The making of loyal Chinese Communists – at Morningside Heights

Joshua Wang and Brian Leung at Columbia

We’ve been writing a great deal lately here about the pro-Beijing stooges who have come out of the woodwork in recent weeks, standing up for totalitarianism and smearing the freedom marchers in Hong Kong because doing otherwise might adversely affect their income. Several of these defenders of Chinese Communism have been people connected to the NBA, who make a lot of money, one way or another, on the popularity of American basketball in the world’s largest dictatorship. But it’s not just sports people who are on the Chinese government’s payroll. As we saw last week, the bigwigs at New York University, which has a branch in Shanghai, have stayed silent about the Hong Kong protests. Then there’s that equally cash-crazy institution a few miles north, Columbia University, where, as Richard Bernstein reported in October, a presentation the previous month by two democracy activists from Hong Kong, Brian Leung and Joshua Wong, was disrupted by a group of foreign students. Students, of course, from China. Standing up at their seats, they belted out the Chinese national anthem and another patriotic ditty, “Song of the Motherland.” As Bernstein observed, the incident was rich in irony: “Here were Chinese students, living and studying in the West, exercising the freedom to raise a ruckus at an academic conference and implicitly to denounce the pro-democracy yearnings of their Hong Kong counterparts.”

Chinese grads at Columbia University

Bernstein proceeded to make some exceedingly canny points. This episode, he observed, reflected the “general readiness of many Chinese people, at home and abroad, to express their outrage against what their government deems to be ‘anti-China’ opinions in other countries.” In turn, Bernstein pointed out, this readiness was illustrative of “a broad generational cultural shift in China, mostly unexpected and little noticed in the West.” Three decades ago this year, after all, Chinese people turned out in massive numbers to protest the system under which they lived. The Soviet Union was crumbling, the Berlin Wall was about to fall, and in China, too, millions of subjects of totalitarianism, students especially, were aching for liberty. “Occupying Tiananmen Square for two months,” recalls Bernstein, “they held hunger strikes, displaying a statue they called the Goddess of Liberty, before hundreds of them gave their lives when the army opened fire.”

The now-iconic image of the unknown Tienanmen Square protester standing up to tanks, June 5, 1989

But that was then and this is now. In 2019, writes Bernstein, the younger generation of Chinese citizens are the ideological opposites of their 1989 counterparts. In China today, sending your kid to study at an American university is one of the most prized objectives; but this ambition, in most cases, has nothing to do with a regard for American freedom. For both the parents and the children, it’s about prestige, the potential economic value of an Ivy League diploma, and having the opportunity to see the world. But seeing America doesn’t seem to have turned many of the Chinese students at U.S. universities into critics of Beijing’s tyranny or fans of Western liberty. Hence, writes Bernstein, “[i]nstead of educating a new generation of leaders who might make China more liberal, U.S. schools may be training an oppositional cadre more interested in acquiring American know-how than American values.” Moreover, “[t]his is occurring against a larger backdrop in which a resurgent China aggressively trumpets its cultural norms, demanding that foreign businesses – from Google to the NBA – play by its rules.”

Echo Wang

Yes, some of the 300,000 Chinese nationals who are currently studying at U.S. colleges may harbor a secret fondness for Western values – but they don’t dare say so. Yet close observers suggest that there are relatively few closet fans of America in this immense cohort. “I think that even compared to 10 years ago, the whole vibe among Chinese students has changed,” Echo Wang, a recent graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism, told Bernstein, adding that she’s heard from several sources that the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and the 2008 Western financial crisis boosted a lot of these students’ enthusiasm for their own country’s political system and severely weakened whatever admiration they might have had for capitalism.

Thumbs up for Tarantino; thumbs down for Chan

As we’ve observed over and over again in recent weeks at this site, the current conflicts over the pro-liberty protesters in Hong Kong – and over the growing arrogance of China generally in its relations with the free world – have separated the sheep from the goats. Here are a couple of stories we haven’t covered yet.

Quentin Tarantino

To begin with, there’s Quentin Tarantino. We’ve criticized the brilliant, eccentric writer-director on this site, but it’s important to give credit where credit is due. His new Brad Pitt-Leonardo di Caprio vehicle, Once upon a Time in Hollywood, has been generating even more buzz than his pictures usually do, and looks like it has a fair chance to pick up a few statuettes at Oscar time. But there’s been one problem: the bigwigs in China, a top market for Hollywood films these days, insisted that he make certain cuts before they would allow the movie to be released there. To be sure, when Beijing objected to scenes of violence and nudity in one of his previous works, Django Unchained, he did agree to clip out a few of the scenes that bothered them. But this time Tarantino – who has rights to final cut – responded to their demands with a firm no.

