In July 1977, rock icon David “The Starman” Bowie — then living with punk maestro Iggy Pop in West Berlin’s Schoneberg district — began writing his legendary hit, “Heroes.” The song tells the story of two lovers, one in East and the other in West Berlin.
Little did Bowie know that one decade later, on June 6, 1987, he’d be back in West Berlin, pointing his speakers like cannons over the Berlin Wall. As East Berliners gathered in huge masses, East German guards began to beat and arrest members of the ecstatic crowd, and chants of “the wall must fall!” and “tear down the wall!” broke out.
Six days later, President Reagan uttered those famous words, remarking later, “As I looked out a moment ago from the Reichstag, that embodiment of German unity, I noticed words crudely spray-painted upon the wall, perhaps by a young Berliner, ‘This wall will fall. Beliefs become reality.’ Yes, across Europe, this wall will fall. For it cannot withstand faith; it cannot withstand truth. The wall cannot withstand freedom.”
Thirty-three years on, a new wall divides our world: China’s Great Firewall. This Great Firewall isn’t one system, but encompasses all of the various technical means of censorship that China’s Communist Party (CCP) uses to suppress the free flow of information. For the CCP to survive, it must control not only the information coming into China, but more crucially, must limit the voices inside from being heard by the Free World … and it’s done precisely that.
The effect has been disastrous. As the CCP has accelerated its human rights atrocities — harvesting organs, building concentration camps in East Turkistan (“Xinjiang”), erasing the language and culture of countless peoples, arresting the faithful, forcing LGBT people to submit to electroshock “therapy,” concealing a Chernobyl-level coronavirus pandemic from the outside world — the stifled screams of the CCP’s victims have barely been heard.
If we’re earnest in our desire to confront this new Evil Empire — if the words “Never Again” are truly inscribed upon our hearts — then these victims are the voices to whom we must lend volume. Despite receiving $162M in FY2020 from Congress, the National Endowment for the Arts is doing little to point its proverbial sound cannons over this new Wall. Worse, scraps of funding which could be used for Great Firewall circumvention are locked in a bureaucratic tug-of-war at the U.S. Agency for Global Media.
This is frustrating for people like myself who aren’t concerned with the politics of who controls the purse strings, but the dire plight of those suffering inside the CCP’s Walled Garden of Horrors. An all-of-the-above, Manhattan Project-sized Allied effort is needed — complete with wartime funding and specific tasking for the cyber components of our national powers — to slay the CCP Dragon. We must hand the microphone to those who have suffered, and to those who can tell those stories on their behalf, through the NEA and other vehicles.
In the absence of such efforts, those on the frontlines staring down this Dragon are valiantly fighting to fill the void. On Aug. 26 of last year, a pseudonymous musician posted an instrumental version of “Glory to Hong Kong” on pro-democracy forum LIHKG.
Within days, netizens had decided on lyrics, with versions soon emerging in different languages. By Sept. 11, an orchestral choir version had gone viral. By mid-October, Hong Kong’s beloved pro-democracy leader and Cantopop artist Denise Ho performed the song in her Empire State debut. Overnight, empowered by the Internet, Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters had the anthem for a revolution.
This isn’t the only example of activists filling the void where the Free World’s failed. China has a thriving Western-inspired music scene, but in recent years, the CCP’s propped up “artists” who reinforce the “values” of “socialism with Chinese characteristics.” Rapper “VaVa” (dubbed “China’s Rihanna”) has spoken out against the Hong Kong democracy movement, lauded the polarized BLM protests in America, and even performed mid-court at an NBA game between the Philadelphia 76ers and Los Angeles Lakers on Jan. 25 of this year (yes, really).
Against this backdrop, controversial exiled billionaire Guo Wengui has released a rock/rap song called “Take Down the CCP,” which has skyrocketed up the charts, hitting #1 on iTunes. Inherently opposed to authority, rock and rap/hip-hop are the music — like it or not — of today’s youth. It’s good that there’s one more song now speaking of democratic revolution against the CCP.
As we contend with the Chinese regime and its human rights atrocities, which are only now barely being exposed, we must redefine the zeitgeist. The CCP’s Maoist cadres are the true counter-revolutionaries, for the revolution is freedom, and yes, it’s as true as ever: The revolution will not be televised.
If we seek to meet with greatness this moment which destiny has forelaid for us, if we can step back from our present domestic political battles — instead giving voice to CCP victims whose truthful lyrics could strike a blow for democracy and human rights a thousand times more powerful than any bomber or aircraft carrier — then we too could be heroes, just for one day.
• Kyle Olbert is an IT professional-turned-human rights activist and researcher specializing in East Turkistan, Tibet, Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Mongolia, Manchuria and China Proper.