September 28, 2014
My great-grandfather was born in 1900 in a village called Qiu, which is located in Shandong Province on the east coast of China. Shandong Province is renowned for two seemingly contradictory things: philosophy and banditry.Not to us, Ms. Raleigh, not to us. I always felt for Ayn Rand (because that's the kind of selfless guy I am). Collectivism destroyed her productive family in Russia. She immigrates to America, then has to watch Rex Tugwell and the New Dealers bring the same economics here.
In Confucius Never Said, Helen Raleigh stays in China until college, witnessing liberalization but experiencing the unconscionable and barely imaginable limitations of Communism. Her family was prosperous until Mao brought that special brand of fairness.
My grandfather was eager to help because he was tired of decades of war, violence, and uncertainty. He craved a peaceful life. Like most people in China, he didn't know what communism stood for, but he figured that he would give his support if the communists delivered the peace and prosperity they promised. He didn't realize that would be the last time he saw his boat.
Raleigh's father and grandfather have a front row seat for the redistribution she is witnessing today. Their close-knit community is ripped apart when her family, though popular, is cast as villainous oppressors.
Initially, some poor farmers were hesitant to identify their neighbors as rich. However, the work team brainwashed the poor farmers into believing that disproportionate property ownership was the main cause of social injustice and that landowners were evil class enemies and exploiters of the poor. With a certain amount of coercion, some poor farmers turned their old grievances or frustrations into hatred for their well -to-do neighbors . Since my great-grandfather owned land, he was classified as a landlord even though he wasn't the richest man in the village.
Once identified as "rich," life becomes unbearably hard for the family, and Raleigh chronicles the difficulties. We know the horrors of the famine (though many Chinese do not), but one is struck by the small things. There are a few train trips to seek education, better opportunities, and finally the author's chance to study in America. We complain about travel, but there is a "papers, please" mentality that makes every stop suspenseful. Communism will starve you if you stay put and administer the death of a thousand cuts if you seek life elsewhere.
The book is outstanding as a close up look at Communism and intriguing biography of the woman who escapes it. The best of Raleigh's book, however, is Raleigh's interest in philosophy and the power of ideas. The title refers to "All men are created equal." Confucius never said that. Confucianism accepts the caste system and a hierarchical society that was overturned in The Enlightenment.
A good friend of mine, Bryan, likes to say "Ideas matter ." Knowing what makes America great also helps explain why civilizations like China, despite their thousands of years' of history, fell so behind in the last two hundred years.
And yes, that happens to be Brother Bryan quoted. Also quoted are Hayek, Milton Friedman, and William Easterly. In a couple decades here, she has absorbed the philosophical foundations of liberty and prosperity. In "Confucius Never Said" she shares those with us.
UPDATE: Helen Raleigh's talk at LOTR-F"
Posted by John Kranz at September 28, 2014 10:13 AM