Residents and visitors of New York City will experience an odd phenomenon tonight. The Empire State Building, a symbol of American strength, determination and might will be colored Red and Yellow to honor the 60th anniversary of China’s communist regime taking power. Lighting the building for special occasions is not abnormal, as it has been lit to honor everything from the Fourth of July, to Caribbean tourism, to the Yankees and Mets, or to honor the film, The Wizard of Oz. But is it appropriate to honor what happened in China 60 years ago, and what continues in that country to this day?
First, a short history lesson of what they are honoring. Sixty years ago, in 1949, Chairman Mao Zedong declared the Civil War of China over and the Communist Party of China, assisted by the Soviet Union, the victors over the U.S.-backed Nationalist KMT regime. As a result, over 2 million Nationalist Chinese fled to Taiwan and re-established the government of the Republic of China there, the legitimacy of which is still disputed by the People’s Republic of China to this day. Also as a result of the Communist takeover of mainland China, wealth was redistributed by the new government, religion was replaced by political propaganda, Tibet was invaded in 1950, the economic disaster known as “The Great Leap Forward” occurred with between 20 million and 43 million people starving to death, and the massive human tragedy known as the Cultural Revolution was carried out.
So what part of this history is the Empire State Building honoring? Is it the more than 1000 missiles now aimed at Taiwan? Is it the brutal oppression of Tibetans that Americans were most recently reminded of during the run up to last year’s Olympics in Beijing? Is it the support of other repressive governments like Sudan or Iran or Burma, or other human rights abuses? Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-NY) said the lights should not be used to pay tribute to “a nation with a shameful history on human rights.”
U.S. relations with China are certainly improving, and China has certainly decided to embrace certain aspects of capitalism and free enterprise, when the government so chooses. China should be a strategic partner for the United States, especially when it comes to Iran and North Korea. And also when it comes to international energy and trade agreements. But alas, today these remain mere hopes and aspirations.
In short, the past sixty years have not presented a reason for lighting the New York sky red and yellow.
It is unclear who makes the final decision on how to color the Empire State Building. It is owned and operated by “a general partnership of 2500 investors headed by Peter Malkin and Mrs. Harry Helmsley, who hold the master lease and control the building until 2076.” In America, private enterprises like the Empire State Building have the right to color themselves however they please, and make any political statement they so choose. There is no capital punishment in America for voicing your opinion. But the Empire State Building is more than ‘just an office building.’ It’s a historic landmark, a symbol of America, the one building in America all other buildings measure themselves against. It may be privately owned, but Americans, and specifically New Yorkers, feel a ‘sense’ of ownership. It may be too late to reconsider this decision, but it’s never too late to explain the circumstances which led to this ill-conceived idea.
For more on U.S.-China relations, please see Heritage research and analysis here.