Michael Kirke scours history and finds a sad refrain of revolution gone wrong.
Last month the world was yet again enthralled by another spectacular Olympic opening ceremony – the Winter Games in Beijing. Well, maybe not the whole world.
Reporting on the spectacle, Chinese state media declared after the ceremony that 20-year-old Dinigeer Yilamujiang, who lit the Olympic cauldron, had ‘showed the world a beautiful and progressive Xinjiang’ with her ‘smiling face and youthful figure’.
Did the millions watching across the world see it this way, or did they see it as a cynical if foolish whitewashing by the Chinese Communist Party of its appalling treatment of Yilamujiang’s Uyghur people? On top of that, did they have an uneasy feeling that this was a gross manipulation of an innocent young woman?
Amy Qin, writing in the New York Times a week later, asked what the athlete herself made of it all… So far, she said, it has been impossible to know. “Since her star turn in the Bird’s Nest Stadium,” Qin wrote, “Yilamujiang has kept a low profile.” She went on to describe how Yilamujiang hurried through the press area after her first competitive event but did not stop to talk.
At another competition later in the week, she had failed to walk through a mixed zone with reporters after her race, in apparent contravention of I.O.C. guidelines. She appeared only in Chinese state media reports throughout the Games, describing her joy about her role opening the event.
“That moment will encourage me every day for the rest of my life,” Yilamujiang told China’s official news agency, Xinhua. “I was so excited when I found out we were going to place the torch. It’s a huge honour for me!” Poor girl, scripted to the last superlative?
But this is all part of a bigger picture, a much bigger and sadder picture. A strange and sometimes terrible thing seems to happen to ideologues when they cease to be outsiders and become insiders. This seems particularly so when they are political animals. History is full of examples of this uncanny metamorphosis.
Seemingly idealistic freedom movements slouching to their goal, when once they reach it, become replicas of the very monsters they formerly fought tooth and claw.
Alternatively, they morph into fellow travellers and complacent onlookers of regimes perpetrating the very evils they formerly raged against.
Modern republicanism probably begins with what we, rather too comfortably, accept as the ‘Enlightenment’. Its first political incarnation flowered in the American Republic, after which it descended into the maelstrom of the French Revolution.
The reluctant revolutionaries of the 13 British colonies rebelled more out of a pragmatic response to a frustrating contre temps with a myopic British parliament and a somewhat disturbed king, than out of political ideology. The French version was similar in some ways but was fatally laced with an ideological potion which for a time led it down a path of puritanical savagery. Its terror reigned until eventually it became another kind of tyranny under the aegis of the practical but megalomaniac genius who was Napoleon Bonaparte.
The French conflagration was the first of a long line of ‘enlightened’ ideologies in modern times to lead a people into murderous utopias. The latest example of this degeneration is the People’s Republic of China.
In the late 18th century the Irish patriot Theobald Wolfe Tone was in France earnestly – if somewhat naively – seeking to enlist the forces of the French Revolution to help liberate Ireland from the draconian laws imposed on it by the British Crown and its oligarchic parliament. Unlike Edmund Burke, Tone saw no hope of reforming the system which had imposed Penal Laws on Catholics and manipulated an exclusively Protestant land-owning class in Ireland as its willing tool in maintaining the status quo.
Moving forward more than two centuries, it is hard to read accounts today of what the people of Xinjiang province are experiencing and not hear echoes of the suffering of the Irish of the 18th century. These were set upon and oppressed by the victors of England’s own ‘Glorious Revolution’ of the late 17th century, another movement claiming ‘freedom’ as its goal but then morphing into an equally woeful tyranny as far as Catholics and particularly Irish Catholics were concerned.
Wolfe Tone, the acknowledged father of Irish republicanism, succeeded in getting French help. His – and their – efforts were, however, a miserable failure.
He was captured, convicted of high treason and condemned to death by hanging. He asked to be shot as a soldier and when this was refused, died by his own hand.
Nevertheless, he lived on as a potent symbol of Irish liberation and for the eventual republic which Ireland became.
The late Seamus Deane, novelist, poet and literary critic, in an essay on Wolfe Tone (now published in Small World – Ireland 1798-2018), examines what motivated this Irish Protestant.
At the heart of Tone’s politics was his acute analysis of what he saw as the slave-like condition of Ireland and the Irish. Deane quotes Tone’s own words: “To be dependent on the wish, caprice, or undelegated authority of someone else is to lack autonomy and to be a slave. It is corrupt and corrupting, especially when sustained by violence and an endless bombardment of propaganda and threat.”
