China’s “Cultural Revolution” already destroyed one great civilization; perhaps the West should reject importing a cultural revolution of its own before it finally becomes too late. Pictured: A group of children reading Chairman Mao Zedong’s ‘Little Red Book’, assembled in front of a portrait of Mao during China’s Cultural Revolution, circa 1968. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Traditional Chinese culture, thousands of years old, is filled with beautiful Confucian philosophies, kinship rituals, artistic symbolism, mythologies, and regular devotion to family ancestors. To observe any of these ancient customs in person, however, it is Taiwan — not China — where a visitor must go. When mainland Chinese communists bulldozed over China’s rich heritage and Mao Zedong’s “Cultural Revolution” purged the “Four Olds” — old customs, culture, habits, and ideas — from Chinese society, Taiwan became the de facto last refuge for one of the world’s oldest great civilizations.

China’s traditional way of life had survived thousands of years of intermittent civil war, foreign aggression, bouts of famine, and Western sabotage. When the virus of communism took root in its lands, however, China’s vibrant history was wiped out within a generation. Two and a half decades ago, several academics made a laudable effort at calculating the costs of communism in the twentieth century in The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression. While that work capably catalogues how communist governments systematically murdered a hundred million citizens and tortured many more, it only begins to describe the immense destructive force communism has had on the Chinese people.

If Western Civilization had endured a similar “Cultural Revolution,” it would be as if all of the great ideas from Greek democracy, Roman republicanism, Judeo-Christian theology, Enlightenment reason, the Scientific Revolution, and the preservation of individual liberty had disappeared overnight. Imagine deleting from history Aristotle, Cicero, Augustine, Aquinas, da Vinci, Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Locke, Jefferson, and every other thinker, writer, artist, inventor, and statesman in between. That is the depth of the cultural genocide communism has perpetrated against the Chinese people in addition to the tens of millions of victims slaughtered and expunged from collective memory.


It is bizarre, then, to see so many international institutions today looking to China for global guidance. The World Health Organization largely aped China’s draconian COVID lockdown policies when promulgating containment procedures that affected every aspect of Western life. The founder of the World Economic Forum (WEF), Klaus Schwab, routinely applauds China’s surveillance State for its capacity to “nudge” citizens toward compliance. While China apologists turn a blind eye to the one-party communist State’s continuing genocides against Christians, Tibetans, Uyghurs, Falun Gong practitioners, and other minorities, they champion the machinery of China’s technocratic totalitarianism as a model for the rest of the world. It is deeply unsettling to see a destroyer of civilizations held up as the future for global civilization.

That is, however, exactly what the WEF’s “Great Reset” has in mind. For all its emphasis on science and technology, and despite its dazzling visions for the future, the “Great Reset” follows in the footsteps of China’s cultural desolation. Schwab’s influential organization seeks to recreate a Chinese system where a small group of elites bark orders and ordinary citizens dutifully obey. It chases a bleak existence where freethinking is viewed as “dangerous” and State dogma is embraced on faith. It wishes to construct a civilization devoid of lively culture where forms of artificial intelligence build out the world and human innovation wastes away. The “Great Reset” is a twenty-first century “Cultural Revolution” intended to purge the West of its “old ways.”

If the WEF were actually interested in projecting Enlightenment ideals, Western liberalism, and democratic norms throughout the globe, that unelected body of aristocrats would be doing everything in its power to convince Chinese leaders of the fundamental importance of freedom of speech, freedom of religion, private property, the rule of law, and respect for privacy. That they do no such thing suggests that the WEF’s loyalties are more aligned with the Chinese Communist Party’s mandarins than Schwab’s ideological followers are willing to advertise.

“The techno-totalitarian regime that the CCP is perfecting in China will not stay there,” U.S. Rep. Michael Gallagher, chairman of the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, has warned. “It’s a model increasingly they want to export around the world.” Given how synchronized the Chinese Communist Party and the World Economic Forum continue to be, it appears that Schwab is more than willing to help China export its totalitarian police State across the globe.

There is a sick irony to this turn of events. Around the time that The Black Book of Communism was laying bare the sheer horror of China’s crimes against humanity, politicians in the United States were paving a golden path for the one-party police State to join the World Trade Organization and become a manufacturing powerhouse. One of the chief justifications for overlooking China’s long record of human rights abuses when then President Bill Clinton and a bipartisan Congress granted the communist nation Permanent Normal Trade Relations status in 2000 was the dubious assertion that doing so would make China more like America. “The American people support this agreement,” U.S. Rep. Bill Archer claimed at the time, “because they know it’s good for jobs in America and good for human rights and the development of democracy in China.” Two and a half decades of American job losses, continued Chinese persecution of ethnic minorities, and growing global power for the Chinese Communist Party have rendered that statement remarkably naïve.

