Chinese version(中文版)

My name is Kalos Chu. I am a junior at Harvard University studying English, and I’m one of the presidents of the Chinese Students Association. I first read Eileen’s letter a few days ago, and was—as many of its readers were—stunned by its eloquence and poignancy. For those of you who have not yet read it, I urge you to do so before continuing.

As someone whose Chinese is far from strong enough to read a newspaper, much less talk about complex social issues like “systemic racism” and “the model minority myth,” I’ve often found it difficult to discuss these issues with my parents. Eileen’s letter and its Chinese translation were, I thought, the solution. Finally, someone had written down the thoughts I’d been unable to express cogently and packaged it in a way that both my parents and I could understand! I sent the link to my parents and waited for the letter to magically change their minds and turn them into social justice warriors. Alas, I was wrong. They sent back this letter (one that I also encourage you to read before continuing)—a response to Eileen’s letter from a Chinese American named Yitao. And upon reading it, I, too, felt the urge to contribute to this conversation.

So yes, my letter is a response to yours, Eileen—a perspective that I would like to respectfully add to your powerful words. But it is also a response to Yitao, a response to my parents, and a response to the Chinese American community at large. Four essays for the price of one—quite a deal, if you ask me.

First, to you, Eileen. My response is, in short, thank you. You did the heavy lifting—the research, the arguments, the tracing of a path through our shared history—all with the care and maturity of, well, an English major (they say we’re a dying species, but if that’s true, we’re going out strong!). I leave out, here, the arguments that you make, because I do not want to repeat and mince your words—but know that I stand by them fully.

Now, to you, Yitao. Let me say first that I agree with you: I think Chinese Americans are among the most courageous and compassionate and hard-working people in this country. I could explain why, but I’m not sure I need to. I’m sure that everyone reading this article has Chinese Americans in their lives who are the epitome of what you describe, who have “overcome difficulties unimaginable to you to come to the US.” For me, those people are my parents, the hardest-working people I know. Their stories of success are our sources of pride, not embarrassment, contrary to what you accuse us of. I don’t think I, Eileen, or any other Chinese American would ever argue otherwise.

I also agree with the importance of the idiom “天下兴亡,匹夫有责” (the rise and fall of a nation is the responsibility of every ordinary person), and, indeed, the actions of Chinese Americans in response to COVID-19 are a heartwarming reaffirmation of this ideal. But doesn’t the rise and fall of a nation include, too, its conditions of racial equality? Shouldn’t the ordinary person, then, be committed to helping America heal its social diseases as well? You make a powerful final point, that “we are on the side of equality, justice, and a greater America,” but doesn’t being on that side mean helping all Americans, especially Black Americans?

To this, I imagine you would rebut with the importance of self-reliance. You say that “if there is a way for Chinese Americans to make their unique contribution to social justice, sharing our cultural values is probably the one,” that Black Americans should, “through better education and hard work and entrepreneurship,” lift themselves up as we Chinese Americans did. Well, here is where I must respectfully disagree.

As hard-working as Chinese Americans are, I think it would be presumptuous to claim hard work as an exclusively Chinese cultural value. I think it would be narrow-minded to think that Black people don’t want to send their kids to good schools, don’t want good lives for their families, or don’t want to be self-reliant as well.

The problem is that “self-reliance” is not an equally attainable goal for Chinese Americans and Black Americans. Yes, the immigrant experience is difficult. My parents had to overcome numerous economic, social, and cultural barriers in their lifetimes, and there is no way I could ever understand the depth of hardship they endured to allow me to be where I am today. But they did not have to overcome these barriers in addition to 400 years of oppression, discrimination, and slavery; as atrocious as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, Sinophobia, and the discrimination that Chinese Americans have faced are—they do not compare to the Black American experience. Our ancestors were not brought to this country in chains. Our oppression was not embedded in the U.S. Constitution. Self-reliance is, indeed, a noble ideal to aspire to, but one that is made harder by centuries of anti-Black sentiment and structures.

You worked hard to get where you are; we know, and we are grateful. But for many people—Black people, especially—that’s often not enough.

