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How To Counter the Cultural Revolution: An essay about my family's full circle journey from madness in China to the US
A time capsule letter I wrote 3 years ago about my family's history, which may have started many comparisons between the US Woke Revolution and the Chinese Cultural Revolution
Comrades: We are countering the American Cultural Revolution.
Several of my posts have drawn parallels between the modern woke revolution and the Chinese Cultural Revolution. How To Live the Dream was an interview with my father, who grew up during the latter. To go deeper on that conversation, I will be posting a podcast with him in March for paid subscribers only; it’s a one of a kind retelling of that dark, underexplored period of history from someone who lived through it. How To Repeat History (Part 2) found eerie similarities between The Great Leap Forward and The Great Reset. How To Groom Commissars described my experience participating in an Ivy League struggle session. In How To Control your Soul’s Desire for Freedom, I interviewed with an uncle who lives in Shanghai and continues to suffer under CCP oppression. Never forget that human rights NGOs remained silent about all tyrannical mandates and lockdowns during COVID hysteria.
Today, I’d like to share a letter I wrote to a small group of family and friends 3 years ago. It was my Jerry Maguire moment at an innocent time compared to where we are today - right after Kobe Bryant died and right before the COVID insanity escalated. Writing helped crystallize many ideas and memes that had been floating around in my head and iPhone photos. I launched this Substack 2 years after the letter, which became one of the earliest posts. I never thought that my writing would attract 3,300+ subscribers in one year. Thank you from the bottom of my heart - let’s continue to turn the tide together. As Churchill said, “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
Over the past year, you may have noticed more prominent figures discussing how the woke revolution reminds them of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Did it spawn from this samizdat? What I do know is that my subscriber base includes impressive, influential people like you. What I don’t know is who my secret readers are and what they do with this content. Either way, I’m glad these ideas have spread and the pendulum appears to be swinging back to sanity. All I ask is that you subscribe, upgrade, or attribute:
JBP/VDH labeled DEI/ESG bureaucrats commissars:
Bill Maher called the woke a bunch of Maoists:
Fellow class traitor Vivek Ramaswamy takes on the ESG/DEI/CCP, WEF Wehrmacht, and Xiden just as relentlessly as I do:
Can’t cuck the Tuck:
Beijing, Pyongyang, and Columbia are the same in the eyes of a North Korean defector:
Now onto my letter from February 2020:
Hope your 2020s are off to a great start. As we enter a new decade and phases of our lives, I wanted to share a personal history, reflection, and vision. During the past month, I lost my grandparents, a legend passed suddenly before his time, and a strange new disease is spreading. We don’t take enough time to tell our favorite people how much we care, so I want to start by saying that I treasure and love all of you. I am blessed to have such a fantastic group of family and friends. In a world full of distraction, artificiality, and transience, relationships of candor, sincerity, and permanence are precious. Whether it’s discussing a passion project in person, shooting the shit over a call, or best of all a spicy meme text, I appreciate everything that we do for each other. If you are reading this, that means I would run through brick walls for you and know that you’d do the same for me.
In commemoration of my grandparents, my parents shared many stories about our family’s history that I hadn’t known or fully appreciated before. My grandparents and their generation endured the horrors of World War II, the Great Leap Forward, and the Cultural Revolution. While fleeing from college as the battlefront approached, my grandfather almost died of tuberculosis that hampered him for the rest of his life. One of his brothers was captured, tortured, and hanged for dissent, while another was a pilot who disappeared after being shot down. Hundreds of millions went through unimaginable suffering, tens of millions died, and all submitted to fear and scarcity. My grandparents moved to the US to help raise me and we were all originally planning to return to their homeland, but after the brutal events of 1989 they were too terrified to ever go back. They chose to work at McDonald’s as free people here instead of always looking over their shoulders over there. Until their last days, they remained scared to express their opinions.
