Surgeon Wang barely avoids Chinese ‘Cultural Revolution’ life-long labor camp

Having lived both in China, a communist country, and the United States, Dr. Ming Wang, a cataract and LASIK eye surgeon, philanthropist and community activist, said there is a need to find common ground between the two countries during Rotary Club of Farragut’s Wednesday, Nov. 18, virtual meeting.

Wang said he thinks the people of the two countries should look for a relationship because of the shared economies.

From a business perspective, “We need to keep an open door and exchange, communicate,” he said. “As (former U.S. President) Ronald Reagan said to me when I met him in 1985, he said, ‘We have shared humanity on this spaceship Earth. We will have no choice but to find a way to work together (and find) common ground.’”

However, Wang warned Americans should “be careful and really resist any influence” from the Chinese Communist party. “I have suffered (from) that (regime),” he said. “I don’t want to see America going there.

“We have to step up and defend that (American) freedom.”

Wang grew up in China during the country’s Cultural Revolution, “Where the Communist dictator (Chairman Mao Zedong) decided in 1966 to shut down all universities and colleges (in) China … and forcefully deport all high school graduates of the entire country to the poorest part of the country and condemn each one of us (to) a life sentence in hard labor.”

That “Cultural Revolution,” what Wang described as a “cultural holocaust,” lasted for 10 years as 20 million high school graduates were sent to the labor camps.

He remembered in 1974, he was 14 years old with a bright future. He finished the ninth grade as a straight A student in a family of meager means.

“My mom and dad always said, ‘Study hard. Study hard, Ming. It’s the only way to get out of poverty.’”

When Wang was going to be sent away for life, in 1976, Mao died.

“So all of a sudden, China woke

up, realizing it was a tragic mistake

it had made,” he recalled. “They stopped the revolution and reopened the colleges.”

“When I finished junior high, looking forward to attending 10th grade and beyond, the deportation board came … just like 20 million others, I got kicked out of school and was never allowed to go back,” he said.

Wang anticipated he soon would be sent to a labor camp for life, but he learned to escape the camps, he could learn to play an instrument or to dance and become part of the Communist Song and Dance Propoganda Troupe and be able to stay in the city.

He took lessons on the violin (erhu), along with dance lessons, but it was discovered he was taking the lessons to avoid the camps.

“They stopped my music and dancing classes,” Wang recalled.

His parents told him he might be able to go back to school.

“I never thought I would be able to hear that,” he said.

His father told him he needed to get into the 12th grade because only that grade would be able to take the college entrance exam — the first in 10 years — and only 1 percent would be able to get in to college.

His mother warned him there would be no guarantee, the government would not revert back to closing the colleges next year for another 10 years.

His parents drove him to study 19 to 21 hours a day, but he said he was driven by a glimmer of hope. After passing the exam, he came to the United States in 1982 only with $50 he borrowed from a visiting American professor, a Chinese-English dictionary and a student Visa.

“I was poor, but I was happy … I had found freedom,” he said.

He would later find the Christian faith with help from a professor and graduate magnum cum laude from Harvard Medical School and MIT.

Wang, also a Rotary Club member, is the founding director of Wang Vision Institute, a clinical professor at Meharry Medical College in Nashville and a founding president of Tennessee Chinese Chamber of Commerce.