And even for us, self-reliance isn’t always enough! Yitao, you end your letter with an ask: “Don’t tell [your parents] we owe our freedom and rights to others. We don’t, we earned them.” Having read Eileen’s essay, I’m not sure this is correct. We earned them, yes, but only with the help of Black Americans. The “self-reliance” that’s so often hailed as a panacea for systemic racism is the essence of the model minority myth, an excuse used by people in power to shirk their responsibilities to help those who need it—a fact that I will continue to tell my parents.

And speaking of my parents, this next part is addressed to you, 妈妈爸爸. I love you. Duh. I love you for making the best dumplings in the world, for helping me preserve my connection to Chinese culture, and for pushing me to be the best version of myself I can be. And it is because I love you that I’m writing this letter.

The danger of systemic racism and subconscious bias is that it’s exactly that—subconscious. It’s an invisible affliction, a disease that compromises the compassion that we, as Chinese Americans, so value in ourselves. And because I care so much about you, I do not want you to fall victim to that affliction. Sure, sometimes its symptoms manifest in the form of overtly racist remarks and actions, hate crimes or police brutality. I’m not saying you would do any of those things. I’m not saying you’re racist. No one is saying that. What I am saying, what Eileen is saying, and what our generation of Chinese Americans is saying is that you’re being silent—which is just as much of a symptom of racism. We’re saying that your decision to not speak out, to condemn the protests, to deem this as “none of our business,” is still bad.

It’s a symptom because it accepts privilege without question, because it betrays the Black Americans who fought alongside us for our rights, because it is selfish and dishonorable—all of the things you taught me not to be. You cite Confucian values, so I will do the same: “己欲立而立人,己欲达而达人,” or, “A man of humanity is one who, in seeking to establish himself, finds a foothold for others and who, in desiring attaining himself, helps others to attain.” However you choose to cure this symptom of silence—be it donating, sharing posts, voting, reading, signing petitions, protesting—I implore you not to ignore it, because it breaks our hearts every time you do.

And to the Chinese American community at large, I present a bit of a digression. As I’m sure you know, Harvard’s been embroiled in a lawsuit regarding its affirmative action policies, a discussion that, as a Chinese American Harvard student, I’ve found myself in the center of. I think it’s also relevant to mention that Chinese Americans support affirmative action far less than other Asian Americans (40% of Chinese are in favor, compared to 73% for other Asian groups), and that the group suing Harvard (Students for Fair Admissions), is composed primarily of Chinese Americans. Clearly, silence is not our only symptom.

I, too, am not well-versed in Asian American poetry (more of a prose guy, myself), but I have my own quote to end on, one from U.S. District Judge Allison Burroughs, who recently ruled on the case in federal court:

“The students who are admitted to Harvard and choose to attend will live and learn surrounded by all sorts of people, with all sorts of experiences, beliefs and talents. They will have the opportunity to know and understand one another beyond race, as whole individuals with unique histories and experiences. It is this, at Harvard and elsewhere that will move us, one day, to the point where we see that race is a fact, but not the defining fact and not the fact that tells us what is important, but we are not there yet. Until we are, race conscious admissions programs that survive strict scrutiny will have an important place in society and help ensure that colleges and universities can offer a diverse atmosphere that fosters learning, improves scholarship, and encourages mutual respect and understanding.”

“We are not there yet,” she says.

And if we, as Chinese Americans, fail to stand together with Black Americans and other disadvantaged minorities—we never will be.

With love,

Kalos Chu
Harvard University, Class of 2022
President, Harvard-Radcliffe Chinese Students Association

Chinese version(中文版)

P.S. If you are interested in helping, receiving updates on ways to get involved, and pledging to address anti-Blackness in our Asian American communities, please fill out the following form.

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26 Comments
  1. […] 哈佛 耶鲁 黑人问题 A Response from a Harvard student to the Chinese American Community 0 […]

  2. V 1 month ago

    “What I am saying, what Eileen is saying, and what our generation of Chinese Americans is saying is that you’re being silent—which is just as much of a symptom of racism.”