Michael Chan

Then there’s Canadian politician Michael Chan, a former minister of immigration and international trade in the government of Ontario who now sits on the board of governors of Seneca College. He’s come out firmly against the Hong Kong protest, echoing Beijing’s spurious claims that they’re the work of dark “foreign forces” that are interfering in Hong Kong’s affairs and out to make trouble for China. “I have been thinking, why are these young people so radical, so passionate [and] committed to do these things? And why so many people?” Chan said. “If there is no deeply hidden organization in this, or deeply hidden push from the outside, there is no way that such large-scale turmoil would happen in Hong Kong in a few months.”

Chan’s career history is far from irrelevant here. When he was in government, according to the Globe and Mail, Canadian intelligence was seriously concerned about the closeness of his relationship with Chinese consular officials in Toronto and privately warned higher-ups about Chan’s “conduct and the risk of foreign influence.” The Globe and Mail quoted Gloria Fung, president of a group called Canada-Hong Kong Link, as saying that Chan is clearly “not using Canadian values nor the universal values of Western democracies in making all these comments. Rather, he abides by the values of the Chinese Communist Party.”

NYU, PRC, and $$$

NYU Shanghai

In August 2015, we wrote here about several major U.S. universities that have established lucrative branches in less than free countries – such as the United Arab Emirates and other lands awash in petrodollars – and that, in order to be able to operate in those countries, have felt compelled, by their sheer pecuniary interests, to make major compromises when it comes to living up to the idea of a free university.

As we noted, a number of these institutions have branches in China. And that’s not all: there are universities in the U.S. that contain so-called “Confucius Institutes,” centers for the study of China that are essentially sources of propaganda for Communist China.

Che Guangcheng

These cozy relationships between major American universities and the People’s Republic of China have many ramifications for the education of students at those universities. Colleges that play host to “Confucius Institutes” are forbidden by contract from recognizing Taiwan as an independent nation. They are under pressure not to arrange lectures or debates involving China scholars who don’t toe the Beijing line. The agreements with China also prohibit those American universities from sponsoring honest discussions of Tibet or the Tienanmen Square massacre. China scholars at U.S. institutions that have these sorts of links to the PRC dare not criticize China in the classroom or in their writings because they may find their Chinese visas revoked, which, of course, would make it impossible for them to pursue their scholarship. As we noted in 2015, one Chinese dissident, Chen Guangcheng, who had been tortured in China and who went on to have a fellowship at NYU had suddenly, in 2013, found that fellowship cancelled because the honchos at NYU were afraid of offending the Chinese leaders who had ordered his torture.

Jon Levine

On October 19, Jon Levine wrote in the New York Post about the NYU branch in Shanghai, where the fall term had begun but where “one subject that won’t be on the syllabus is pro-democracy protests sweeping Hong Kong.” Levine explained that “NYU faculty in China and New York say the issue is a third rail” and quoted an NYU-Shanghai faculty member as saying that “Everyone is under a bit of a cloud of fear…..We don’t walk around trembling like rodents, but there is a general idea that there are certain topics you don’t discuss….We all learn over time how to self-censor.” Levine noted that young people enrolled at this campus, who receive NYU degrees at the end of their period of study, are “required to take classes like ‘Mao Zedong Thought,’ ‘Introduction to the Communist Party of China’ and courses in political education routinely mandated at other Chinese universities.” This is disgusting, but none of it should be surprising to anyone who is aware that NYU, founded in 1831 and once a revered center of liberal learning and a source of American pride, has long since gotten into the habit of accepting cash from the biggest bidder, however odious.

At 81, Fonda’s still a filthy rich radical

Jane in Barbarella

Henry Fonda was a movie star, and a highly gifted one. His daughter Jane, a person of considerably lesser gifts (although in her youth, starring in trash such as Barbarella, she certainly could fill out a tight outfit), also became a movie star. It didn’t hurt that her daddy was already in the same business. We bring up the topic of nepotism not to be petty or snippy but to underscore that this is a woman who didn’t necessarily have to work hard and long to get to the top. She was born a Hollywood princess, and when she ascended quite swiftly and smoothly to the role of Hollywood queen, it doubtless felt quite natural to her. And like many persons who are born into royalty, and who cannot remember a time when they were not treated with near-reverence by a sizable number of the hoi polloi, she plainly had, from an early age, the vague notion that she knew more than she actually knew, and, moreover, that she certainly must know a good deal more than those slavering mobs who were so eager to glimpse her and snap pictures of her in the street, and that she consequently had not just a right but an obligation, a noblesse oblige-type obligation, to share her wisdom with the lesser beings, the common folk, who surrounded her.