This, Deane says, is what permeates all republican theory, this whole concept of dependence and slavery. This was Ireland’s condition. Is it not also the condition of Dinigeer Yilamujiang’s persecuted people?
Such, history shows, is the ground in which so many ideologies bent on achieving freedom for peoples are nurtured. But what can explain the subsequent degeneration of so many of these to a condition where they now tolerate and cooperate with perpetrators of the very oppression they fought against so heroically? Or worse, how can so many of them perpetrate on their own people the injustices they once raged against?
Mao Zedong was a hero for his people – and for a time in the West, to young idealists, he seemed also to be a hero. But he then turned into – and turned his Republic into – a cauldron of death. Xi Jinping can only be described as a worthy successor.
What is happening in Xinjiang province, documented now in increasing detail, can only be described as slavery.
Ruth Ingham, in a recent post examining the Uyguar’s plight, quoted Geoffrey Cain, author of The Perfect Police State. In that book he detailed how China’s access to an arsenal of intrusive novel technologies has enabled the state to monitor the minutiae of everyday life of each one of its citizens. With these weapons the Chinese Communist Party, in its war on insurgents, is spying on 15 million or so potential ‘terrorists’ and ‘extremists’ among the Turkic peoples of its north western frontier.
Cain explained how these people are spied on ‘from the moment they leave their house, whether from the back or the front door, whom they meet, whom they might text or call on the way, what they might download on their phone and who might have sent it’.
All is monitored. And that is just the spying operation.
The ‘re-education’ atrocities come afterwards. These means are nothing more or less than the modern equivalent of the cadre of informers Lord Castlereagh used to dismantle Tone’s insurgency in 18th century Ireland.
But the Communist Party’s manipulation has a much wider field of operation than the mind of one young athlete or the ‘re-education’ of an ethnic minority which just wants freedom of religion. Its tentacles seem to embrace the entire globe – even as far as the little Irish Republic.
Wolf Tone’s Ireland took 150 years to complete its journey to full republican status. Today he must be turning in his grave.
The Irish Republic not only turns a blind eye to the atrocities in China, it actually cosies up to its leaders.
It builds Confucian institutes on its university campuses which serve as apologists for the very evils Tone railed against when he died an ignominious death in a Dublin prison.
Alexander Dukalskis and David Farrell, political scientists in University College Dublin, in an Irish Times piece, put in focus the threats to academic freedom in Irish universities posed by China. Charles Moore, in the UK publications, The Spectator and the Daily Telegraph, has been highlighting what he sees as the sad and dangerous manipulation of Cambridge University by the same kind of fellow travelling.
Dukalskis and Farrell write: “In February 2021, the Irish Times reported that the head of Huawei Ireland wrote privately to Minister for Defence, Simon Coveney, regarding an academic article by our colleague Dr Richard Maher about the Chinese telecoms giant. The letter said that academic freedom was a ‘two-way street’ and requested the Minister’s ‘full support in mitigating the damage that has been done’. He secured a meeting with the Secretary General of Coveney’s Department to discuss the matter. When the School of Politics and International Relations privately informed the university president, he is reported as describing their concerns as ‘an overreaction’.
Carl Minzner of Fordham University would not think so. Within China, as part of its ‘comprehensive reassertion of control’, Minzner writes, listing among its strategies, the party-state has focused on the social sciences to strengthen political training for faculty and standardise reading materials; student informants and the placing of CCTV in classrooms to monitor teaching have increased; Xi Jinping Thought research institutes have proliferated.
‘Xi Jinping Thought’ is now part of the national curriculum. Should we be concerned that Ireland’s own Department of Education agreed in 2019 that this regime was a suitable partner to influence Ireland’s own Chinese language curriculum?
Should we worry that Chinese students in Ireland, by virtue of the 2020 Hong Kong ‘national security law’, are effectively criminals if they speak out against Xi Jinping?
That the Republic of Ireland, tracing its inspiration back to the man who suffered and died to liberate a people from the most abject oppression, is now cooperating with Marxist oppressors in East Asia should dismay Irish people. Sadly, it does not seem to do so.
That this Republic, and certain of its established state-funded institutions, are now hand in glove with one of the planet’s great oppressors should be seen as a gross contradiction of everything in the inspiration which was of its essence. A sad metamorphosis indeed.
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