How To Live the Dream
An interview with Yuri Sr.
Comrades: My father is celebrating his 65th birthday and 40th year in America. Most corporate media articles about Asians these days go something along the lines of “Why America is racist because people ask me where I’m from and how to pronounce my name.” They ignore so many stories like my father’s about why he fled his country to come to the US, and why he is proud and happy to be here. That is why I decided to interview Yuri Sr. as he reflects on his life at these milestones.
Dad: I am beyond grateful for your sacrifices. Living with you for a few months during lockdown was a blessing, as we got to spend quality time together as grown men. You have taught me so much about our family and its values. Your story inspires me to keep fighting for freedom here and in your motherland. I am proud to share it with this audience, so that humanity can unite against tyranny.
***Any new paid subscriptions this week will go towards a birthday gift for Yuri Sr.
What was your first childhood memory?
Hunger. I once hid a cookie in my bed for weeks and took small bites whenever I was famished. The Great Leap Forward and its resulting famines occurred when I was a toddler. Tragically, one of my older brothers died of malnutrition before I was born. Most basic living necessities were rationed including food, clothes, furniture, and even bicycles. There were no private cars and apartments. We could only have 6 eggs per person per month. Fried eggs are still one my favorite dishes because they were such a delicacy back then. Butter was also rare and expensive. I saved a week’s salary to buy one stick of butter and served it with bread to woo your mother, who said it helped win her heart.
What was it like to grow up during the Cultural Revolution?
The main slogan of Cultural Revolution was “Abolish the four olds (Culture, Tradition, Way of thinking, and Habit) and establish the new”. My father had to kill our beautiful goldfish that I raised for years, smash the buddha statue that my grandma worshipped every day, and throw out ancient furniture that my family passed down for generations. My grandma and I cried for days.
If my father did not take such drastic actions, the Red Guard have not only destroyed these cherished possessions anyway but they also would have punished us like they did to many other families we knew. I once saw a group of teenage Red Guards beating up an old lady laying on the ground. One of them was my brother’s friend. He handed me a belt and asked me to join the attack. I hesitated. He shouted to me “She is a landlord, a class enemy. If you strike her you are a heroic revolutionary striking the enemy”. I panicked, ran home, and had nightmares for weeks.
How were you and the rest of family treated?
At the age of 10, I was labeled a “Counterrevolutionary” and put into a prison camp along a group of other children. My crime was that I wrote “Down with” next to a “Long live Chairman Mao” banner. A group of CCP members interrogated me for months. Every day they forced me to write fake confessions that my parents taught me to do that. If I did not comply, I was starved and deprived of sleep.
As a result, my father was thrown into prison with a group other intellectuals. One day the Red Guards were marching my imprisoned father and other class traitors in the streets. My grandma saw him and cried: “Come back home let me go to the prison for you”. My father faked a smile and waved to us until he disappeared from our sights, but thankfully he was eventually released. My uncle was disappeared forever without a trace in a similar prison camp. The CCP told us that he committed suicide, but my father is convinced that he was tortured to death.
My grandma only knew that her youngest son worked for a confidential project in a remote place. Once I saw her sobbing in bed repeating “Where are you my son? Why don’t you visit me? I miss you”. Over the past 50 years, I have had a recurring dream that my uncle came home with gifts for my grandma and me as he did before disappearing, and I hugged him and said “See I knew you are alive!”
My mother was sent to a reeducation camp in a remote countryside village for several months. She was forced into backbreaking labor every day. After a few months, she was so ill that she was carried back home with a stretcher. She was diagnosed with pleurisy and hospitalized for weeks. Throughout her life, she had lung issues and eventually died of lung failure that stemmed from that illness.
My brother, who was teenager at the time, was also sent to the countryside under Mao’s directive: “The young intellectuals from the city must be reeducated by the poor peasants in countryside”. He worked in harsh conditions for many years, making just a penny an hour. In desperate moments, he dreamed of that one day he could have a bowl of fried rice with egg. Eventually, he was allowed to return home and married a girl who went to the camps with him. I was spared from being sent to the countryside because of the policy that “One boy is drafted if there are two boys in the family”.
Mao died in 1976 after the “catastrophic ten years” of Cultural Revolution. After that, life gradually returned to normal but souls were damaged forever. To this day, the CCP covers up evidence and erasing memories of the atrocities committed. I witnessed many of them. I remember everything; I will not forget or forgive. We must learn from this history or be doomed to repeat it.
When did you first hear about America and how did you decide that you wanted to move here?
I was indoctrinated by many songs, stories, and books about how America was an Imperial Aggressor. Americans were regarded as our worst enemies. They killed our soldiers in North Korea (Author’s note: China’s highest grossing film is “The Battle at Lake Changjin”, released last year about the CCP Army killing Americans during the Korean War). Our mission was to wipe America and capitalism from the face of the earth. No was allowed to see any real news about America. One of my father’s purported sins was that he secretly listened to Voice of America using short wave radio.
That mentality shifted when Nixon first visited China in 1972. More than 50 people crammed into our room watching TV coverage of the summit. We were all shocked. Overnight, our enemy became a friend. I started to learn English. The first two sentences schools taught were “Long Live Chairman Mao”, “How are you Comrades”. The first two sentences my mom taught were “I love you” and “Thank you very much”.
