Lily Tang Williams on Growing Up in Communist China

Heritage Explains

Lily Tang Williams on Growing Up in Communist China

Heritage Explains: China | Bonus Episode

Lily Tang Williams grew up in China and witnessed Mao Ze Dong’s Cultural Revolution firsthand. A Chinese lawyer and law school professor, she was able to leave China and is now an American Citizen, where she speaks out on her experiences and the dangers of communism.

What you’re about to hear are Lily’s remarks from a panel held at The Heritage Foundation in December of 2021. The event was called Communism’s Dark Tyranny: The 30th Anniversary of the Collapse of the Soviet Union and was co-hosted by the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. 

Mark Guiney: Welcome back to another bonus episode of Heritage Explains. This is our last one on China because next week we are very excited to bring you a new season of Heritage Explains, and this one will be focused on the crisis at the southern border. Over the last few weeks, we have witnessed unprecedented chaos at our southern border, and many Americans are left wondering why are things this way? This season, we’re going to answer that question and many more, such as, who are these migrants? What laws are currently on the books, and what do we need to do to enforce better border policy? We are going to talk to some of the most knowledgeable experts and effective legislators on the southern border to give you a deep dive into this complex issue.

But this week we’ve got one more bonus episode for you. Lily Tang Williams grew up in China and witnessed Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution firsthand. A Chinese lawyer and law school professor, she was able to leave China and is now an American citizen, where she speaks out in her experiences and the dangers of communism. What you’re about to hear are Lily’s remarks from a panel held at The Heritage Foundation in December of 2021. The event was called Communism’s Dark Tyranny: The 30th Anniversary of the Collapse of the Soviet Union and was co-hosted by the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. As always, thanks for listening to Heritage Explains. If you’ve got any feedback, send it our way at [email protected], and we hope you enjoy this talk from Lilly Tang Williams as well as our new season coming next week, June 7th. See you then.

Lily Tang Williams: Well, thank you for having me. This is the first time I’m attending a in-person Heritage Foundation event. And thanks to actually Dr. Edwards sitting here. 2017, I wrote to him to say, “I’m so worried. Our kids in this country don’t know what happened under communism. They know very little about Mao’s Cultural Revolution. I want to do something to educate youth.” And he referred me to the VOC academic program, so now I have been with them for four years. But things are getting more and more scary because like you all said, thanks to our educational government and school system, our youth really don’t know much. When I went to classrooms, they will be just eyes were huge to say, “Wow, that’s very scary. We never heard such stories before.” Even teachers were saying, “Well, Lily, we did not know that.” Well, they want to teachers’ college. How are they going to teach our kids when themself even don’t know the horrors of communism and socialism?

I was born in Chengdu, Sichuan province right before Mao started the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. And my parents were illiterate workers. We should be the... Workers rule society. Everything’s free, right? No, that’s what our kids think today. It was not free except our horrible primitive workers’ row house provided by my dad’s state factory. Everybody work for state factory six days a week, and our community housing, probably nobody in this country wants to live in there. It’s eight families with children share one bathroom. I share one water faucet. And if water is out, you cannot cook. It was very cold in the winter because the central planners in Beijing said, “After you live, if you live in south of Yellow River, no heating.” So I had frostbite on my left foot. Every year I got infected because of the cold weather.

But of course we did not know anything true about the world. We were told that Taiwanese people were suffering and American pureness is really bad, and don’t smile like ugly Americans. Capitalism, blood suckers. Profits are horrible. We should be grateful for Mao for Communist Party. So we go to schools and we chant every day. Like you talk about, need to read the books, long live Chairman Mao, long live the Communist Party, da da da. 10,000 years, double 10,000 years. You need dance and moves, and then you start to study, your Chinese a mess. And that’s my life in government schools. I had no idea. I never challenged. Mao is God or human? Why are we saying 10,000 years? Well, when the one-party control controls all the press, all the media, all the prayer articles, all the education, all the industries, all the properties and everything, you have no way to know the truth.

They even control the songs you’re going to see and what comedy you are allowed to tell. And the girls, boys were not allowed to talk about romantic love and to talk about, “Oh, I love my parents,” because Chairman Mao is more dear. Imagine the clothes I’m wearing, like you said, get rid of [inaudible 00:05:23] by Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Get rid of old culture, old ideas, habits, and the customs. So Chinese traditional dress like this, very colorful and pretty, was banned. And your hair cannot lay down past your shoulder. And you cannot enjoy the art. It’s not political correct. And you cannot even listen to music except it’s all for Chinese emperor, like Chinese Peking opera designed by Chairman Mao’s wife, Jiang Qing.
It’s like... every day. You want to cover your ears. You cannot sleep in. Yeah. It’s like the whole country during Mao’s Cultural Revolution. It’s like a concentration camp. 6:30 in the morning... Because my dad’s community housing, it’s next to my high school and middle school. So 6:30 in the morning, the speaker come up, “Time to wake up, time to go school, time to go work. Long live Chairman Mao. Long live the Communist Party. It’s like what you say from Nazi movies, concentration camps. Of course, we did not know that. We did not know what world’s like outside at all.

So I was a red child. Sounds familiar? Mao divided people into two big groups like Marx did, oppressor versus oppressed. And you have five red classes, and they’re oppressed, like my workers parents. And then you have five black classes, and they’re oppressor. Who are the oppressors? Landlord, rich capitalist, right [inaudible 00:07:04] and counter-revolutionaries and bad influencers. And who define those arbitrary words to put them under black classes? The party. Mao. 20 million people died during Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Lots of them are professors, teachers, intellectuals who just dissident, represent different opinions about countries, policies and the propaganda every day.

