Essay #5: The Four Olds

A friend petitioned me to write an essay about Cancel Culture, and I was eager to deliver on the request. Cancel Culture is something I have been paying close attention to for 4 years now (if your mind is drawing connections you are correct. Trump’s election got me paying attention to many things), but as I began writing the essay I could not figure out where to start. When that happens, I usually just write what is on my mind and the beginning will appear, but upon doing that I also found that I still have questions about Cancel Culture and I need to think about it more before I write that essay. In my musings and research about the topic of Cancel Culture, I came across a number of things I would like to write about, but many of them involve introducing a comparison between the Post-Modernist Movement (for lack of a better term) and the Cultural Revolution in China in the 1960s and 1970s.

“History does not repeat, though it sometimes rhymes.”

– Anonymous

In 1966, Mao Zedong, Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), sanctioned a revolution to combat his waning power and influence after the tremendous blunder that was the Great Leap Forward (a series of economic initiatives that led to famine and death). The stated goal was to preserve communism by purging the remnants of capitalism and Chinese traditions. Mao gave power to student-led paramilitary revolutionaries, known as Red Guards, and they did the work of destroying the old culture and ushering in the new.

One strategy explicitly laid out by the CCP was the destruction of the “Four Olds”. This referred to Old Customs, Old Culture, Old Habits, and Old Ideas all of which were to be replaced by “New” counterparts. In the first two years of the revolution, the Red Guards destroyed books, art, and museums. They renamed streets and destroyed statues. The destruction escalated to the point where they were destroying people’s personal property such as religious texts or genealogy books (These were books families would keep as records of their genealogical history). The police were directed to step aside and allow the Red Guards to carry out their revolution, and Mao stated, “It is right to rebel”.

This reminds me very much of what we are experiencing today. I can easily draw parallels between BLM and the Red Guards: young passionate people who are interested in destroying the old culture and ideology and replacing with new culture and ideology. The actions of the Red Guards remind me of the protests for the removal of statues that recently swept across America (watch for a second wave of that), and the destruction of statues that were not being removed by local governments. The calling off of police reminds me of the strategy employed by many of our cities who were experiencing rioting and looting, most remarkably Portland, OR where the mayor has, for years, encouraged his police not to get involved in BLM and Antifa demonstrations (they also take a minimal role when right wing groups travel into the city to scuffle with Antifa). The endorsement from Mao reminds me of members of the democratic party using soft and sometimes encouraging language about the rioters.

The Red Guard was effectively a mob that was given free rein to terrorize and brutalize the Chinese people and culture. It is no surprise that these mobs did not become less violent over time, but rather more violent. Public opinion of the Red Guards fell as the violence increased, and they had suddenly become less useful to Mao. The military was brought in to forcibly suppress the Red Guards and this obviously did not happen cleanly. The Red Guards fought back and eventually the movement was destroyed and the People’s Liberation Army performed mass executions on Red Guards. I will make no case for any sort of “rhyme” of this that would happen in America, but I think it brings up important points for two groups to consider. The governmental party thinking of allying with the revolutionaries who have a history of violence, and what it will look like when they must be reined in. The revolutionaries who receive governmental endorsement, and how much they can trust the government to endorse their movement as far as they believe it needs to go.

P.S. If you are wondering what I was having trouble with in terms of the Cancel Culture topic, my quandary boils down to: do I have a problem with the mechanism of “cancelling” or do I have a problem with the ideas that are fueling the cancellations? If the mechanism is not the problem, then why am I writing an essay about Cancel Culture and not about the ideas fueling it? I will write an essay about it, though, and I think it would be realistic to expect it before the election.

P.P.S. Comparing BLM and Antifa to the Red Guards was not to say that they are the only extreme groups that are endangering the country, because they are not. They are however the extreme groups that are very concerned with a cultural revolution and thus are worthy of note in the comparison between what is occurring now and during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Furthermore, they are the groups that I would wager are the closest to receiving endorsement from the government (Though, I would assume those who despise Trump may tell me that he is close and has flirted with endorsing White Nationalist groups)

P.P.P.S. I, like many of you, am the product of a western education. As a result, I have a pitifully confined knowledge of eastern history. My understanding of the Chinese Cultural Revolution is surface level and I am learning more as I go.

P.P.P.P.S. Writing any essay about the struggles of a communist nation reminds me how misguided I feel the anti-communist rhetoric is in America. People regard capitalism with a sort of religious-like reverence and regard communism as an evil that needs to be staved off at its every attempt to gain a foothold. So, often I hear people say, “Communism has a 100-million-person body count”, and I just get so frustrated. That is not an argument against communism or socialism; that is an argument against revolutions that have installed communism forcefully on unwilling participants and the repercussions that followed. I would never want to live in a fully communist system, but why does it have to be the devil incarnate? I suppose this is just another symptom of our broken discourse today, but good lord it is a bothersome one.

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