McCarthyism is back, in word, deed and name
Published: Mar 30, 2023 07:25 PM

People gather for a rally protesting violence against Asian-Americans at Sara D. Roosevelt Park on February 14, 2022 in the Chinatown neighborhood in New York City.Photo: VCG

People gather for a rally protesting violence against Asian-Americans at Sara D. Roosevelt Park on February 14, 2022 in the Chinatown neighborhood in New York City.Photo: VCG

Editor's Note:

The McCarthyism prevalent in the 1950s was a nightmare for Chinese Americans. After Kevin McCarthy took office as US House Speaker, one of the first things he did was the establishment of the "Select Committee on US-China Strategic Competition." His anti-China stance is reminiscent of Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy and the McCarthyism he founded. Some people think that the specter of McCarthyism has resurfaced. How do Chinese American feel about the resurfacing specter of McCarthyism? What concerns do they have about living in the US? Julie Tang (Tang), a retired judge of the San Francisco Superior Court and co-founder of Pivot to Peace, shared her thoughts with Global Times (GT) reporter Wang Wenwen in her I-Talk show.

GT: Can you share with me your experience of being discriminated against or even bullied because you are Chinese/Asian American?

Tang: It is a reality for us living in the US as Chinese Americans and as a minority. Because of racism and discrimination, being bullied is just not unusual for us. There are a lot of incidents in which we counter something like that, but what I want to do is point out some of the things that I remember, because they meant something to me at that time. 

I recalled shortly after I came to the US, and that was in 1967. I went grocery shopping with my parents, and my mother was sorting out the fruits that she wanted to buy, a white shopkeeper came over and told us to leave. He said, go back to Chinatown, chop chop chop. We were very angry, but we didn't say anything and we left. I felt very bad for my parents who had to endure racism at their age.

I think as time goes on, we need to fight back at every instance. When we see racism, we're not just going to sit down and take it. We need to say something, do something. But of course, we need to also tone it down and not let it escalate. There are a lot of programs now, especially in view of the seriousness of the anti-Asian hate crimes that are happening in America. 

GT: As a Chinese American, what concerns do you have about the specter of McCarthyism reappearing, which many believe the ant-China policy of House Speaker McCarthy will lead to?

Tang: The first thing that McCarthy did was to start a committee that sends shivers down my spine. It is the resurfacing and reenergizing of this very racist red scare period in which so many innocent people were thrown into jail for just very flimsiest of evidence. 

And what they said is to identify China as the greatest competition and the greatest threat to the US. But they also identify Chinese Americans as a whole of society threat. What they meant is that the Chinese Americans are all subject to be suspected as spies in this country by virtue of our race, our national origin and our ethnicity. 

With the formation of this committee that identifies one country, China, as our greatest threat to national security and our economic interest, with the backdrop of 11,500 hate crimes that occurred during the pandemic. This is only going to exacerbate those kind of hate crime incidents and will expose Chinese Americans and Asian Americans because they look like Chinese and people cannot tell the difference.

We are very concerned about this and we need to tone down the scale of warmongering in this country, we need to work with China if they are our greatest competitor, try to learn from them, and create a win-win situation where both countries can benefit. I don't see China saying no, I've never heard China saying we don't want to cooperate with you. 

These are all conjured up by politicians to engage in confrontation with China for their own political empowerment. 

And now it's threatening this embargo on chips act, look at what happened to our chip industries. Our stocks are failing, they're talking about a lack of market. It's not good for America, it's not good for China. This kind of law is just going to make things worse for our country. We are not doing very well in our economy at all. And is this the way to get it better? No, I don't think so. 

So I think that as we talk about the committee that you're talking about, one of the things that I'm very concerned about is the identification of individuals who are suspected Communists or Communist sympathizers. Now they don't use those words anymore, but they use other more sophisticated mechanisms to identify people, such as the Chinese engineer, Chinese scientists and professors under the China Initiative. These were started in 2018 under former president Donald Trump, whereby they prosecuted hundreds of Chinese American university professors and prosecute them as suspected spies for China. The China Initiative was such a failure in terms of snapping spies, they didn't secure to conviction of one single spy. They had to collapse and shut down. So that program is now shut down. 

GT: Will the reappearance of McCarthyism make Chinese and Asian Americans feel more insecure?

Tang: There are two extremes. One extreme is that people will be scared, because they feel that with this committee, they are hunting down anybody now. By them doing that, it will intensify racism in this country. So people are perhaps not taking vacations like they would normally do in states that are not friendly, like the red states, and they may probably just stay home more. 

But from another level personally, because I'm an advocate and I speak out, my First Amendment rights of free speech is being jeopardized. Although I'm not going to let it jeopardize my right to speak, I will continue to speak, as I know the law, I know what I can do under the First Amendment, which guarantees the right of free speech, which is the cornerstone of our democracy. It gives Americans the right to express opinions. We cannot go to jail because we say something about the country that we don't agree with and some of the policies. 