    So the logic is that we love you and therefore please think like us and act like us? And if you don’t, you are condemned as a symptom of racism. Never mind the issues of racism and economic inequality are such complicated matters that everyone should be invited to the table to discuss – in this logic, the world is only binary and if you are not one of us then you must be one of “them” and a racist.

    Everyone is entitled to his or her opinions and it’s great to see this discussion going on in the community. But please don’t make the narrative to be “1st generation parents that don’t understand American history” vs “2nd generation ivy-educated who, out of their love to their parents, want to redeem them from their ignorance and moral depravity”.

    Like all other complicated social matters, there is a spectrum of opinions on these issues, not just two sides, within any community including Asian communities and black communities. Candace Owns for example apparently doesn’t agree with this article – does that make her racist against herself?

    Btw, there are also a lot of “your generation of Chinese Americans”’ who don’t agree with this article. So it is perhaps at least overconfident, if not presumptuous, for someone to assume he or she represents an entire generation.

    • B. Ma 1 month ago

      I don’t see it like that. No is blaming or condemning anyone here. The letters from these students have been about love, compassion and understanding. People of all races are guilty of unconscious and internalized racial bias of some kind. It’s how we conduct ourselves that shows how we truly are. Candace Owens is a self-serving propagandist and mentioning her means that you have not really understood the message in Huang and Chu’s letters. As people of colour, silence in the fight against racism is not overt racism, but it IS a symptom of racism. Feelings of defensiveness and denial is absolutely normal, but I think in the path towards understanding the struggle of all marginalized people is painful and difficult because it involves looking at hard truths within ourselves. You don’t need to be an Ivy-educated student to know that. These students are simply imploring their parents to open their hearts and minds.

      • V 2 weeks ago

        No one is saying what happened to George Floyd is right – why do you equate not supporting the ideologies of BLM to the lack of compassion? Please give up your moral high ground first if you want to talk about love and compassion. By the same token, no one is saying that racism doesn’t exist – of course it does and we Asian Americans feel it no less than the black Americans. The logical question is whether what happened to George Floyd is solely due to “racially motivated” police brutality as a result of “systemic racism”, and whether what the BLM movement demands is appropriately addressing what’s broken in the American society. If Candace Owens is too “low” for you (please give me a break here – would you actually refute the arguments than simply labeling people – even if she is a “self serving propagandist”, that label doesn’t discredit her arguments) how about reading some Jason Riley, John McWhorter and the like?

        Just because someone doesn’t believe in defunding the police or agree with A.C.A.B. or vandalizing statues, he/she is a symptom of racism? You don’t need to be ivy-educated to know the difference.

  3. ssu 1 month ago

    “You worked hard to get where you are; we know, and we are grateful. But for many people—Black people, especially—that’s often not enough.” Can you list fact why “hard working” is not enough for an African American to be successful?

    • W Shin 1 month ago

      To answer SSU’s question: BECAUSE A BLACK AMERICAN MAN CAN BE SUFFOCATED IN THE STREET BY SEVERAL POLICEMEN KNEELING ON HIS NECK IN BROAD DAYLIGHT for not even resisting arrest.

      Because even “hardworking” “successful” Black Americans have to worry about what they would do if they get pulled over by police in their own neighbourhoods. They have earned how to prove they “are intelligent…not threatening…innocent after being assumed guilty”.

      Here’s how a BLACK AMERICAN Managing Director at GOLDMAN SACHS has to plan in case of police arrest: https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2020-06-05/goldman-sachs-executive-has-advice-for-white-colleagues

      WOULD YOU WANT TO CHANGE PLACES WITH HIM?

      How much more obvious does the answer have to be? People posting messages like SSU’s…please think first.

      • Anonymous 4 weeks ago

        Shin – sorry to say but I seriously don’t agree with you.

        For a start, 6% of Black Male Americans make up of the American population. However, they also make up 55% of the serious crime done in America. That’s the main reason why black people’s cars get pulled up so often.

