Politics & Policy

A Red Guard’s journey, &c.

Friends, I want to tell you a little about a man I recently met. He is Erping Zhang, a Chinese-American scholar, human-rights activist, and practitioner of Falun Gong. (Such practitioners are mercilessly persecuted by the PRC, as you well know.) Until recently, Erping was a Mason Fellow at Harvard’s JFK School, and now he is executive director of the Association for Asian Research.

#ad#His life tells us something about China, and about the modern world.

He was born in the early ’60s, the son of a professor of Russian and English. Now, when the Cultural Revolution came along, a professor of Russian and English was a very, very bad thing to be. The Zhang family was sent to a farm, to work as laborers. And Erping grew up to be a very loyal Communist, a staunch “atheist Red Guard,” as he says.

The family had a secret, however. Or rather, they kept a secret from Erping. The boy’s grandparents had been Nationalists, shot dead by the Communists. “My father hid the truth from me,” says Erping. “He wanted me to be innocent.” But Erping’s father eventually confided the secret to him.

The young man came to study in America, in the Reagan ’80s. For several years here, he was still very much a Communist, thinking in the ways he had learned. He well remembers the Reagan-Mondale presidential campaign. “I was for Mondale,” says Erping, “very pro-Democrat–because I still had Communist views.”

I didn’t say that, folks–he did. I plead with all good anti-McCarthyites: Don’t shoot the messenger!

In time, Erping came to admire Reagan very much. “He had guts, and principle, and he knew evil when he saw it. He said, ‘Tear down this wall!’”

The great turning-point for Erping, personally, was Tiananmen Square. “At one point I believed”–believed in Chinese Communism, in the system of his birth. But when he saw the tanks of his once-beloved government rolling over the students, he could believe no more.

He first encountered Falun Gong when he visited friends in the Chinese foreign service. At a certain hour, they were doing their meditation, arms folded, eyes closed. “I thought they were falling asleep. I said to myself, ‘What kind of job is this, where you can be paid to sleep? These people are very lucky!’”

Eventually he started practicing Falun Gong himself. He explains that the movement was once supported by the Chinese government, which viewed Falun Gong as a means of promoting Chinese culture and health. But when they saw that the movement had grown immensely popular, they outlawed it, cracking down on it viciously. Nothing could be allowed to challenge absolute loyalty to the CCP.

Erping cautions the West that appeasing Beijing is hopeless. “The nature of the Chinese government is violence. You can’t train a wolf to be a vegetarian. So many people think that if you feed the dragon, the dragon will be nice. But it won’t–it will bite your hand off, or devour you.”

Every now and then, Erping faces Chinese students in America, who are still proud Communists (or at least defensive of the PRC). Most strongly, they decry “Western influence” in their country.

Erping delivers a jolting line to them. It goes something like this: “I, too, decry Western influence on China. I think it’s a very bad thing. And, at present, there is only one Western ideology that is legal in China: and that is Communism. Communism has nothing to do with us, nothing to do with China. This is an ideology born in Europe, first practiced in Russia and elsewhere. There is nothing in our traditions or history like Communism. We have a 5,000-year-old civilization, and Communism has been with us for less than 60 years. Other countries, such as Germany and Russia, have discarded it. Why shouldn’t we?

“So, again, I agree with you: We must eradicate foreign influence in China. And the biggest such influence is Communism.”

That usually leaves them speechless–as you might imagine.

‐All my life, I’ve heard the phrase “speak truth to power” thrown around very, very casually. A student on some coddled campus objects that she has too much homework–and she is “speaking truth to power.” Etc.

You know how that marvelous lady, Wang Wenyi, yelled at the Chinese premier–chief of a vast, monstrous superpower? That, folks, was speaking truth to power, and little less is worthy of the name.

‐Mark Steyn writes in the next issue of National Review about going to Burlington, Vt., and using a payphone–there are instructions in Spanish. Of course, says Mark, there are about five Latinos in that town, whose linguistic minority is French-Canadian. This goes toward a point, I think. And that point is that Spanish translation has ceased to be practical and pragmatic and become fetishistic, and separatist.

I wish the recent translation of the national anthem into Spanish were merely a sweet exercise; I’m afraid it’s kind of an Eff U to the very idea of Americanism. This country should reassert the principle of E pluribus unum–and part of that unum, frankly, is the English language.

By the way, you remember the old joke? I’ll update it: Illegal immigrant scurries across the border to San Diego. He wants to see a Padres game. He can’t afford a ticket, however, so he shinnies up the flagpole. Afterward, his fellow illegals ask him how the game was. He says, “Great. And these Americans are so friendly, so welcoming! They were obviously concerned about me. Before the game began, they all turned to me and sang, ‘José, can you see?’”