On that anti-aircraft gun in 1972

Hence, as a young woman, who, of course, enjoyed all the wealth and privilege that America had to offer, she went off to Vietnam, where her country was at war, and socialized with the enemy, delivered broadcasts on their behalf, and even posed for pictures with them, including a now-iconic photograph of herself perched on an anti-aircraft gun the purpose of which was to shoot down planes being piloted by her own countrymen, although those countrymen, unlike her, were likely to be young men whose parents nobody had ever heard of and who perhaps even came from towns that nobody could find on a map. Jane’s chief objective on that day was to put a human face on Communism. She plainly felt that Communism was a good thing, and that America, which had given her everything, was worth nothing. She later apologized for the photo on the anti-aircraft gun, but then again she pretty much was forced to do so by the outrage of the masses, and if she ever delivered a broader mea culpa for her role in whitewashing a movement that, after the U.S. withdrawal from Indochina, ended up committing genocide in Cambodia, we’re unaware of it.

Jane Fonda in Klute

Many remarkable developments have occurred in the decades since Jane’s Vietnam escapade. For one thing, she was widely forgiven for her obscene collaboration with the enemy. Although to this day, indeed, she is known in some circles as Hanoi Jane, she went on to have a successful movie career and to win not one but two Academy Awards for Best Actress. Some might consider those awards undeserved. When she won for playing a hooker in Klute in 1971, she beat out Vanessa Redgrave and Glenda Jackson; when she won for Coming Home in 1978, she beat out Geraldine Page and Ingrid Bergman. All those other actresses are brilliant. Is Jane? Some of us would say no. Some would say she had nowhere near the range of those other screen and stage artists. Both of the parts she won Oscars for, moreover, are one-dimensional, forgettable. Who watches either of those movies nowadays? Who discusses them? Pretty much nobody. Then, one might ask, why did she win? Why was she nominated, over the years, for no fewer than seven Oscars? Almost no other actor has ever been nominated for so many Oscars. Hence the thought crosses one mind: has Jane, in fact, been rewarded for having been, to put it bluntly, a traitor? Hollywood is left-wing, but is it that left-wing?

With then hubby Ted Turner

Another remarkable development. Despite her fondness for the Communist enemy during the Vietnam War, she later proved to be a first-rate capitalist. Whether or not you think she’s an acting genius, she sure is a genius at business. In addition to her film career, she made millions off of workout videos. And she managed to snag, as one of her husbands, no less a tycoon than Ted Turner, who founded CNN and, at one point, owned more land in the U.S. than anyone else except the federal government. It was, in at least one sense, a marriage made in heaven, since Ted, too, despite his massive fortune, was a fan of Communism – and, moreover, as we’ve recounted at length on this website, a chum of Fidel Castro and other totalitarians.

Jane under arrest in October

One last remarkable thing about Jane. You might think that after her Hanoi Jane humiliation, she’d have spent the rest of her life acting – i.e. reading aloud lines written by others – and keeping her mouth shut about world events. Au contraire. She may have apologized frequently for her Vietnam debacle, but it’s hard to believe she ever really meant it. Because her basic attitudes seem not to have changed much, and she just keeps behaving as if the world needs to know what she thinks – as if, indeed, the fate of the world depends on letting everyone know what she thinks. She seems, you might even say, to be hard-wired to speak out, and, invariably, to parrot passionately, as if she had come up with the ideas herself, whatever the PC clichés of the day might be. Now 81, she was arrested twice alone in October during climate-change protests in Washington, D.C. She actually described herself at the time as a “climate scientist.” This is a new one on us: as far as we know, the nearest she’s come to being a scientist is starring in the 1979 nuke power plant drama The China Syndrome. As ever, however, the mockery of her latest self-description, which is well-deserved, has been drowned out by the hosannas: a recent Los Angeles Times article about Fonda’s lifetime of arrests, of which there have been many, was a veritable love letter; and when she appeared in 2016 on the Jimmy Fallon Show her whole history of lawbreaking was treated as nothing less than adorable, an occasion for amusement of the sort that is trotted out on such programs. But then again, how else do you expect Hollywood media to treat Hollywood royalty?

Inside a Chinese “reeducation camp”

On Tuesday we wrote here about a Venezuelan, Christian K. Caruzo, whose account of his own life in the hell that is Venezuela under chavismo appeared recently at the Breitbart website. Today we’re here to draw attention to a piece in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz in which reporter David Stavrou recounts the experiences of a woman named Sayragful Sauytbay in a Chinese reeducation camp. Sauytbay, an Uyghur Muslim teacher who was granted asylum in Sweden, where she now lives, recalled a place where the inmates spent their days and nights in shackles, using a plastic bucket for a toilet, were forced to confess fake sins and memorize “propaganda songs,” were subjected to electric shocks and other forms of torture, were the victims of gang rapes, and were given pills and injections as part of the kind of medical experiments that the infamous Dr. Mengele carried out in the death camps.