My parents also encountered many hardships. One of my father’s brothers died from malnutrition during a famine. Many of their relatives and friends were forced to leave school to be reeducated through hard labor, reciting incantations to destroy the “4 olds”: old customs, old cultures, old habits, and old ideas. They didn’t know any better and didn’t realize until later that they were weaponized to destroy their own proud heritage and civilization. The upheavals of 20th Century China are among the most fascinating and underexamined episodes of history, so I encourage you to read more about them. While we may never unveil the full tapestry, many oral histories and source material offer harrowing stories and valuable lessons. Notably, my family sees stronger parallels between the fanaticism of the Red Guards and today’s Antifa Social Justice Warriors than the tired and divisive trope that red hats are equivalent to white hoods or brown shirts.
For one of my dad’s first dates with my mom, he saved up for weeks to treat her to a rare delicacy – butter. His determination to seek a better life drove him to earn one of the first available scholarships to America. They still feel as though they won the lottery and are deeply appreciative for all the opportunities this country has given them. It is a miracle that I am even alive. I am beyond grateful for my family’s sacrifices and consider myself tremendously lucky to be born in the most free and prosperous nation in history. It is mind blowing that I can send this message to friends around the globe while flying 30,000 miles above it. We have access at our fingertips to a previously unfathomable array of travel, food, information, and entertainment. While our generation has its own set of challenges, they pale to what my parents and grandparents went through. It is striking to me that in this world of abundance, there is still a pervasive attitude of scarcity and fear.
Although my ancestors’ experiences are radically different than mine, we share the same values and traditions. We are devoted to family, education, pragmatism, reason, and self-improvement. To us, a day without learning and laughter is a day wasted. I was taught to show kindness and judge people for their content of their character and not their identity. I strive to Kipling’s “If–” and surround myself with others who do. Now that I know more about my family’s past, I realize that I subconsciously absorbed their fears of risk, uncertainty, failure, and authority. I am pleased to say that I have freed myself from those mental prisons, and that this liberated DGAF mentality feels incredible.
Influenced by my family’s backgrounds and many hard knocks, I developed an approach to keep questioning assumptions, gather data, and decide and act with conviction. Since I could crawl, my parents described me with a term that translates to “ass growing grass”, meaning I struggled to sit still due to relentless energy and curiosity. After a jarring first month of high school in September 2001, I wanted to learn all about the world. Since we weren’t able to travel much, I read as much as I could on geopolitics and history.
During my first week of college, I unwittingly participated in a program where I was told for the very first time that my “third world” identity was more significant than my character, and that I would always be an oppressed, disadvantaged victim in an unsafe colonized space. I was confused by these fearful dogmas and still wonder how many people remain shackled by them, flailing with excuses and blame instead of channeling energy into a growth mindset. Quiet strength is a virtue, not loud weakness. Fortunately, I found that those dogmas had no basis in reality as I bonded with a brilliant variety of people on campus representing all backgrounds, opinions, and personalities who continue to broaden my horizons. My enthusiasm for lifelong learning is stronger than ever, driving me to dig for answers and travel to see realities on the ground as often as possible.
Over time, I noticed my world view diverging from elite urban professionals. In terms of income and wealth, anyone in this orbit is well within the top 10% of Americans, top 1% of the world, and top 0.1% of anyone who has ever lived. The bubble is virtually its own country, with outsized affluence and influence accompanied by privileged lifestyles, tastes, and norms far removed from the average. One of those norms is the vilification of our president and his supporters, sometimes to the point of derangement that inhibits rational introspection and examination of why his support exists and appears to be growing.
Bubble residents are well intentioned and high achieving, yet they are still flawed mortals grappling with egos, insecurities, competition, and peer pressure. We, like everyone else, are trying to better understand the world and our place in it, but may have blind spots from the socially reinforcing moral and intellectual superiority that comes from decades of running the rat race at the front of the pack. 2016 should have served as a reality check that many feel left behind and do not enjoy receiving sanctimonious lectures about being “deplorable”, and yet the bubble has doubled down on the condescending tone to everyone’s detriment, resulting in a perplexing mass hysteria and cognitive dissonance in the midst of peace and prosperity.
