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Kissing Cousins: China’s Maoists, Virginia’s Racists

Merriam-Webster defines “kissing cousin” as one “closely related in kind to something else.” While varying in scope and brutality, China’s 1960s and Virginia’s 2020s cultural-educational revolutions share the deliberate divisiveness of similar ideological roots.

Earlier this month, the Missouri attorney general’s response to ongoing divisive practices in State public schools highlighted Virginia’s and other states’ similar concerns. In 2021, Xi Van Fleet, a Virginia mom who experienced Mao’s Cultural Revolution, voiced her opinion to Loudon County’s school board that Critical Race Theory – with “its roots in cultural Marxism” – represented “the American version of the Chinese Cultural Revolution.” She stated, “The Communist regime used the same critical theory to divide people. The only difference is they used class instead of race.” Others, from immigrants with firsthand experience to the Heritage Action for America, have concluded likewise.

Modifying the discussion, this commentary addresses a 1950s’ antecedent to the Cultural Revolution: the practices of corrective labor camps in China.

In 1973, a scholar at the University of Michigan’s Center for Chinese Studies published an essay in Asian Survey that addressed practices he had uncovered from Chinese corrective labor camps. In 1968-69, Martin King Whyte interviewed 14 former inmates of such camps, all of whom made it to Hong Kong after their release. A major feature of their experience was the practice of self-criticism – integral to Mao’s forced re-education of pro-capitalist elements – which typically required two hours in the evenings after a hard day’s work. Whyte wrote:

Self-criticism is supposed to take place, with each inmate comparing his own conduct and attitudes with the examples and standards contained in the study material, criticizing his shortcomings, and pledging to reform. The other members of the group are expected to provide criticism, directing the self-critic to make a fuller acknowledgment of his failings and his need to reform. According to informants this format is generally understood and adhered to.

Generally once a week there is a special session called a “livelihood self-examination meeting”. . . . In this meeting . . . each inmate reports orally on his overall conduct and thinking during the past week and criticizes himself where his labor, his study, or some other activity has fallen short of the demands of authorities. Again criticism from the group follows.

While such practices lead Americans who value individuality and liberty to draw back in revulsion, almost unbelievably they are not much different from some American classrooms, including in Virginia. And not only in places like progressive Loudon County.

One of the last places where one expected such practices was at the Virginia Military Institute (VMI), but since 2020 the school has embraced the racist, cultural revolution. In its first quarterly “Equity Audit” report (Jul.-Dec. 2021), Appendix 4 revealed that VMI intends to pursue exercises designed to create or exacerbate divisions among cadets. The cadets’ responses must of necessity range somewhere between self-victimization and self-loathing, to no small degree echoing China’s camps. One draft lesson plan, called “Journeys Privilege Exercise: ‘The American Dream,’” contained these instructions:

Get the group to stand in line in the middle of a large space. . . .

Define “Major Identity Markers” (MIM’s) as others’ perceptions of your race, class, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and able-bodiness.

Ask members to look around during this exercise and remember how they felt at certain times.

Tell them they are to take one “baby step” forward or backward in your direction.

The following statements are to be made:

  1. If your ancestors were forced against their will to come to the USA, step back.
  2. If your primary ethnic identity is American, step forward.
  3. If you were ever called hurtful names because of your MIM’s, step back.
  4. If your family employed people in your household as domestic workers, step forward.
  5. If they were people of color, step forward.
  6. If you were often ashamed or embarrassed by your material possessions, step back.

Of the 14 remaining questions, most also are race-based; contrasting sharply with, yes, imperfect – but renowned, meritocratic, honorable VMI – where none of that mattered. This isn’t education, but “Inherently Divisive” indoctrination. It promotes the exact opposite of One Corps-One VMI – and one Virginia.

Forrest L. Marion, VMI Class of 1980

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