by Marjorie Haun
Book review of “Confucius Never Said,” by Helen Raleigh (2014)
Helen Raleigh’s cleverly titled book, “Confucius Never Said,” is an instructional primer in Randian Capitalism contrasted against a bleak mural of Communist ingress. Raleigh, a first-generation American whose great-grandfather, in the 1940s, was persecuted by the communists, and whose father, in the 1950s, escaped the oppression of his home village, has given us a powerful moral argument for Capitalism in a simple recounting of the human tragedies made possible by its absence.
The power of “Confucius Never Said” comes from Helen Raleigh’s binding of generations of family memory; the wisdom gained through experiencing the conditions of life prior to and during China’s Communist Era, with her own experiences as a free woman in America. Ayn Rand would be pleased with Raleigh’s approach to Capitalist thought; a cautionary tale documenting the creeping tolerance of Collectivism by an easily manipulated population.
A straightforward personal history, Raleigh’s first book begins with the story of her great-grandfather who, at the turn of the last Century was born in Shandong Province, the ancestral home of the venerated Chinese philosopher, Confucius. The author sets the philosophical stage for 20th Century radical Socialism by detailing the principals taught by Confucius. Confucianism sets forth strict rules of order and social conduct, which historically provided a point of reference for Chinese culture. Absent the “all men created equal” and “government by the people” ideals of the United States, Confucius nevertheless encouraged respect for citizens by rulers, respect for the rulers by citizens, and respect for the individual duties given to each man to regulate his own actions, thus promoting peace and order for all. One might refer to Confucianism as a sort of benevolent Collectivism which, tragically, may have made the Communist victory in China easier than it would have been in a western Democracy.
The Communist takeover of China began with a reordering of class structure; what modern Progressives would refer to as “leveling the playing field.” But in Raleigh’s account of her family’s personal experiences, we see how “collective progress” incrementally strips away class, wealth, property, freedom, and eventually life in its inexorable march to totalitarian government.
Chapter 1 describes how, in the late 1940s, Communists used “Land Reform” efforts to set the land-owner and peasant classes in conflict with one another. Following the Soviet model, villages were controlled by Communist Party members, and land was confiscated from landlords and redistributed among the poor. This subversion of agrarian traditions required a campaign of propaganda which exploited the grievances of the “working class,” thus making hatred, aggression and theft directed at landowners more palatable; what modern Progressives would call “social justice.” It’s believed that during this campaign between 1949 and 1953, at least one million landowners were rounded up and executed.
Raleigh’s great-grandfather, a landowner whose modest holdings were acquired through years of toil, was denounced by the Communists and dispossessed of his private property, but his life, unlike many others, was spared. In the following chapters, the story of Helen Raleigh’s father, the “Landlord’s Grandson,” is traced from his early life before communist rule, through his teenage years during the devastating Chinese famine of the 1950s, which debilitated national morale and left millions dead.
Through a number of fortunate turns, Raleigh’s father was able to escape the hopelessness of his village, and become educated as an engineer in Beijing. The author uses these lucid memories to illustrate how the Chinese Communists supplanted family traditions with state identity. Oral and written genealogy was discouraged. The family structure was weakened through classism and displacement, and the traditional Chinese veneration of Ancestors was replaced with fear and obedience to village leaders and the state they represented. Using Marxist devices, familial bonds to past and present generations were obliterated, making the state the ultimate and only authority. Though Raleigh’s father “chose to do whatever it took to change his fate,” she sums up the net effect of China’s experiment in Socialism:
The kind of poverty and subsistence living that my father and millions of other Chinese people grew up with was a direct result of the poor policies driven by the government’s overzealous push for economic equality through command and control. Yet the only thing Chinese people equally shared was misery. (pg. 21, “Food for Thought”)
Each chapter of “Confucius Never Said” ends with a short postlude which Raleigh calls “Food for Thought.” As the chronologically-ordered chapters relate the author’s family saga, her “Food for Thought” summaries connect the dots between historical events and Marxist principles, as expressed in Chinese social policy, Communist party machinations, and the punishing government force of the time. Raleigh also draws unpleasant parallels with 21st Century American Progressivism, and the alarming inroads made by Marxists following the election of Barack Obama, whose path to power was paved by the work and philosophies of avowed Communists, from Frank Marshall Davis to Van Jones.