I have received more hostility for questioning the echo chamber than I ever have about my identity. Those like me who came from outside the bubble are more keenly aware of its insulated existence. I respect that everyone from a CEO to a janitor has worth, along with valuable wisdom and life stories that explain why they do what they do and why they believe what they believe. Most reasonable people agree on 90% of issues, but the corporate media’s biases and outrage-driven agendas sow discord on the remaining 10%, aggravated by instantaneous spreading and reacting on social platforms. Whenever I share content, it is because I think it sparks some combination of joy, amusement, and thinking, and is underreported by the mainstream narratives. I acknowledge that at times I have been unnecessarily harsh or lacking proper context, so I pledge to you keep improving on my self-awareness and welcome all feedback as long it is solutions oriented and not ad hominem. However, bluntness runs in my blood and I refuse to bow to political correctness; consistent tough truths are superior to inconsistent pretty lies, and we are all tired of walking on eggshells.
Since we lead busy lives and don’t have as much time to go deeper into conversation as we used to, I want to clarify and elaborate upon my perspectives about 3 pillars that tie into the 4 olds: free speech, wellness, and cohesion. In my humble opinion, nothing else is possible without them. I have discussed various pieces with you and each topic and their subtopics could fill pages of their own, but since time is our most precious asset I will distill them as best I can. Overall, I think we are living in the greatest and most fascinating period in history. Changes are accelerating, most of them good, and all the data supports this story. Globally, vital measures including education, stability, mobility, material wealth, physical health, and inequality between nations, have never been better.
However, mental health, inequality within nations, and polarization threaten progress. As a result, toxic ideas have emerged that are to varying degrees naively misguided, hysterically hypocritical, and dangerously tyrannical with blatant disregard for basic science, economics, and history. The gory list of flashpoints grows daily, but the pattern typically involves the Orwellian control of language and thought to glorify intersectionality, victimhood, and degeneracy with the aim of indoctrinating impressionable children and adults into attacking the 4 olds all over again. Meanwhile, the meanings of noble ideals such as justice, progress, freedom, equality, and human rights have been twisted into cudgels to steamroll principled opposition. If good people like us do nothing and leave bad ideas unchecked, they could usher in the disastrous horrors from which my family fled. I thus feel compelled to take a stand and thankfully, it appears that sanity is returning.
Freedom of Speech – Old Ideas
The First Amendment is a sacred right that underpins any healthy governments and institutions. The marketplace of ideas must remain open and unregulated so that bad ideas get withered away and good ideas get reinforced. All viewpoints should be debated in good faith to better understand what is right instead of who is right, avoiding the use of labels, slurs, -isms, and -phobias to shut down conversation. Discussion of a problem is not more problematic than the problem itself, otherwise viable solutions are impossible. Disagreement is natural and healthy, but should not affect personal relationships. And of course, extremist violence on any part of the spectrum has no place in civil society.
Unfortunately, omnipresent centralized platforms and distributed cancel culture mobs are now imposing censorship and self-censorship with impunity online and offline. The only fear I still have is the faceless masked mob’s ability to upend my and my family’s lives for the blood sport of controversy. This is why I am choosing to remain anonymous and eschew social media. I, like most people, just want to be left alone to live freely as a private citizen. There is a strange juxtaposition of moral relativism where everyone can do whatever they please without judgment or shame in their private lives, but cultish woke puritanicalism sets impossible standards for anyone who makes the slightest misstep in the public domain. My hope is that this message matters more than the man writing it.