Knowing that the Chinese authorities were cracking down on Uyghur Muslims, Sauytbay’s husband and kids managed to flee China for their native Kazakhstan. But she didn’t. In 2016, as part of a broad round-up, some government thugs “came to my house at night, put a black sack on my head and brought me to a place that looked like a jail. I was interrogated by police officers, who wanted to know where my husband and children were, and why they had gone to Kazakhstan. At the end of the interrogation I was ordered to tell my husband to come home, and I was forbidden to talk about the interrogation.” She disobeyed the order, breaking off contact with her husband and kids. The result were further late-night raids and brutal interrogations. Finally, in November 2017, she was shuttled off to the reeducation camp, where she was given the job of teaching the Chinese language to Uyghur and Kazakh speakers. A big part of the curriculum consisted of propaganda songs and slogans, including “I love China” and “I love Xi Jinping.” Well, as John Lennon put it, all you need is love. Sometimes, let’s face it, the distance between Lennon and Lenin isn’t all that far.

Sauytbay recalled one incident from this adventure in love:

One day, the police told us they were going to check to see whether our reeducation was succeeding, whether we were developing properly. They took 200 inmates outside, men and women, and told one of the women to confess her sins. She stood before us and declared that she had been a bad person, but now that she had learned Chinese she had become a better person. When she was done speaking, the policemen ordered her to disrobe and simply raped her one after the other, in front of everyone. While they were raping her they checked to see how we were reacting. People who turned their head or closed their eyes, and those who looked angry or shocked, were taken away and we never saw them again. It was awful. I will never forget the feeling of helplessness, of not being able to help her. After that happened, it was hard for me to sleep at night.

Take that, Charles Barkley. Look at yourself in the mirror, LeBron James.

Chavismo: one man’s story

Over the last few years we’ve covered the steady descent of socialist Venezuela into the maelstrom. What more is there to say? Well, there used to be an old anthology TV series set in New York City. It was called Naked City, and every episode ended with a voice intoning: “there are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them.”

Dining al fresco in Caracas

Well, there are 28 million stories in Venezuela. One of them is that of a fellow named Christian K. Caruzo, who recounted his own experiences recently at the Breitbart website under the headline “My Socialist Hell: 20 Years of Decay in Venezuela.” “Hell”? “Decay”? Is he exaggerating? In his opening sentences he also uses the word “tragedy.” And he sums up the country’s current conditions in the bleakest of terms: “toilet paper shortages, desperate people scavenging through garbage to find food for their families, bread lines, a systemic failure of our public utilities, dogs flayed in broad daylight for meat, corruption, lack of proper medicine and health access, weighing stacks of cash, and so much more.” Its all true, he says, and it’s all “a product of 20 years of socialism.”

Hugo in his heyday

Eleven years old when Hugo Chávez took power, Caruzo has spent his adult life under chavismo. Chávez, he writes, turned Venezuela into a country where “you’re no longer a citizen — you’re merely a survivor.” A country where he’s “a lesser version of what I could’ve been.” A country where you stand in line for bread and where you barter for the meds you need. “Socialism,” he writes, “has slowly eroded the functional existence of every aspect of our lives, from our freedom of speech to our economic liberties, our access to healthcare and personal documents to our water supply.” Yes, the same socialism that, thanks to disinformation by media and faculty ideologues, has millions of young American fans.

Caruzo recalls how, around the year 2007, Chávez’s title morphed from “President” to “Commander-President”; and how, after the caudillo’s death, he officially came to be known as “Supreme and Eternal Commander of the Bolivarian Revolution.” Today, Chávez is a semi-divine figure. Reruns of his old TV show are still broadcast and are treated as “gospel.”

Nicolas Maduro

Meanwhile, Chávez’s successor Nicolas Maduro has introduced something called the “Fatherland Card” program, which was created with the help of Communist Chinese experts and based on China’s own “Social Credit System.” The program employs a massive database containing detailed personal data about Venezuela’s citizens, and the idea is that unless your personal record is perfect by chavista standards you’ll be denied access to job bonuses, welfare benefits, medicines, and the like.

Venezuelan refugees pouring into Colombia

In Venezuela, even as you’re forced to endure shortages of almost everything, you’re being fed massive doses of propaganda telling you that the system that’s starving you is, in fact, saving you, and that what they’re saving you from is American-style capitalism – which, of course, is exactly what is needed to turn your grinding deprivation into prosperity and your oppression into liberty. It’s pure Orwell, of course – war is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength.