The American Cultural Revolution: Whitworth Students Bar Survivor of Maoist China from Speaking

Below is my column on on the recent decision of students at Whitworth University to bar a speech from a survivor of Maoist China. It was an ironic but all-too-familiar scene in higher education today.

Here is the column:

Mao Zedong once said that “to read too many books is harmful.” It appears that many in higher education agree. Not only are writers and intellectuals now supporting blacklisting authors, but universities regularly see speakers banned or cancelled on campuses. Certain views are now viewed as “harmful” and thus intolerable. That latest example is perhaps the most tragically ironic. Associated Students of Whitworth University voted 9-4 to bar Chinese dissident Xi Van Fleet from coming to campus to share her experience as a survivor of Maoist China. Her criticism of “woke” culture in the United States was deemed too harmful for any student to hear.

Students objected to Van Fleet’s tweets on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), Black Lives Matter, the LGBTQ community and “environmental justice” among other social justice initiatives.

In its university mission statement, Whitworth declares a deep commitment to free speech on campus: “Whitworth affirms freedom of expression for its students, staff and faculty. Our commitment to free expression is grounded in our faith … We take Jesus Christ as the model for engagement in public discourse and for exploration and expression of ideas.”

Students who came to the university with that assurance are now being told that some views are simply too harmful to be heard.

It may be a familiar moment for Van Fleet from her own experience in the Cultural Revolution. In February 1957, Mao issued a surprising speech titled “On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People” in which he encouraged intellectual debate and criticism.

Intellectuals were leery and did not come forward, prompting Mao to take measures to induce their speech. When some then criticized party orthodoxy or corruption, Mao had the speech retroactively changed and cracked down on dissenters as spreading harmful thoughts.

Mao rounded up the intellectuals and told citizens that the government would only allow the ‘fragrant flowers’ of healthy debate while pulling out the ‘poisonous weeds’ of noxious capitalism. What is noteworthy is how close the rhetoric of Mao is to that of many anti-free speech advocates today on our campuses.

Mao declared “words and actions should help to unite, not divide, the people of our various nationalities; They should be beneficial, not harmful, to socialist construction; They should help to consolidate, not weaken, the people’s democratic dictatorship; They should help to consolidate, not weaken, democratic centralism.”

The notion that free speech is harmful now permeates our higher education institutions.

Students and some faculty have maintained the position that they have a right to silence those with harmful speech and student newspapers have declared opposing views to be outside of the protections of free speech.  Even Columbia Journalism School Dean Steve Coll denounced the “weaponization” of free speech.

At Washington & Lee University, faculty signed a petition to bar a conservative speaker and anyone with “harmful ideologies.”

At Emory University, the law review rescinded a publication offer to an author questioning systemic racism theories as “hurtful and unnecessarily divisive.” Other Emory students barred a free speech group from being recognized because there are no apparent safeguards in place to prevent potential and real harm that could result from these discussions[.]”

In the recent outrageous cancelling of a federal judge by Stanford law students, Stanford DEI Dean Tirien Steinbach condemned Judge Duncan for speaking when his views were considered harmful by many. She asked “‘even in this time. And again I still ask: Is the juice worth the squeeze?” Later, while Stanford reaffirmed its commitment to free speech, it refused to punish any of the students that prevented Duncan from speaking.

Portland State University professor Jennifer Ruth defended the cancelling of the judge as an “existential threat” to students and even higher education.

These views fuel the sense of license even for violence. University of Rhode Island professor Erik Loomis defended the murder of a conservative protester and said that he saw “nothing wrong” with such acts of violence.  On the University of California (Santa Barbara) campus, professors rallied around a professor who physically assaulted pro-life advocates and tore down their display.

The anti-free speech views on our campuses are liberating in allowing faculty and students to silence others. There is no need to respond to opposing views when they are deemed too dangerous to be heard.

In other words, conservative, religious, and libertarian views are now “poisonous weeds” that must be removed from the garden of “fragrant flowers” of approved viewpoints in higher education.

The irony is that the effort to bar Xi Van Fleet is all students need to know about the dangers of this type of cultural revolution and free speech limits. We are raising a generation of speech phobics who believe that they have a right to silence others. They have been told since elementary school that speech is harmful and that they should not be expected to hear views that they find offensive. Those “poisonous” elements are now being pruned from higher education through speech codes, cancel campaigns, and faculties purged of conservative or libertarian professors. What remains is the “fragrant” smell of academic orthodoxy.

It is all enough to make Mao blush.

126 thoughts on “The American Cultural Revolution: Whitworth Students Bar Survivor of Maoist China from Speaking”

  1. Whitworth is ostensibly a Christian university, but I have noticed several instances of wokish elements on their website e.g. diversity. In the elite academic world, diversity is only skin deep.

  2. This could damage the worldwide reputation of Whitworth University (fka “Bernie’s Tattoo Parlor”)

  3. Law & Crime News:
    “Bad moos for Devin Nunes’ defamation lawsuit: Judge finds it ‘substantially, objectively true’ that family farm ‘knowingly’ hired undocumented immigrants”

    1. I have hired undocumented employees. The employer must complete an I-9 Form (among other requirements) for the employee. In most cases, the EEOC does not allow an employer to ask about national origin or citizenship status The employee goes through the same payroll deductions as everyone else, FICA, FUTA, SUTA etc.

      A business cannot pay a person more than 600 dollars without filing a 1099 for the contractor or individual who performs a service.They can choose to not report it but the IRS already knows who they are and how much they received. The days of paying under the table are risky and not common nor beneficial to a company. Agriculture rules, I would assume, are somewhat different but no less strict.

      Some of the very best people I have ever worked with were first generation immigrants (both undocumented and documented). Most of them understand what it is like to hear the wolf howling at the door.

      1. Hire illegal aliens? You need a very stiff fine. And the slave owners from centuries past also loved their cheap laborers as well!

        Wolf at the door? Duh. .they come from failed nations. They are desperate and you take advantage of them. Pathetic.

    2. What exactly do the communists (liberals, progressives, socialists, democrats, RINOs, AINOs) in America intend when they deliberately open the borders and flood America with illegal alien foreign invaders and street drugs?

      How does a conservative actual American farmer compete with criminal communist (liberal, progressive, socialist, democrat, RINO, AINO) farmers; should he simply go out of business?

  4. OT: The DC Circuit has denied Trump’s emergency motion to block a subpoena for ex-VP Mike Pence’s testimony in the Jan. 6 probe.

  5. Shortly after writing this note, I saw a story in the Daily Mail showing that at his press conference today, Pres. Biden had a cheat sheet that contained a question that was going to be asked of him by an L A Times reporter (“Biden cheat sheet shows he KNEW vetted question from journalist in advance during press conference where he was pressed on if he is too old to run”) The corrupt alliance between the MSM and the Democrats knows no bounds. .

    1. He reminds me of Tim Conway’s skit on the Carol Burnet Show, “The Oldest Man.”

      It would be funny if it were not so devastating to this world and every citizen of the USA who now has 7500 less spending power in their budget.

      It is nothing less than bizarre.

    2. As bad as that is, it misses the even more disturbing possibility – That the WH is actually writing the questions and supplying them to reporters, thus reducing the press to props and actors in an elaborate stage show to spoon feed the American public the Administration’s propaganda.

  6. You know someone has no confidence in their argument when they seek to prevent someone else from speaking. Those who prevent other points of view from being voiced, cannot withstand debate.

    As well, this once again shows discriminations against Asians in universities.

  7. “There is no time in history where people who were censoring speech were the good guys. They’re always the bad guys because … that is the 1st & last step of totalitarianism: silencing critics. A government with the power to silence its critics has license for any kind of atrocity.” ~RobertKennedyJr

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