosheng ,a Christian minister in San Francisco who had been jailed for years in the 1990s for advocating human rights and fled to America after having his “unauthorized church” closed by the Chinese police.
During much of the conference translation was provided for me by two Falun Gong practitioners – a practice horribly repressed in China – have dedicated themselves to curing the moral cancer of Marxism one soul at a time via their work running the “Global Service Center for Quitting the Communist Party.”
I met several souls who lived through the horrors of June 4 and had a most interesting interview with Yan Xiong. Yan was a young man, just days shy of graduation, who made repeated trips through the hail of AK-47 fire hauling the bleeding bodies of fellow Beijing University students from the streets around Tianamen to the hospital on a rickety bicycle. It was a day he still remembers as though it were yesterday. The reward China offered for his heroism under fire was nearly two years in a prison camp – much of it in solitary confinement or shackles, everyday of it of it on the edge of starvation. Yet, as if to prove Nietzsche right, Yan emerged strong and is now a Captain in the US Army! He is serving as a chaplain at the Warrant Officer Career College at Fort Rucker, Alabama after completing a tour of duty in Iraq.
After the public meeting broke late Saturday, we all headed out for dinner in the Little Shanghai that Flushing has become. I sat with a journalist, an attorney, and Huang Xiang, a quiet and introspective poet and artist, who after the meal and more than a few toasts stood to deliver a frighteningly animated rendition of his poem “Wild Beasts” – the story of a powerful, wild animal captured, tortured, and destroyed, but stubbornly free until the bitter end. His long, grey hair flew about as he stomped around the Beijing Duck Restaurant like a visitor from “Where the Wild Things Are” and his smiling eyes sparkled as he snarled the ending line, “Even though barely a bone is left, I want this detestable age to choke on me.” After this, the sister-in-law of Ai WeiWei stopped by to offer her regards.
The next day we returned to the practice of democracy and honed a plan of action to recapture the world’s attention that has so selfishly turned its gaze from victims of Tiananmen to the shelves of WalMart. You will be hearing from them and it will be time for us all to sit down and take a moment to listen to what they have to say and for Americans to remember that our founding fathers not only gifted us with liberty but also burdened us with the responsibility to defend it!
Will we join the Americans before us who sacrificed to end slavery, fight fascism, secure Civil Rights, and bring down the Soviet’s Evil Empire? Or, will we sell out my Chinese friends to “Save Money, Live Better” at WalMart and trade other people’s liberty – and someday our own – for access to a “huge market?”
Make your decision carefully, but stop pleading ignorance.
– Greg Autry teaches Macroeconomics at the Merage School of Business, UC Irvine and is co-author (with Peter Navarro) of the new book “Death by China” www.gregautry.us