Mao and Again

It is becoming a cliché that America is undergoing its own version of Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution.

Obama’s 2012 reelection strategy unleashed energies reminiscent of those that plagued China from 1966 through Mao’s death in 1976. The most obvious example is the current urge to topple statues of past American heroes, which is reminiscent of the countless attacks on Chinese cultural sites by youthful Red Guards, such as the ransacking of Confucius’ tomb in 1966.

The Cultural Revolution was largely perpetrated by young people told to feel oppressed by their country’s past. Social justice could be achieved only by the destruction of the weight of Chinese culture. Their slogan was “Smash the Four Olds”: old customs, culture, habits, and ideas.

But that’s not the only analogy between late-1960s China and 2018 America. One of the mainsprings of the Cultural Revolution was a vindictive aged actress out for revenge on the producers and actresses who had cost her roles back in her prime. Mrs. Mao, Jiang Qing, had been a movie starlet in 1930s Shanghai, when she built up a lifetime of grudges that she acted upon when her husband let her take control of Chinese popular culture in the 1960s.

Her squads beat up aging film figures and reedited old movies to conform to new political prejudices. She would have considered the recent American custom of terrified novelists hiring “sensitivity readers” to censor their manuscripts for them a step in the right direction.

Mrs. Mao banned traditional operas, instead sponsoring eight model plays featuring heroic peasants battling demonic landlords. Her kind of simplistic division of the world into good guys and bad guys, whom you can tell apart just by looking at them, appeals as well to today’s youth, and those who want to…

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