How I Became Disillusioned with Communism
My dad once blurted out at a dinner table that he thinks North Korea has the most ideal form of government of all, because it’s closest to the communist ideals. I felt a knee-jerking pain in my stomach and tried to tell whether he was joking. He was not. Decades of communist indoctrination in China left a permanent scarring in my parents’ psyches, one not easily erased by their marginalized presence in the Western society. Having endured many nights of arguing before, I knew better than to start another fight. I tried to let go and simply asked him to visit the country and see for himself.
Memories brought me back to my own youthful days in mainland China in the early 90s, where I grew up until the age 12. With the market economy reform in motion since the 1980s, this was a time of economic growth for the country. While China was adopting capitalistic features in its economy, “socialism with Chinese characteristics” remained the official ideology, and the Communist Party was the default political leadership. Pro-communist propaganda filled the media and schools, and my elementary school in a small southern city was no exception.
I recall tying the red scarves every morning before leaving for school, a requirement upon entrance. As a member of the Young Pioneers of China, we performed daily exercise routines in the morning to upbeat songs promising to love the Communist Party of China, the motherland, and to prepare for my contribution to the cause of communism. I distinctly remember an article we memorized in the fourth grade Chinese textbook, where a member of the Chinese Red Army was voluntarily burnt alive to cover for his comrades in a battle against the Japanese. The teacher highlighted the exalted virtue of self-sacrifice for our country and the people. Attracted to writing at an early age, I even won a first-place award in a fifth-grade writing contest on the benefits of taxation.
When my family immigrated to Canada in 2004, I struggled to learn the language and to fit in culturally. The teenage angst and insecurities at that age didn’t help either. The parallels teachers drew between the evil Hitler and the heroic Mao confused me, and the negative connotations communism seemed to carry challenged all that I was taught. Perhaps the West was out to smear our great nation, I thought, as the anti-capitalist propaganda taught us in China. It wasn’t until I started reading about the devastations and atrocities caused in recent history in the name of realizing the ideals of communism and socialism that my unquestioned beliefs began to shatter. Everything from the Great Leap Forward led by Mao resulting in 15 to 30 million deaths in the Great Chinese Famine of the early 1960s, to the over 10 million dead from famine and dekulakization of the Soviet Union. That’s almost double the total number of Holocaust victims.
While we learn the horror committed by the Nazis here in the West, let’s also not forget the painful history humanity suffered under the hands of socialist and communist leaders. It was not merely the fault of implementation, but the collectivist ideologies themselves that appealed to the totalitarian leaders and governments, as repeatedly seen in North Korea, Eastern Europe, Cuba, Venezuela, Vietnam and Cambodia. Before millennials in my generation eagerly embrace socialism and communism as the antidote to unchecked capitalism and the solution to a more egalitarian and fairer future for all, a look at the past is certainly warranted so as to not repeat the same mistakes.
As for myself, I have long betrayed my childhood vows and traded my communist upbringings for a love of free markets and civil liberties, to my parents’ dismay.