I was luckily among the few applicants who passed national exams and accepted into the first college class after a decade of the cultural revolution. In science classes, I learned that the latest breakthrough discoveries mostly originated in the USA. I wondered if I could study science and make some discoveries in that country. That was my American Dream.
How did you feel learning that you would be able to leave China and come to America?
The opportunity came when I graduated from college and passed entrance exams for a graduate school in Beijing. A renowned Chinese American professor initiated a graduate program by sponsoring a small group of Chinese students to America. Again I was luckily among the few candidates selected, after passing rigorous written and oral exams in English conducted by US professors. When I received the official acceptance letter I was thrilled. The whole family was so excited.
What were your first impressions of America?
Shock - it was so completely different from what I experienced in China! The diversity of ethnicity, culture; The abundance of materials, choices; The freedom of speech, religion, press, association; The rights of voting, bearing arms; The separation of powers at various levels and branches in the government. Those were non-existent, unheard of, even criminal in China. Most of all: No one is above the law or has absolute power to rule.
What do you want people to know about Tiananmen Square?
I was born and raised in Beijing a few miles away, so I witnessed the evolution of Tiananmen over decades. Before the Cultural Revolution, it was a beautiful place where kids flew kites and climbed the stone railings of the Memorial of People’s Heroes.
On April 5, 1976 it was permanently altered. Thousands of CCP paramilitary attacked tens of thousands peaceful demonstrators at night with bats. The next morning, I saw a fleet of sanitation trucks washing blood stains from the square. The “April Fifth Movement” occurred shortly before Mao’s death and was largely ignored by Western media.
On June 4, 1989 the whole world witnessed tanks and armed soldiers storming the square to suppress peaceful demonstrators who were mostly college students. My brother was there and narrowly escaped as bullets flew all around him. The exact casualty count is still top state secret, but everyone knows someone who was killed. Tyranny stomped out democracy that sad day. It should had been a wakeup call to the world. It was a fateful moment for me and you. At the time, I was preparing to return to China after my PhD. After that day, I decided to stay in the US for the safety of my family.
Many of our relatives and friends are still in China. We were all glad to see the country’s economy grow and many achieve relative prosperity. Today there is much more material wealth, but people are still looking over their shoulders. There is a Chinese saying “Kill the chicken to scare the monkey.” The CCP can make examples out of even the most wealthy business people and celebrities like Jack Ma or Fan Bingbing to scare all citizens into compliance. COVID only made things worse as entire cities can be locked down at the crack of a whip and everyone is forced to stay in their homes and line up for mandatory testing, otherwise they will lose everything. CCP associates are making fortunes on these mandates, similar to American pharmaceutical companies.
What are the similarities and differences between the Chinese Cultural Revolution and the current American Woke Revolution?
I want to draw the distinction between elite rulers and common people. Like Americans, the Chinese people are good and decent. However, both are now ruled by leaders who serve their own interest and not the people’s. I hope there will be no violent conflict both within countries and between countries.
Similarities: Social chaos from rebellion by the brainwashed young, divisions among people, and political infighting within the government. A faction within government wants to gain power by brainwashing people and canceling culture.
Differences: The Cultural Revolution was masterminded and manipulated by one person for his own agenda; modern America’s Woke Revolution is the climax of a long march of many socialists who are now aided by government, media, and corporations.
What do you predict for the future of the US and China?
Best case scenario: Through peaceful competition, US maintains its leadership as a superior moral, economic and military power. China becomes a democratic country like Taiwan and joins the world as a responsible nation. This may be a wishful thinking and take decades to realize.
Most likely scenario: In a protracted domestic and international Cold War, the US struggles to stay afloat with constant domestic and foreign strife. China remains unchanged as a tyrannic country and continues expanding through its One Belt One Road debt trap. This scenario is ongoing and may continue for foreseeable future at least.
Worst case scenario: China becomes the world leader, while the US converts to its ideology and kneels to its power. Due to the One Child Policy and gender selective abortions, China now has 50 million extra men and its leaders know that they will be better served directing that “bare branch” frustration outward rather than letting it fester internally. There is a real danger that this worst case scenario could happen if we are complacent about it. “Oh that will never happen…Not under my watch”. Never say never. The anti-West mentality and national sentiment is growing rapidly in China these days, just like my childhood. The CCP thinks that its command and control social credit system is superior and it is gaining the upper hand, often aided by wealthy collaborators in the West. If we don’t wake up and put up a real fight, we will lose sooner than we know.
I could not help but ask two questions. What kind of world do we want to live in: one ruled by tyrannic big government controlling everyone’s thinking and action; or one ruled by a freely elected small government protecting people’s rights? Which type of government shall not perish from the face of the earth: the one that oppresses the people who have no human rights; or the one of the people, by the people and for the people who have certain unalienable rights? So long as we preserve our rights, freedoms, and culture, we will be able to strive for the best and live in a better world for our own and generations to come.
Any parting words?
Let’s go Brandon! (Author’s note: we did play this song at his birthday party)