It is still a private string to a lot of people. I think a lot of people are more afraid to speak up now when they don't like a certain policy they may not feel free to speak up. They may just keep it to themselves. It is affecting our right of free speech. And our constitutional protection is being eroded. 

I'm very concerned about that because China is being singled out as the most significant, long-term threat to the US national security. This kind of rhetoric restrains us from being free to express who we are as Chinese. Even in celebrating Chinese new year, people are afraid to use the word Chinese new year, they now call it lunar new year. Can you believe it? So these things are getting all mixed up. And it is unfortunate that such a cloud is hovering over Chinese language, Chinese culture, and people felt that they need to be even more American. 

GT: What is the difference between the anti-China atmosphere then and now? 

Tang: It is worse now for Chinese definitely. Back then, the focus is on Communism. At that time, Russia was the country that they were focusing on and not China. In the 1950s, which was the McCarthy era, China was very poor, economically, they were impoverished, so it was not a threat to the US, but Russia was very strong in military power. The focus was more on Russia and on the Jewish community, because the Jewish community was a very vociferous community on socialism at that time.

But right now, as they said, is a whole of society threat. It is encompassing, what they're doing is permanent. It does not look like it has any breakthrough. Back then it was four years, from 1950 to 1954, the period of red scare. This has been going on since Obama when he pivoted to Asia, and then Trump with his trade war, and Biden with his all-encompassing war against China. We do not know how much longer this would last. The difference between the two is the time period - how much longer this would last and the focus on the Chinese community as a group and as a whole. This is what I'm most concerned about. 

And I worry about the future of our children, where they're going to go, how much limit all these things will put on them in terms of the education, the employment seeking, their progress and development in this country. So I'm concerned about individuals as I am concerned about Chinese Americans as a group, as a society. 

GT: What do you think of the fact that political persecution leads ordinary people to bear the consequences?

Tang: Just look at the ordinary people who get beat up on the streets, look at the little old ladies in Chinatown who got beat up or got killed. Look at the Thai guy who got pushed down, hit his head and got killed. Look at all these innocent people. What do they even know about what was going on? But the roots of what they are suffering is the US-China discord. It is our [US'] confrontation with China, our aggression that in our warmongering. All these things make up all these sentiments in the people where they felt that China is our enemy, and China is not our enemy with all the facts and evidence. 

But these people are suffering, they're dying, they're hurting. There are a lot of things that we don't even know about, like bullying in schools. So these things trickle down to the ordinary person. We bear the blunt of what is happening and we bear the blunt of our policies which are directed at hegemony and self-promotion, the political parties' competition with each other, the competition to get the podium and bash China, the anti-China statements to get more votes. 

The other day I was listening to a presidential candidate Nikki Haley. She was recorded saying that the first thing I would do, if I were president, is that I would not allow any Chinese people to buy the land in America because they wanted to take away our land and they want to make us communist. Is China trying to turn America into communist? I don't think so. I don't see a speck of evidence that China is trying to turn us into communist. And are they trying to take away our land? I don't think China wants our land. 

The data show that Chinese persons own less than 1 percent of farmland in the US, about 600 square miles of farmland. Canada, in fact, owns 31 percent of US agricultural land, Netherlands owns 12 percent, Italy owns about 7 percent. China owns less than 1 percent, and they are the biggest threat to our agricultural land. Does that make sense? I don't even know whether these are Chinese government owned or just Chinese people who want to invest, who look for opportunities, to create a win-win situation for the investments, for the country they invest in and for themselves. So the trickle-down effect is serious. 

And there's a new law now that the Texas is proposing SB 147 that says no Chinese can own any land in Texas. And that is going to trickle down like a catch-all wildfire that was spread into other states. I heard that some other states are now trying to have the same law. 

But again, you know who's going to suffer for that? Not the Chinese investors, if they cannot buy land, they go somewhere else. We are going to suffer, because the idea that Chinese people can no longer buy land in the US will hurt us. When I go to buy a piece of property, the first thing they look at us is to find out whether I'm a citizen or not. And they probably don't even want to sell it to me. Because what if I tell them I'm a citizen and I'm not, and my property cannot go through. So they'd rather sell it to somebody else. 

All these policies that America has developed for the purpose of containing China end up hurting us Chinese Americans and other Asian Americans. As I see, they call America for a failing empire because we are not doing well on this and that. 

But I think that empires don't fail, because countries are too big to fail if based on external influences. But they will fail when they are not treated on people right when they are mistreating its own citizens, when they are persecuting its own citizens, when they denying its own citizens our constitutional rights to live and inhabit this country. That's when an empire will fail. That's what I am concerned about. 

I am concerned about America as a country. I want it to do well. But as long as America continues to adopt and implement these kind of policies that has a boomerang effect on its own citizens, in this case, Chinese American citizens, it will fail. I just don't want to see it. That's why I'm fighting to make sure we do the right thing and make sure that America continues to be a good country for us Chinese Americans to live in and work in and where our children will grow and have happy families.