One of the major ironies I have experienced is that many who preach tolerance, diversity, and inclusion exclude and are intolerant towards diversity of thought. It would be boring, predictable, and perilous if subgroups of race, gender, age, education, occupation, income, etc. all aligned 100% as an in-group against out-groups. No single person or party has all the answers and there are few absolute truths, but it is our duty to protect each other’s rights to ask questions and speak freely in the pursuit of common ground and compromise. Humans will inexorably push for unrestricted discourse and fun banter, no matter where the Overton window is. Whenever the slippery slope of policing speech reaches a tipping point, violent revolutions often occur. As a sage comedian recently quipped, the Second Amendment exists just in case the first one doesn’t work out.
Wellness – Old Habits and Customs
Family, community, and spirituality have served as the building blocks of every civilization since the dawn of humankind. They give us internal anchors of love, inspiration, and meaning in a chaotic external world. Erosion of these foundations has created a vacuum for the dopamine rushes of unfulfilling substitutes, most noticeably the deification of the self(ie), solipsism, hedonism, materialism, fame, fortune, politics, and celebrities. The inevitable disappointments that come from worshipping false gods are the root cause of modern malaises of the developed world including loneliness, self-harm, substance abuse, depression, anxiety, and sub-replacement birth rates. Going back to basics would help heal many hurting souls. Everyone has the capacity to reform, evolve, and grow if they redirect their fixations on things that are out of their control towards things that are. All it takes it willpower.
Any decent healthcare system should not only provide quality access but also incentivize preventative care, which requires personal responsibility and discipline. If we all spent more quality time with loved ones and nature, we would instantly make enormous leaps in all forms of wellness without any exogenous enforcement. Investment in holistic education and teachers are the enabling ingredients that can guide us on how to live a good life, ensuring self-sufficiency and stronger societies. While it’s nice to know what mitochondria does, it is vital to understand and practice functional skills like resilience, personal finance, civics, nutrition, fitness, and communication. It should go without saying, but war is appalling and must be avoided at all costs. The great tragedy of our generation is that the manpower and money spent on disastrous foreign interventions as we came of age could have revitalized wellness everywhere. Profiteering from war, conflict, and misery must end. In an increasingly interconnected world, diplomacy from official and unofficial channels can defuse tensions much better than before to avoid physical clashes.
Economically, I prefer bottom-up solutions that empower individuals and innovation over top-down centralized command and control. Human ingenuity operating in markets guided by an informed body politic has always developed solutions to solve problems. I am skeptical of any apocalyptic notions that we must make sweeping systemic changes to give more power to governing bodies because only they can prevent catastrophe. If anything, concentration of power is far more treacherous because it usually leads to inefficiency, corruption, and abuse. Supply, demand, and incentives in transparent open markets, while imperfect, are anti-fragile, self-recalibrating, and will continue to drive the prosperity we enjoy today.
Cohesion – Old Cultures
America is also imperfect, but it is far and away the greatest nation that has ever existed because of its unprecedented ability to welcome ambitious people from all over the world and integrate them into a common culture and language, while maintaining the vibrancy of its subcultures. However, whenever subcultures don’t adapt into the broader culture, balkanization and tensions arise. Assimilation is a two-way street where both hosts and newcomers need to be open to it. Diversity is about much more than just statistics. It is a strength only when groups mingle and live in harmony as a melting pot, not a salad bowl as is often found in cities where, despite single party rule and high taxes, inequality and segregation remain deeply entrenched.
Immigration and race relations are loaded issues that trigger strong emotion from even the most rational and level-headed people because we all have visceral experiences and opinions about them. I will do my best to articulate mine in a respectful manner. Migration, whether voluntary or forced, across borders or within, legal or illegal, is one of the most complex issues of our time. At its core, it requires people to leave everything they know behind and adapt to a different environment. Most migrants and their hosts are inherently good and want to do their best to help each other out, but balance is critical to maintain quality of life. When many are already struggling to make ends are meet, throwing more strugglers into the mix does not help.
