When Saga Zhou first moved to the United States from China in 2009, she steered clear of politics. The Communist Party rules supreme in China, so most Chinese immigrants bring a built-in aversion to political involvement.
But Zhou’s interest in politics was piqued as she began to see the American Left embracing policies that reminded her of those she’d fled in China.
One such policy was the Left’s support for late-term abortion. When she lived in China, Zhou, like many young Chinese, didn’t consider abortion to be a big deal. But her view changed after moving to America, getting married, and bearing two children.
“After I became a mother, my understanding about life fundamentally changed,” she told me when we met at a Panera Bread in Irvine. “Now I am totally a mother.”
Zhou said her heart broke upon learning about a Virginia bill to loosen restrictions on late-term abortions. Appearing on a radio show as the bill was being debated, Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam pledged to sign the legislation, even suggesting it would sanction infanticide.
“Oh, when I saw the news, I cannot even open [the article],” Zhou said through tears. “It was really hard. I just felt something really strong into my chest. And then I said, ‘Let me adopt him, don’t kill him.’”
The proposed law hit especially close to home for Zhou, whose mother became pregnant with her just as China’s government began implementing its brutal one-child policy.
The policy prohibited most couples from having more than one child. Women who became pregnant with a second child were often forced to undergo sterilization; sometimes their babies were killed in the womb. Though she was her mother’s second child, Zhou escaped death because the one-child policy had not yet been implemented in her city.
“Somebody has to understand the roots, where these policies come from,” Zhou said. “That’s why I’m so pissed. Damn socialism. Why are you chasing me?”
As Democrats embrace policies such as so-called “Medicare for all,” “free” college, 70 percent tax rates, the “Green New Deal,” and late-term abortion, Republicans see an opportunity to frame the 2020 election as a referendum on socialism.
President Trump now includes a riff on the “dangers of socialism” in most of his speeches, including in last month’s State of the Union. “Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country,” he told Congress and the nation.
An internal memo from the Congressional Leadership Fund, a Republican super PAC, discusses its plan to win the suburbs and retake the House of Representatives by framing the 2020 election as a choice between socialism and economic opportunity.
The Republican Party’s anti-communism has long attracted many Cubans, Vietnamese, Eastern Europeans, and other immigrants who fled communist countries during the Cold War.
Chinese immigrants have historically been an afterthought. But their numbers are rising. There are more than 3 million Chinese immigrants living in America today, up from fewer than half a million in 1980.
As their numbers grow, Chinese-Americans are becoming more active in politics. In 2014, a group of Chinese-Americans in Orange County, Calif., formed The Orange Club, a political action committee whose original purpose was to defeat Senate Constitutional Amendment No. 5, which sought to overturn a 1996 initiative that ended affirmative action in state university admissions. The club argued that SCA-5 would unfairly hurt their high-achieving children’s chances of getting into California’s top state-run universities.
SCA-5 ultimately failed, due in part to strong opposition from Asian-American groups including The Orange Club, which remains active in local public policy debates and endorses candidates for office.
Zhou joined TOC last year and ever since has been attending meetings, signing online petitions, and protesting at public events–all things she couldn’t have imagined doing in China.
When I first met Zhou in February, she was volunteering at a phone bank for Don Wagner, the mayor of Irvine who was running in a special election for Orange County supervisor. On March 13, the morning after Wagner won the race, the Orange County Register’s front-page story included a photo of Wagner standing in front of several jubilant supporters, including Zhou.
In 2008 and 2012, many Chinese-American voters cast their presidential ballots for Barack Obama, believing Obama’s Democratic Party was more hospitable to immigrants. “On the first day when we land here, the media and Left reinforce the concept that minorities and immigrants are supposed to vote for Democrats and not supposed to be aligning with conservatives,” said George Li, a Chinese immigrant I met at a Starbucks in Irvine.
But many Chinese-Americans are repelled by the Democrats’ more recent embrace of policies they consider socialist. Socialism “is a great, great concern to [Chinese-Americans], which is why I’m really motivated to stop that,” Li said. “It’s our duty.”
As a college student in China in the late 1980’s, Li was active in China’s democracy movement and knew some of the students involved in the Tiananmen Square protests.
Not long after, Li moved to the U.S., earning a master’s degree in computer information systems and starting a family. Li has become active in local politics through The Orange Club, which he led last year.
Li believes the Republican Party is a natural fit for Chinese-Americans.
Traditional Chinese culture is conservative, he said, emphasizing hard work, independence, education, and family values.
He finds the Left’s obsession with political correctness maddening because it intimidates people into silence. “This intimidation is so bad for freedom of speech,” he said. “A lot of things I see in this country are very similar to what I saw in the Cultural Revolution era in China,” He calls political correctness a “form of cultural Marxism.”
Benjamin Yu, also of Irvine, saw the Democratic Party moving toward socialism long before some of its members began embracing the term.
Yu immigrated to the U.S. with his mother in the late 1990s. In the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11, Yu, then a U.S. Green Card holder, felt a “surge of patriotism,” prompting him to join the Army.
“When something happens so close to you, it doesn’t matter if you are an American by legal status,” he said. “You get a sense that that’s your country. You feel part of the community.”
Yu saw a nascent socialism developing under President Barack Obama, whom he voted for twice before turning to Trump in 2016. He believes more and more Chinese are voting Republican, though he thinks many are reluctant to say so for fear of being ostracized.
Zhou, Li, and Yu believe Republicans can win over Chinese-American voters by emphasizing the Democrats’ embrace of socialism, and the GOP’s staunch opposition to it.
“I just want America to be America,” Li said, “not another Soviet Union, Cuba, or China.”