In my previous post I wrote about far right activist Xi Van Fleet (弗里特), whose crusade against critical race theory has been covered by media outlets such as the Washington Examiner and "Fox News". Born in the People's Republic of China (PRC), she experienced Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution and fled to the United States at the age of 26.
In the summer of 2021, Fox reported on Xi Van Fleet's tirade against critical race theory at a Loudoun County School Board meeting.
"I’ve been very alarmed by what’s going on in our schools," she said. "You are now teaching, training our children to be social justice warriors and to loathe our country and our history ... The Communist regime used the same critical theory to divide people ... The only difference is they used class instead of race ... This is indeed the American version of the Chinese Cultural Revolution ... The critical race theory has its roots in cultural Marxism. It should have no place in our school."
Xi Van Fleet's political activism highlights a peculiar phenomenon that has emerged in recent years, namely the support for the American far right among segments of the Chinese-American community as well as mainland Chinese and Hong Kong dissidents.
|Hong Kong media tycoon and critic of the Chinese Communist regime Jimmy Lai meets then-VP Mike Pence at the White House, 8 July 2019. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.|
Although about 60 percent of Asian Americans voted for Joe Biden in 2020, when broken down by ethnicity, the lowest levels of support for the Democratic Party come from Vietnamese (23%) and Chinese (42%).
Donald Trump enjoyed popularity among segments of the Chinese-American community, Chinese dissidents, Hongkongers and Taiwanese. Let us look at a few examples.
Solomon Yue (Chinese: 俞怀松, born in 1959), an American Republican Party activist and businessperson, vice chairman and CEO of the lobbying group Republicans Overseas, and the national committeeman of the Republican Party of Oregon, has been a staunch supporter of Donald Trump.
On his LinkedIn profile, Yue calls himself "an entrepreneur, a business leader, an immigrant, a U.S. citizen and a national political leader" who "lived through and escaped China's Cultural Revolution ... For the past 15 years, he has been regarded as one of the driving forces bringing change to the Republican National Committee (RNC)."
Yue has spread various conspiracy theories and has likened the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests to Mao's Cultural Revolution, a common trope in far right circles.
Wang Dan, a veteran of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, who was jailed for his participation in the pro-democracy movement and later emigrated to Taiwan and the United States, openly endorsed Trump.
On October 2, 2020, he wrote on his Facebook page:
"There is only one reason why I endorsed Trump for a second term: his team's policy and orientation in opposing the Chinese Communist Party ... I also think that Trump's words and deeds are dangerous for American democracy, but right now, the greatest danger for democracy and freedom is not Trump, but the Chinese Communist Party ... Even though I don't like Trump as an individual, this is the reason why I support Trump's re-election."
The Epoch Times, a far right media company affiliated with the Chinese Falun Gong movement, has also spread conspiracy theories and far right culture war propaganda.
The Epoch Times was founded in New York in August 2000 and it is one of the largest overseas Chinese media outlets. Its main focus was the coverage of the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners by the Chinese Communist Party and human rights abuses in the PRC. The Epoch Times drew international attention when one of its reporters, Wang Wenyi, publicly heckled PRC President Hu Jintao for several minutes during a visit at the White House (Thornton 2010, p. 231).
Since 2016, the Epoch Times has shifted to the far right, endorsing Trump and spreading far right conspiracy theories and tropes.
The Chinese artist and dissident Ai Weiwei, though initially critical of Trump, often used his Twitter account to retweet and spread far right messages. In August 2020, he quoted Trump, writing: "If we [i.e. Trump and the Republicans] don't get elected, China will totally vanquish the US".
Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai, an opponent of the Chinese Communist Party, became a vocal Trump supporter in 2019. As the 2020 US presidential election approached, Lai stated in a CNN interview: “Only Trump can save Hong Kong.”
Another interesting case is that of Chinese dissident lawyer Chen Guangcheng. In 2012, Chen fled house arrest in his rural town in China and sought refuge at the US embassy, causing a diplomatic spat between Washington and Beijing.
In May 2012, after "an arduous negotiation process headed by Secretary of State [Hillary] Clinton," as Forbes reported at the time, Chen Guangcheng arrived in the US.
Nevertheless, Chen later became a critic of Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party, and he endorsed Donald Trump at the 2020 Republican National Convention.
Another prominent pro-Trump Chinese dissident is the business tycoon Guo Wengui (also known as Miles Guo and Miles Kwok). Guo used to belong to China's business elite with ties to powerful government officials. In 2014 he was the 74th richest person in the country with a net worth of $2.6 billion. His most high-profile property development project was the Pangu Plaza, a torch-shaped building close to many of the 2008 Beijing Olympic venues.
Guo fell out of favour with the regime in 2014. The following year Li You, one of his business partners, was arrested by police on corruption charges. Ma Jian, a former senior spy chief who was reportedly close to Guo, was detained in 2016 on charges of bribery and abuse of power and subsequently sentenced to life in prison.
After fleeing China, Guo Wengui became an outspoken opponent of the Chinese Communist regime with a substantial internet presence. In 2017, he reportedly met Trump's former chief strategist Steve Bannon, and the two became close allies, often appearing together on Guo's internet channel.
It is difficult to say what motivates anti-CCP Chinese and Chinese-Americans to support the American far right. It might be their hatred of everything that calls itself leftist, or that can be portrayed as such. In that case, it might resemble the attitude of Cuban-Americans, who overwhelmingly favour the Republican Party and Trump.
But it is quite stunning that those who rail against Mao Zedong and allegedly support freedom, do not seem bothered by Trump's attempt to overthrow US democracy by unleashing a radicalized mob on the US Capitol; or by the far right culture war against peaceful minority groups; or Florida's policies against political opponents and dissent.
Is it a case of willful ignorance? Effective propaganda? Or simply a personal quest for vengeance?
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• Thornton, P. The New Cybersects. In: Perry, E. J., Selden, M. (2010) (Eds.). Chinese Society: Change, Conflict and Resistance.