        Also, George Floyd has been put in prison more than four times for drug abuse and theft. He also has pointed a gun at a very pregnant lady’s tummy in order to let his thieving partners raid her home. Although his death was a cruel and merciless one, you cannot use his death as an excuse to prove why Black people have to worry about being arrested.

        There may have been some cases where decent Black Americans (that is to say, Black Americans that don’t involve themselves in crime) have had their car being pulled up randomly, but those cases are very few.

        If Black Americans work hard, they have just as much of a chance as any Asian person to rise. I don’t see how their worry of being arrested have anything to do with their perseverance and resilience. I mean, look at Michael Jordan. He’s a Black American, and he’s one of our world’s best basketball players in history. Take a look at Ben Carson. His mom pushed him harder in his education than any Black parent in history, and now he one of America‘s most renowned surgeons. I only know two Asians (Yaoming and Jeremy Lin) that have played in the NBA basketball team, and I don’t remember any Asian surgeon – no, any HUMAN BEING that has ever managed to separate the heads of two twins conjoined at their heads without killing them.

        Thankyou for reading this! :>

  4. Park Washinton 1 month ago

    Honestly I don’t like to be pushed around that I have to pick a stand. BLM or not? Keel down or not? Speak or not? Trump or not? We all want to be in an inclusive world, that inclusiveness includes people who wants to be silent. We need to learn to listen, understand, empathy, less point a finger at each other. Do you understand why people are silent? Are they consistently silent over any matter? Do each race have to have the proportion to be for, silent, and against? Did you reach out to the less fortunate Chinese Americans?

  5. Nona 1 month ago

    Kalos, you come across to be well-meaning but also highly hypocritical, sheltered, out of touch, and in some ways, incredibly offensive and racist.

    Per table 14 of the Bureau of Justice Statistics Crime Report (https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/cv18.pdf), you see that blacks overwhelmingly and violently assault asians. 27.5% of violent assaults against Asians are committed by blacks, highest of any racial group. Meanwhile, only <0.1% of violent attacks on blacks are committed by Asians.

    It's well documented of blacks assaulting and hate crime-ing Asians….

    See this SF article in 2010: https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/nevius/article/Dirty-secret-of-black-on-Asian-violence-is-out-3265760.php
    In fact in this one Philly school in 2010, asians were so horrifically hate crimed by blacks that the students had to take a stand to defend themselves because anti-racist elitists such as yourself refused to do so, since it would not earn you brownie points in the media: https://www.cnn.com/2010/LIVING/10/22/philly.school.asian.american.attacks/index.html

    If you actually read coronavirus-related asian attack reports in the past few months, it's almost entirely blacks.

    We can support police reform and be against senseless violence against citizens of all races (blacks, asians, whites, hispanics, and so on), but do not try to guilt trip anyone when Asians are overwhelmingly hate crimed by one particular racial group.

  6. hanrry yule 1 month ago

    Is this some kind of radical attack to anyone who don’t agree with your whatever opinion, even just want to keep silent?
    Any reason you feel confident to make good/bad decision for others?
    “The costs of an identity ideology include not only the advancement that is forfeited, but also the needless disadvantages of letting people who represent the lowest common denominator of a group have a disproportionate influence on the fate of the group as a whole”. — Thomas Sowell.

  7. Julie 1 month ago

    “400 years of oppression, discrimination, and slavery”, i am not English major, but to me, this sentence is wrong. Are you implying Black community are still in Slavery? 400 years, that means from 1600s to 2000s. Have you done your math? When did President Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery? Go check your history book.

    • Although slavery was abolished in 1865, don’t you know Jim Crow Law, KKK, and White supremacy? Black community carries a historical racism which majority Americans admit. We should study history thoroughly. We should be proud of the second generation who grow up with compassion and want to make the world a better place. They are not condemning anyone, they are calling for love, understanding, and empathy.

      • V 2 weeks ago

        We are talking about 2020, after 8 years of a black president, and these are the best evidence you can come up with for the alleged especially egregious systemic racism against black Americans?