‐When I saw a headline that said “Holocaust Museum to Help France Trace Jews,” I thought, “Uh-oh. That’s all they need: help tracking down the Jews! Didn’t they do that well enough in 1940?” But the article gave no cause for alarm. To read it, please go here. (The first sentence is, “French authorities will get help from the U.S. Holocaust Museum in tracing Jews and others held in the French camp at Rivesaltes in World War II, under an agreement signed Monday at the museum.”)

Incidentally, if you don’t want to know the bitter, awful truth about France and the Holocaust, don’t read David Pryce-Jones’s masterpiece of history Paris in the Third Reich. Whatever you do, don’t read that. If you do, it will be hard to look at a Frenchman for a year.

‐A lot of people–particularly on the extreme left and the extreme right–lament that the U.S. is yoked to Israel. I thought of this when Iran announced that, if America acts against it, it will respond by attacking Israel. Whether we like it or not, we are yoked to Israel. We are also yoked to decency, liberty, and the survival of humanity. A country that will turn its back on Israel in these times–in any time since 1948, really–is a country that, in a way, has decided against humanity.

‐Like you, perhaps, I turn to the wire services to get factual and objective news stories. But that’s pretty hard when the wire service is the AP and the reporter is Jennifer Loven, White House correspondent. Take Monday’s article on Bush, the USS Abraham Lincoln, “Mission Accomplished,” and all that. What a spectacularly tendentious piece of art (or something)! I’m not sure that J-Love should be employed by the AP. She would probably be more comfortable at Mother Jones, the New York Times, or other such publications.

Hang on, quick music quiz: What opera involves the USS Abraham Lincoln? (Answer: Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, in which Cio-Cio San sings of the Abramo Lincoln–the ship on which her dastardly, faithless Lieutenant Pinkerton serves.)

‐Good news from Pakistan, under the heading “Pakistani couple, jailed for falling in love, go free.” The article begins, “A Pakistani couple were released Saturday after serving five years in jail for adultery, their only crime having been to fall in love and get married.”

It continues, “Sodi, 23, and her husband, Abdul Hakeem Kashkeli, 26, appeared in court in the southern city of Hyderabad where the judge ordered their release. ‘I am overjoyed. We have got justice at last,’ Sodi told reporters waiting outside. ‘The judgment shows we have done nothing wrong and it is no crime to marry the man you love.’”

‐Some bad news out of Pakistan: “Jihadi videos thrive on execution scenes”. Oh, how they love to see Americans and other “infidels” murdered with chainsaws. Is it possible to share a planet with such people? Not without eternal vigilance–and a will to survive–it isn’t.

‐Let’s lighten up a tad, with a little language. A correspondent of mine writes,


My 88-year-old mother, who grew up in Canada, told me a long time ago that “coup de grâce” is pronounced incorrectly by 99.9 percent of non-French-speaking people in the world. I’d bet you that I’m the only person in my city who pronounces it with an “s” sound on the end. It’s a great way to start an argument. One of my co-workers [at a radio station] mispronounces “forte” on the air all the time. He says “fort-ay,” instead of “fort”: “Chess is not my fort-ay.” When told that he was pronouncing the word incorrectly, he said, “I don’t care. I think ‘fort-ay’ sounds better.” What can you do?

Nothing, with a type like that.

‐Care for a little music (beyond Madama Butterfly, I mean)? For a review of the Emerson String Quartet in Shostakovich, and for a review of the New York Philharmonic, led by Sir Colin Davis, with Ian Bostridge, tenor, please go here.

And for my April “New York Chronicle,” in my New Criterion archive, please go here.

‐In my previous Impromptus, I related the testimony of a young conservative who had not been a partisan of any kind–until a Bush-bashing high-school teacher drove him into the arms of the Right. I commented, “The Left has no idea how many conservatives it makes–out of basically apolitical people–just by being jerkish.”

This prompted a wave of mail, from readers saying, “Me too, me too!” I’d like to share one of those letters:


I was never a big Second Amendment type, but I lived in California and a liberal state senator, David Roberti, was continually introducing draconian gun bans for the state. Every time Roberti introduced a new bill, I’d join the NRA for a year. My membership would lapse and, sure enough, Roberti would come back with yet another bill trying to ban handguns or the like. Finally, I became an NRA life member . . . all thanks to David Roberti!

Unfortunately, I received one letter from a man who said he had been driven leftward, thanks to the jerkishness of conservatives.

The moral? A pox on jerkishness altogether!

‐Friends, it may be a while before I pen one of those breezy lil’ web columns. I’ll be in Europe–mainly to cruise with NR–and in the Middle East. I’ve got other assignments. But I should Impromptus-ize before the end of May, and I hope you have a glorious rest-of-spring.

Oh, one more joke: If April showers bring May flowers, what do May flowers bring? Pilgrims! (Think Mayflowers.)

See you.

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