Excusing China’s totalitarianism and handing the communist nation the keys to enriching itself from lucrative global markets may well prove to have been the most consequential foreign policy error in centuries. Instead of bringing greater prosperity for Americans, as then President Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright promised at the time, normalizing trade relations with China has devastated the United States’ once robust industrial and manufacturing self-sufficiency, impoverished blue-collar workers across the country, and left ordinary Americans dependent upon an often hostile geopolitical foe for critical raw materials and finished products.

While American jobs are steadily off-shored to the other side of the world and American paychecks are spent on Chinese imports, wealth is drained from the United States and deposited as capital under the control of the Chinese Communist Party and its roaring military. China continues to skirt any international rules or norms that might hinder its expanding power or economic bottom-line. It has also utilized its trade routes to smuggle fentanyl and other deadly narcotics into the United States. Just as alarming, the CCP has also been smuggling groups of men of military age “in unprecedented numbers” — seemingly under orders to sabotage American infrastructure should the U.S. attempt to stop China from seizing Taiwan. A huge spike in Chinese illegal immigrants with confirmed ties to the People’s Liberation Army has led U.S. Rep. Mark Green to conclude, “This is a concerted effort by the Chinese to destabilize the United States, to harm our society and to facilitate the basic execution of their version of the global world order.”

Despite China’s well-documented behavior as a currency manipulator and intellectual property thief, the International Monetary Fund has all but confirmed that it will soon accept the Chinese yuan for debt repayments. Rather than providing a mechanism for “democratizing” a closed communist State, bringing the world’s economy to China’s doorstep has only hardened its iron-grip authoritarianism, encouraged its regional saber-rattling, expanded its capacity to inflict harm on ordinary Americans, and cemented its geopolitical clout. The U.S. is essentially underwriting the Chinese Communist Party’s barbarity, concludes Tony Perkins, former chair of the bipartisan United States Commission on International Religious Freedom: “China is actually more repressive today than they were two decades ago, and the reason is they can afford to be as American consumers fund their repression.”

Politicians and trade representatives in Washington, D.C., may have believed that they could catch the Chinese dragon by its tail, but there is no question a quarter-century later that the fire-breathing beast has grown only more dangerous. Senator Marsha Blackburn bluntly describes the Biden administration’s tendency to ignore China’s bad behavior as delusional efforts “to appease a dictatorship that commits pervasive human rights abuses and oppresses its own people.” It has been more than 80 years since the death of U.K. Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, and once again appeasement of brutal totalitarian regimes is back on the table — all in service to that oft-elusive promise of global peace.

Besides the destroyers of their own ancient civilization, what kind of people run communist China today? Well, they are exactly the kind of authoritarians that the Davos elite paradoxically decry when they extol the virtues of “democracy.” China sends its spies all over the world to harass and intimidate dissidents who speak and write against the communist regime. It has placed million-dollar bounties on the heads of those who have voiced opposition to Beijing’s takeover of Hong Kong. If “you pose a threat to the Chinese Communist Party in any way,” U.S. Rep. Carlos Gimenez has warned, “you’ll be persecuted, you’ll be in prison, and sometimes, you may even lose your life.”

Many supporters of normalizing trade relations with China assumed only the best results and ignored the possibility of further empowering an untrustworthy actor. A year after Clinton helped to bring China into the “free trade” club, then President George W. Bush also argued, “Open trade is a force for freedom in China, a force for stability in Asia, and a force for prosperity in the United States.” Ignoring the repercussions of feeding a dangerous beast, he continued, “When we open trade, we open minds. We trade with China because trade is good policy for our economy, because trade is good policy for democracy, and because trade is good policy for our national security.”

Those were all commendable goals, but good intentions frequently bring disastrous results. If Bush had known in 2001 that America’s blue-collar workforce would be languishing today, that China would be killing tens of thousands of Americans each year with fentanyl while stealing American companies’ proprietary technology, and that global institutions such as the World Health Organization and World Economic Forum would be actively promoting the Chinese Communist Party’s technocratic surveillance State, perhaps he would not have been quite so eager to empower China through unfettered trade. Perhaps he would have been more willing to consider whether democracy, stability, prosperity, and national security might ultimately degrade. Perhaps he would have acknowledged that China might well succeed in exporting its authoritarian philosophy around the world even more effectively than the United States exports freedom.

As many scholars on radical movements have attested, “Much of the activism currently tearing Western civilization asunder is driven by ideas that can be traced back to Maoism.” China’s “Cultural Revolution” already destroyed one great civilization; perhaps the West should reject importing a cultural revolutionof its own before it finally becomes too late.

JB Shurk writes about politics and society, and is a Gatestone Institute Distinguished Senior Fellow.