  8. Claire 1 month ago

    V,
    Kalos’ argument is that it is wrong to be silent in the face of racism and injustice. If you disagree, please explain why, instead of being offended that he is trying to explain his perspective. Is it bad for people to write opinion pieces in newspapers because they want the readers to “think like them”? Is it bad for lawyers to argue in court because they want the the jury to “think like them”?

    “everyone should be invited to the table to discuss” This is true. No one is stopping you from discussing anything. Eileen and Kalos wrote these articles because they want to have a discussion.

    “in this logic, the world is only binary and if you are not one of us then you must be one of “them” and a racist.” I am not sure where you got this idea. Kalos explicitly says that he is “not saying you’re racist.”

    If you think that the article is generalizing too much about the views of different generations, that is understandable. However, that is a separate issue from his main message – that we should help fight racism against African-Americans.

    • V 2 weeks ago

      It’s not bad for people to argue for their cases, it’s actually good for people to make their arguments, but only if they use facts and logic instead of labeling other people who don’t share their views, be it symptom of racism or just racist – speaking of which, would you mind explaining the difference?

      I wholeheartedly agree we should fight racism in any shape or form. I am not convinced this tragic incident proves the existence of “racially motivated” police brutality resulting from systemic racism. In order to prove that, you need statistics and numbers (which is totally lacking in all these articles from the “second generation”), not just compassion and love. One needs to prove that despite the compassion one feels for the victim of the tragedy, if one really wants to fix the problem that caused the tragedy. Some articles for your consideration:

      https://quillette.com/2020/06/11/racist-police-violence-reconsidered/#menuclose

      https://www.city-journal.org/racism-is-an-empty-thesis

      I am less convinced about the current BLM agendas – see my reply above to B. Ma.

    • V 2 weeks ago

      Can someone explain why my reply to Claire is being ‘“moderated” out?

    • V 1 week ago

      No it’s not bad at all for people to argue their cases, it’s actually really good for people to make arguments, but only if they are based on facts and logic, not categorical claims and labels, be it symptom of racism or just racist – speaking of which, would you mind explaining the difference? You don’t really want to have a discussion when you come out accusing the people you want to discuss with of having “deep-rooted anti-blackness” – in Eileen Huang’s case.

      If it’s not clear in my original post, what I am saying is that these problems at not just racial problems, they are more about social-economic disparity and different political views on how to fix that. Using racism to explain everything that’s wrong in American society inevitably leads to identity politics that helps perpetuate the divide between people – if you want compassion and understanding, how about treating each individual with respect and dignity in his/her own right, as opposed to forcing people into different camps, white v minority, Asian v black. In doing so, you are practicing the very thing you are condemning – racism.

      In terms of the current events, John McWhorter, Jason Riley, Glenn Loury etc have all made salient arguments not conforming to the BLM narrative. If you, Eileen and Kalos are serious about having a discussion, how about also opening up your minds to these thoughts and let’s discuss your take on them.

  9. Jack 1 month ago

    I applaud your effort to continue to find yourself. If history is any guide, here is a story.

    During China’s cultural revolution, everyone has to pick a side, are you are with the Party or against the Party? we know what happened to the latter. In today’s China, just look up the word 初心, who used it first and how many times it is repeated by the whole country, because if you don’t, you won’t be there for very long.

    When you have no choice, you either lie or die.

    Hu Shih’s son wrote an open letter to denounce his father after some six months’ intense brainwashing in the Chinese Revolution University in the early 1950s, he was more “progressive” than you ever wanted to be. He survived that round of “thought reform”, but he ultimately committed suicide years later in another round of “thought reform”.

    In a totalitarian country, everyone has to pick a side and silence is not an option.

    I ask you to read Orwell’s 1984 one more time.

    • R Dao 1 month ago

      So is it better to stay silent then? If you don’t speak up in a totalitarian country, you don’t speak up in a democracy, WHEN WILL YOU EVER SPEAK UP?

      Jack – you are trying to imply that somehow Kalos and Eileen have been brainwashed. Why? Because they are scrutinizing the views and beliefs of their parents? Are parents always right in Chinese culture and beyond reproach?