Mass influxes of migrants cause short-term strains on shared resources such as hospitals, schools, roads, welfare, and the environment. They also put pressure on the supply-demand equilibria governing wages and housing, especially when jobs are being automated and new housing is not being built. Internationally, America is an ideal that transcends borders. We couldn’t possibly accommodate all the billions of people who want to come here, but we can certainly help kindle the flames for them to build liberty and the pursuit of happiness where they are now. The tricky part is calibrating the pace of change, as brute force always creates backlash. Anyone can live American ideals if they put in the effort, and those who already live here should not take them for granted.
My parents came to America with nothing. They never took a single handout and pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, working menial jobs to put themselves through school. After many years of hard work and following the rules, they consider the day they earned citizenship as one of the happiest days of their lives. They are compassionate people, but find it unfair to share resources with those who broke the rules. Something has gone awry when it is harder for high-skilled students and professionals to stay here than low-skilled laborers and criminals. It is a heartbreaking failure when families are separated at the border, the vast majority of whom are seeking a better life like mine did. Nevertheless, many citizens, legal immigrants, and their families have been harmed by illegal bad actors who have exploited loopholes under the misapplied premise of sanctuary. Drug and human trafficking are scourges that flourish under lax enforcement. Frustration grows when it is considered acceptable and trendy to protest one tragedy, but inappropriate to discuss another. The more that unacceptable behavior goes unpunished and “memory-holed” without change, the more faith in rule of law dissipates.
Humans are instinctively social and tribal. Whether it’s a family, neighborhood, city, state, country, religion, ethnicity, school, fraternity, sorority, sports team, political party, or company, we organize ourselves into groups that shape our biases, loyalties, and values. Many injustices along these lines have occurred in the past and it is important to learn from them to avoid repeating them, but dwelling on them and seeking retribution poisons the present. We should celebrate the victories where people whose ancestors hated each other become lovers and friends, instead of regressively reopening old wounds from bygone eras that none of us had anything to do with. Fighting discrimination with discrimination never ends well, so we have the power to either break the chain of grievances and resentments or perpetuate them. Only then can we achieve a more perfect union.
In daily life, anything can be a trigger or microaggression if we want it to be. However, I find it more productive to give the benefit of the doubt and work towards a brighter future. I have always been pleasantly surprised when believing the best in people, and I’m sure you have too. If we filter out the noise of amplification and hoaxes, it is undeniable that we are headed in the right direction. Prioritizing equality of opportunity is much more effective than trying to control for equality of outcome, so investing resources on win-win access is far more effective than zero-sum administrivia enforcing quotas that are anathema to meritocracy. Improved access to education and knowledge through technology is the ultimate leveler of opportunity and destroyer of ignorance. Anyone with an internet connection can learn anything, build platforms and products with billions of users, and earn fortunes.
I always keep an open mind and am happy to discuss anything in more depth or review anything you suggest. Above all, I remain an optimist, as it does not seem too much use being anything else. Glubb’s Fate of Empires delineates the pattern by which all great civilizations have risen and fallen (TLDR: Hard times create strong people, strong people create good times, good times create weak people, weak people create hard times). However, if we safeguard the 3 pillars, I believe we will break the cycle this time because our unprecedented access to knowledge and technology will usher in a golden age in human consciousness, harmony, and achievement.
None of this will be easy, but nothing worth doing ever is. The only limits will be those we impose on ourselves. We are uniquely positioned in a grand transformation from control to freedom, analog to digital, and darkness to light. As fellow humans, we should hold each other accountable to elevate our dialogue to get the big things right instead of squabbling over petty inconveniences and differences. There is nothing that we as individuals, friends, and a society can’t accomplish with the power of compounding: If we work on improving ourselves and our communities every day with even the smallest of acts, brick by brick, we will wake up years later in the better world that we have always aspired towards.
What is your and your family’s story, and how has it shaped your beliefs? How can we help each other achieve our goals and summon the courage to fight the good fight? And what will we build together that our children and grandchildren will look back on and be proud of?