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The People’s Republic of Campus

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The American Mind

Habi Zhang

June 17 2021

Maoist self-education comes to America.

As a teenager, I saw old-stone American university buildings on TV, and was enthralled by their dignified appearance. Later, I came across a book in my hometown that explained that the American university was a special place, unlike its Chinese counterpart, as devoted to the cultivation of the enduring longings of the human soul.  To assist in man’s hunger to know, to understand, and to seek truth, is its highest mission. 

 The longing for a spot in one of those buildings tormented me for decades. I longed to meet great minds and curious souls and explore the essential ideas with them. How could one not yearn for a place where students were challenged to think the unthinkable, to question convention, and to debate each other on ideas, when she had been imprisoned for years in the Chinese classroom where all subjects were stripped of all elements of beauty and imagination and left with only naked utility?  

Two decades later, I sit in one of those buildings, having claimed my spot only to find that thinking is discouraged, dissent suppressed, and ideological loyalty is the prerequisite for flourishing in the institution of higher learning.  

Last week, I was sitting in yet another equity meeting, listening to a reiteration of the principle that we must discriminate against some people in order to achieve equality of outcome. The instructor and attendants regurgitated phrases on educating oneself to promote diversity. “What are you doing to educate yourself on becoming an anti-racist?” has become a recurring question parroted in faculty meetings, job interviews, and graduate seminars.  Superficially innocuous,  this question is both unfounded and malign, postulating that one is in fact racist, and that this racism requires vigorous self-work to cure it. 


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