      There are plenty of examples of people who have chosen a side and spoken up: NELSON MANDELA, MARTIN LUTHER KING JR, 孫文, 孫子, 康有為, 林宗素 , ROBERT KENNEDY, THOMAS JEFFERSON, JOHN MCCAIN, FD ROOSEVELT…the list goes on and on.

      Don’t assume that we don’t know the history. Some of us have already lived it.

      So who/what exactly is THE PARTY here that you’re referring to?

      • Robert 4 weeks ago

        Possibly: THE PARTY = Naive/Ignorance, Communism/Neo-Nazism.

        He mentioned: Orwell’s 1984. Better read it a few more times and then checkout: USSR and Chinese Communist History 1949-1976: how many innocent lives were tortured/killed…

        You may have read: ” O Liberty how many crimes are committed in thy name”

        I dare to modify it a little bit, at the moment of the CHAZ in Seattle:

        ” O BLM, how many crimes have/are being/will be committed in thy name”

  10. Mary Legault 1 month ago

    What really makes me upset is the arrogant attitude of Eileen Huang and those Ivy-League educated people that either you are with me or you are against me.
    BTW, George Floyd was convicted of robbing a pregnant woman at gun point . How many of you guys are aware of it or just don’t give a damn ?

    I heard that Chinese student at Yale are pressured to donate to the various funds supporting the Black Lives Matter movement . This just sound like Cultural Revolution in China in 1967,

    • Carrie Song 1 month ago

      What about this Black American, Christian Cooper, who asked a White American woman, Amy Cooper (no relation) to put her dog on a leash. In return, she called the police and PRETENDED to be attacked by him, an “AFRICAN AMERICAN MAN”.

      https://youtu.be/ODhNRyjJsl8

      What did Christian Cooper do that was so wrong? Other than being an African American? Black Americans are dealing with situations like this EVERY SINGLE DAY!

      Now imagine if it the roles were reversed. That Christian Cooper had called the police on the white woman.

      This is why Chinese Students at Yale are supporting Black Lives Matter movement. Don’t equate it with the Cultural Revolution in China. It’s nothing like the Cultural Revolution and you all know it.

  11. K Wong 1 month ago

    🙋🏻‍♂️🙋🏻🙋🏻‍♀️YES, THANK YOU FOR RAISING AGAIN THE ISSUES THAT EILEEN’S ESSAY BROUGHT UP. Many of us second generation Chinese Americans DO share your concerns.

    ONE THING IS CLEAR: MANY CHINESE AMERICANS ARE NOT GOOD AT DEALING WITH SCRUTINY. Instead, our immediate response is to attack and tear down anything that doesn’t glorify Chinese culture.

    Many comments attacking Eileen’s original essay are essentially using this time to make it about how great Chinese Americans and Chinese culture is. It’s largely navel gazing. LOOK AT HOW THE WORLD IS COMING TOGETHER RIGHT NOW TO SPEAK UP. It’s no longer just about Black Americans. The PROTESTS ARE NOW ABOUT SPEAKING OUT AGAINST THE OPPRESION OF CITIZENS’ RIGHTS IN THE US.

    Never thought we would be at this stage, but this is where we are. Will the Chinese American community stand together in speaking up?

  12. CC 1 month ago

    I’m glad that university students are discussing and thinking about these issues. I’m a first generation Chinese immigrant, I’m not surprised, nor ashamed that the Harvard lawsuit was mostly supported by Chinese Americans. On the contrary, I’m proud that more Asian Americans are coming out to defend and fight for their rights. Nobody will defend your rights if you don’t fight for yourself.

    If not as many Asians come out to support BLM, why? Is it because people think that this has nothing to do with their life? Or, they just don’t want to be attacked? Or, they are parents who work multiple jobs to support a college student? Or, is it systemic bias? Multiple China towns are looted throughout the US. Looters (albeit a very small fraction of the BLM movement) hurt them in unimaginable ways. Why should they care? Do you care about them?