Every day you cannot talk about other things. It’s all about politics. It’s all about PC. If I go to exercise, I have to write in my diary “I’m exercise today because Chairman Mao wants me to be healthy and serve the country.” Think about that. Politics is in your face every day, and you are not human being. You are not allowed to ask questions. You’re not think for yourselves.
I wanted to look pretty. So I would wear red scarf, very colorful, like a little maybe colorful clothes inside of my approved color, which is white and blue and green. And I was criticized. “Why do you want to wear that color?” “Oh, I want to look pretty.” No, you supposed to look like everybody else. You supposed to look unisex clothes. You supposed to get your hair up, look like boys or the ponytail, and just like North Korea. They have approved hairstyle. Everything has to be approved. So that’s how I grew up. I never challenged anything.
I was hungry. We had to live on food rationing coupons based on your parents’ worker status inside of the state factory. My parents could not get any promotion because they were illiterate. And my dad, even though he was a Communist Party member, but because he was illiterate, he cannot move up. And he was in China that time fighting his Communist Party bosses because they treated him like an animal, even though he’s a worker. Supposed to be workers rule, right?

That’s what I’m saying to the young people today. They will put you up and sell you something. And the problem is free stuff, and they will never come. And instead, 95% of people, I will say, equally poor and equally enslaved. You want to get some Chinese brand, like a government brand that time? Everything is one brand. Detergent, toilet paper. And detergent will take you clothes, brand new clothes, color off after first wash. You have no choice of products. But hey, we should be happy. We should be grateful. That’s our indoctrination government school tell us every day.
So when Mao died when I was 12, I just could not believe it. I thought he was like a God. At least, I never ask a question. I learned not to ask a question because they control all the narratives, and press is extremely political PC environment. The family, neighbors turn against each other, reporting each other. And families supposed to be not loyal to each other. I had to keep my question to myself when he died. Who lied to us? Who lied to my generation?

Religions all were demonized. I was raised as Buddhist. I could not go to my temple to say “Buddha, bless me.” No, you need Chairman Mao bless you. He was talking to me from sky. So when Mao died, I start ask questions. And years later, the party come out to say, “Mao is a human being. He made a mistake.” So it took me years, years to search for truth and to even go to law school in China, want to build a rule of law society. I still love my country. I was [inaudible 00:11:18] to change China. I was too naive. Once I become faculty member in law school, I realized I better get out of China because they’re going to not allow me to live like a little bit, just a little bit, free human being with some dignity, with some privacy.
We had the Communist Party Committee in every law school, every university department. Even today, Communist Party Committee is at every private company, over 100 people. Yeah, 100 is magic number. Yeah, it’s like this country, right? So it’s long story short, I finally managed to flee China when I was about 24 years old. To leave law school, I had to get a permission to create my job or I have to pay money back and then get my passport. Seven trips to have a permission to leave, and I have to become my old [inaudible 00:12:24] style. “Oh yeah, I’m going to serve my country. I’m going to go to America to study on my own to get a master degree” in order to be allowed to leave.

So it took me 20 years in this free country to get rid of all my indoctrination, to say my own old government lied to me. And I even did not know 40 million people died of starvation because of their central planning policies. I did not know 20 million people died during the Cultural Revolution. It was three years natural disasters, people died. So my English got better. I read books. And my husband, American husband from Texas, taught me well how to speak English and how to read Free to Choose, the free market capitalism that will enable you to have prosperity. My husband’s watching, thank you.

But nowadays, nowadays I have been so scared once I wake up. American students don’t know what the terms they’re using, socialism, democratic social means equity. I summarized 12 features Mao’s Cultural Revolution on my Facebook, Lily 4 Liberty. You can judge yourself those 12 features, Mao’s tactics and features are so similar with today what is go going on on American soil, including looting, burning, changing names, censorship, cancel culture, self-censorship. And you can be losing your job and business by your past words, by your past deeds. And neighbors, families, the divisioning of society. It’s very, very scary. That’s why I’m so concerned. I feel like I have not done enough in the past four years. I need to do more.

That’s why I’m here to warn you, the Mao’s Cultural Revolution, similar style is happening today on American soil. Connect the dots. Look at those 12 features. Critical class theory under Mao, today’s class, critical race theory. But they don’t care about your skin color, race. They care about the control and the absolute power and purge political enemies. So we need to go up, to wake up people, to [inaudible 00:14:55], especially our young people. We all Americans. We have so much in common. We don’t want demonize each other. We don’t want to be divided, but we want to be unified, to say every man is created equal, right?

I achieve American dream by coming here with nothing to start, even could not speak English. I’m living American Dream. I’m here talking to you folks, right? It’s like they want to demonize America. They want our kids hate their ancestors. They want them to say, “Hey, if you are white, you are racist.” I just cannot buy that. Immigrants like me will come out, defend America, defend America the beautiful, the most exceptional country on earth. There’s no place I can go to achieve American dream except in this country. Thank you. Thank you.

Heritage Explains is brought to you by more than half a million members of The Heritage Foundation. It's written and produced by Mark GuineyLauren Evans, and John Popp. Production assistance by Alexa Walker and Jeff Smith