I Do Belong

The Humanist, November-December 2010 | Go to article overview

I Do Belong


Wendy Liu was presented with the Humanist Pioneer award at the 69th Annual Conference of the American Humanist Association on June 4, 2010. Introducing her was Dr. James Simpson, an agricultural economist and Washington State University professor who is also a founding member and a continuing trustee of the Humanist Institute. Dr. Simpson first met Wendy Liu through an op-ed she wrote on China that appeared in the Seattle Times. The two later became friends and discovered a shared humanist perspective. The following is adapted from her remarks in acceptance of the Humanist Pioneer award.

I WOULD LIKE to thank the American Humanist Association for honoring me with the 2010 Humanist Pioneer award.

Sometimes we get lucky. I certainly did. When I was writing the essays that comprise Everything I Understand about America I Learned in Chinese Proverbs (2009), especially those in which I discussed my worldview, I was a pretty lonely atheist. I didn't have any knowledge about the American Humanist Association. And then I got to know Jim and, through him, this great organization, and now you, my new friends. I guess I said yes to the award mostly so I could be here today--not because I thought I deserved it. Indeed, I seriously wondered if the AHA was not making a mistake offering me this award or any award.

In one of my initial phone conversations with AHA awards coordinator Lindsay Gemberling, she informed me about the organization and the award, and somehow we touched on how she got involved. She told me that she came from a religious family and came to have doubts and so on, and I wondered if that was the case with many in the organization; that to be an AHA member, you had to turn against the religion you were brought up with. But I didn't do any of that. I was brought up an atheist. I had always been an atheist. How would I fit in with this group that had decided to give me the Humanist Pioneer award? I was thinking hard about it and really needed to convince myself that I belonged.

Then it occurred to me--I may have also grown up with a religion that I came to doubt. Except that it was a different kind of religion--a political religion, the religion of Chairman Mao Zedong who, for three decades, was Chinas dictator and the head of the ruling communist party.

Of course you've heard about Chinas Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and '70s (full name: Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution). It was a revolution not just against Chinas traditional culture but against everything from Confucianism to free market capitalism, from Soviet revisionism to American imperialism. It established Mao Zedong Thought--the Chinese version of Marxism--as the guiding theory for China. Mao launched and directed the Cultural Revolution himself because he believed that China wasn't socialist enough and that he had enemies inside the party and in the country who would try to push China toward capitalism. China is now becoming a capitalist country but that's a different story.

With Mao as the absolute leader, the Cultural Revolution felt more like a religious or cult movement than a political or cultural one. Mao was omnipresent. His portrait was everywhere, in offices, classrooms, and homes, and his statue was in every public square, in front of all the government buildings, factories, and schools. Maoism was likewise omnipotent. He started and ended nationwide political movements, and turned millions of people's lives upside down, deciding on a whim who were comrades and who were enemies, who should stay and who should go. Mao was also omniscient. Whatever he said was the truth and the "supreme instruction" to be followed to the letter, or to the character in the case of Chinese language. One word by Mao was said to be worth 10,000 by the rest.

And so, Mao became our god and his book, Quotations from Chairman Mao (or the Little Red Book), became a bible that everyone was required to have. …

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