    An Ivy league student’s open letter to the Asian community carries quite some weight in the community. With power comes responsibility. (if this is a normal student’s essay I wouldn’t bother writing these.) In my opinion, a letter like this should aim to bring awareness and educate community members about black history. Give a gentle push, instead of accusing silent members for being complicit in Racism. Ask them why. Explain why they should care. Mere accusations achieve nothing but further tearing up the community. There is a perilous road ahead of Asians, where legacy and AA are chipping away Asian’s path to move up in society by the day. Asians cannot afford to fracture themselves like this.

    When idealism meets realism: While you show solidarity with BLM, remember to take care of your own. Other minority races in America fight for their own rights non-apologetically. Asians should do the same.

    We can start with – defending with the same level of care and compassion the civil rights of any Asians who were spat on due to the virus.

    • Robert 4 weeks ago

      Very good point: ” With power comes responsibility”

      Responsibility could be the key issue (Assumption: freedom to choose is available)

      Facts:
      Chinese Americans’ children: ~80% are raised by both parents;
      Black Americans’ children: ~20% are raised by both parents
      Look at the essence of BLM movement in Seattle: CHAZ.

      Support:
      Police brutality must be stopped! They have power!
      Criminals (looters/robbers/thieves) must be put into prison !
      Police must be protected! They serve & protect the people (911)

  13. […] of his 7th grade class spelling bee—or, if those don’t ring bells, then probably from the open letters we wrote to the Chinese American […]

  14. Stanford 3 weeks ago

    “…
    Raised by Chinese emigres, I had internalized an almost knee-jerk aversion to anything even remotely sympathetic to Communism. I accepted a vision of history symbolized by the American Dream, the promise that the triumph of capitalism and liberal democracy would herald what Francis Fukuyama declared the “end of history.” I learned a more complicated story at Stanford, one where the development of liberalism accompanied the rise of slavery and colonialism, and where the rule of law was used to protect white private property and justify violence against oppressed populations. As a historian, I also began to unlearn my unthinking hostility to Marxism and the political regimes it birthed. Through my thesis, I learned that Marxism’s record was not just defined by violence. Throughout the 20th century, it also promised (if unsuccessfully) for colonial peoples something that liberalism could not: immediate political self-determination and a more equitable global redistribution of wealth.

    Whether I was conscious of it or not, rethinking modern history also pushed me to rethink the stories that supposedly undergirded my own immigrant narrative. Historical figures I studied like W.E.B. Du Bois and George Padmore were sympathetic to Chinese Communists, whom they viewed as fighting the same system of Western imperialism that had kept Africa under the stranglehold of European domination. Yes, the Chinese Communist Party under Mao was responsible for millions of deaths. It had also turned its back against the democratic values my parents held as college students back in the 1980s. But didn’t it also end centuries of colonial domination at the hands of the West? Did Mao not also inspire anti-colonial movements in Africa and Asia during the 1950s and 60s with his commitment to promoting equitable socialist development across the Third World?

    These questions began to change the way I perceived my own cultural and political inheritance. As I discovered historical figures who challenged the liberal telos of history I grew up believing in, I learned that my grandfather, who currently lives in Beijing, is an ardent member of the Chinese Communist Party and an avid defender of Mao’s legacy. Growing up in the 1940s and 50s, he shared Padmore’s criticisms of Western imperialism and the mass economic inequality that capitalism had generated. My dad used to tell me never to listen to what my grandfather had to say. But I now share at least some intellectual affinity with him, one of the more curious outcomes of my own journey through elite American education.

    Like the discipline of history itself, the ways in which we imagine our own family histories are oftentimes creative endeavors. Elevating my grandfather’s story allows me to give the increasingly progressive politics I’ve developed at Stanford the authenticity of my own political ancestry. At the same time, rethinking my parents’ story not just through the lens of model minority culture, but also through their pro-democratic political activism has recently helped me develop my own sense of civic identity as an American citizen. As I joined hundreds of other people marching down Columbus Circle in New York supporting Black Lives Matter last week, I thought about the central role my dad in particular played in the Tiananmen Square protests thirty years ago…”

    https://www.stanforddaily.com/2020/06/16/senior-column-history-and-the-search-for-selfhood/

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