Raleigh confronts the illusory, yet seductive, idea of “fairness,” used universally by Socialists to justify state theft of private property from those who earn to be redistributed to those who do not:
Many people who grow up in this environment don’t realize that government assistance comes with two notable costs: the unfair cost to those whose wealth is confiscated to support the government programs and the cost to those on the receiving end who pay by giving up freedom and dignity. (pg. 21 “Food for Thought”)
Chapter 3, devoted to Mao Tse-tung’s insurgence between 1949 and 1959, describes not only the misery, starvation, and displacement of millions, but the manipulation of information by state propagandists as well. Few were aware of the full scale of the unfolding Communist disaster. Intended treachery and violence were renamed or simply hidden, but inscrutable policies, such as that which lead the government to increase grain exports while its own people starved during China’s worst famine in memory, were never elucidated in any meaningful way. “In China, official archives about the Famine are still largely sealed by the government and difficult to access. We can only estimate that the death toll of the Chinese Famine ranges between thirty and sixty million.” (pg. 31) In that chapter’s summary Raleigh exposes the way state propagandists successfully hid the horrendous crimes of Chinese Communism, and still do, to this day:
If you google “China’s Famine,” you will see a lot of gruesome images. Yet in China, the Great Famine remains a taboo subject. Some people in China claim that Mao had good intentions. They believe that Mao merely misstepped in his implementation. The government hid official records of the Famine from the majority of Chinese people in order to preserve Mao’s “savior of China” image. (pg. 33 “Food for Thought”)
Raleigh’s sternest warnings follow the chapters recalling the bloody horrors of Mao’s Cultural Revolution.
Tolerance for ever-growing government power:
Mao’s Cultural Revolution might be an extreme case in world history, but that doesn’t mean it won’t reemerge in various degrees, shapes, and forms in other countries. The lesson from the Cultural Revolution has universal implications. Are your forging your own chain right now? (pg. 67 “Food for Thought”)
Dissolution of the traditional family:
It concerns me deeply that one of the most obvious unintended consequences of the welfare policies in the U.S. in the collapse of marriages and families…No one can be truly free if he or she is chained to the welfare system. (pg. 79 “Food for Thought”)
Loss of privacy:
Why do communists hate privacy? Because they want absolute control, and the only way to do that is to control people’s intimate thoughts and behaviors. The totalitarian government in China showed no regard for people’s right to privacy because there is no “individual in communism. (pg. 94 “Food for Thought”)
It is disturbing how much the socialist ideology emphasizes the virtue of self-sacrifice. Mao promoted selflessness and self-sacrifice through a mass campaign of the make-believe example of Lei Feng. But the real motive of his campaign was selfish, because communism was founded upon the belief that an individual must sacrifice for the collective in order to achieve the common good. Government requirements always took precedence over individual preference. (pg. 103 “Food for Thought”)
Rays of light from the West broke through the fog of communist misinformation with Chinese attempts at economic reform in the 1980s. This was largely due the exposure of images and stories of western wealth and personal freedom to Chinese citizens. The communist government was weakened as people recognized that there was a better way of life, and people in free countries were living it.
Confucius Never Said, like a shadow cast on the American conscience, reminds us that life can be much worse, and is for people in countries where freedom is limited. And it cautions us that a similar fate looms for us if we don’t change our national trajectory now. Despite all of its gentle wisdom for harmonious living, Confucianism lacks the strong individualism of western traditions. America’s fate does not have to be tied to China’s past, present, or future. The belief that solutions are found with individuals, not the collective, is still America’s defining characteristic.
Confucius Never Said is at once a paean to the morality of genuinely Free Markets and the free exchange of wealth and ideas, as well as an alarm bell. Chinese Communism is again on the move. Once confined by its own stubborn adherence to a rigid state economy, Communist China, thorough corporatism and “economic reforms,” now stretches its arms of influence beyond its own borders and deeply into western economies. China’s allies include sworn enemies of America, and Communist China has never lost its appetite for control of world markets and vast swaths of resource-rich lands. This is why Helen Raleigh’s new book, a cautionary tale of the rise of Communism in 20th Century China, is more important today than ever before.
September 29, 2014