It is ironically by a kind of Taoist serendipity that my novel, Year of the Earth Serpent Changing Colors, fits right into the themes of the DeRadicalisation in Europe and Beyond: Detect, Resolve, Reintegrate research project of Horizon 2020, of which The Center for Critical Democracy Studies (CCDS), that hosted my book signing, is a member.

The D.Rad themes fit because the main character of the novel is a hardline American radical, a Maoist, who begins to realize that the Communist leadership does not necessarily practice the Maoism it preaches… after being invited to teach English as a foreign language in China in the tumultuous years of 1988-89, the Chinese Year of the Earth Serpent—that resulted in the June 4th Tiananmen Square and nation-wide repression.

Significance of the June 1989 Tiananmen Square repression

The significance of the June 4th Tiananmen Square repression is deeper than a mere repetition of the international and civil wars, not to overlook the multitude of violent domestic repressions, that has characterized Chinese history over the millennia of the ancient Yellow and present Red regimes.

This is first because Chinese Communist elites turned against their own population on 4th June 1989—forcing the People’s Liberation Army to turn against the Chinese people, against its own values and ideology. This is a major reason why public discussion of Tiananmen Square repression remains taboo in China and on the Chinese internet/ social media.

The second significant issue is that the Tiananmen Square repression raised the question as to whether the major powers of the East and West will ever be able to reconcile their vast social, political, ideological, and “civilizational” differences given the fact that, in an increasingly globalized world, China has become a world historical actor that is now an active subject of modern history and no longer a repressed object of history in the Hegelian sense.

The June 1989 national-wide repression raised the question as to whether there was any way for western forms of “democracy,” with emphasis on individual political and human rights, to fully cooperate in developing common interests with eastern authoritarianism—what the Chinese Communist Party once called Chinese “Socialist Spiritual Civilization.”

In the eyes of the U.S. and Europeans, the repression of Chinese citizens making moderate demands for political and social reforms violated the need for the trust, openness and freedom of expression, that permits true domestic social development and the peaceful interaction and cooperation within and among states and societies.

For its part, major elements of the Chinese Communist Party vehemently opposed proposals for multiparty democracy, backed by US interests, that could challenge Communist Party rule.

In its geo-eschatological themes, given the U.S.-China clash over human rights, civilizational values and political aesthetics, as well as over their differing political economic and geopolitical interests, including Taiwan, the novel raises the question as to whether the violence of the Tiananmen Square repression could result in a conflict between the U.S. and China (interpreted by deterministic Biblical myth as the Great Red Dragon) that could lead to a nuclear Apocalypse?

Or can China and the West eventually shake hands in the effort to achieve a global peace/ equilibrium or what the Bible referred to as Apocatastasis—what Chinese Daoists once called Tai Ping Dao or the Way of the Great Peace/ Equilibrium?

Changing colors and deradicalization

These are the major apocalyptic concerns that confront the “pro-“ or “an-” tagonist (depending on one’s particular viewpoint) of the novel, Mr. Mylex H. Galvin as he studies China’s vast history through the eyes of his Daoist teacher of Chinese civilization, Tao Baiqing.

In the novel, as Galvin begins to “change colors,” he largely abandons the violent ideology of Maoism in finding himself accidentally caught up in the Chinese democracy and freedom movement that non-violently opposes the corruption of the Communist regime. Galvin is most impressed with Chia Pao-yu and Tao Baiqing who are fully engaged in the risky and dangerous struggle for democracy at the risk of their lives.

In the effort to “de-radicalize,” the question for the formerly radicalized individual becomes: “How does one live with oneself after fighting for a cause that one can no longer believe in?”... “What happens when one realizes that the cause that one has once supported with all one’s heart is no longer considered ‘legitimate’?”

Does this mean that one accepts the status quo—even if injustices and inequities mount both within and between countries? And what then replaces the former cause—if evident injustices persist?

What kind of causes can be considered "legitimate" in confrontation with an evidently unjust status quo? And what kind of actions can be taken? Can violence ever be justified? How does one most effectively deal with evident local, national and regional injustices that may then be reinforced on the international level?

In other words, in the process of de-radicalization, defined as the process of abandoning obsolete, inflexible, blinding, and self-imprisoning ideologies—what the poet William Blake had called “mind-forged manacles”—it is necessary to re-envision one’s standpoint in the process of critiquing the local, national, regional and international status quo.

It is in process of critiquing inflexible doctrines and “narratives” that it may then be possible, but not absolutely certain, that one can develop new, alternative and more open and flexible perspectives and options that work to build consensus as to the best ways to opt for positive change. A more open alternative approach to injustice and inequity seeks, for example, to press state leaderships into engaging in significant domestic reforms that reduce inequities in power and wealth while concurrently pursuing compromises and peace-oriented diplomacy where possible.

But here again, comes the dilemma: The dialectic interaction in which states and anti-state movements counter-accuse each other of being “radical” or “extremist” or “terrorist” creates new tensions and disputes—as individuals and groups denounced by state leaderships may be considered as “freedom fighters” by other groups and states.

Toward a “cosmic equilibrium”—or “Tai Ping Dao”?

In the novel, after abandoning Maoism, particularly after his encounter with two African student leaders who were involved in clashes with Chinese students in Nanjing, Galvin grasps for another vision, that of his Daoist teacher, Tao Baiqing, even if he appears to reject her as a potential lover.

Yet his innate bias against the ancient philosophy makes it very difficult to accept the Daoist vision of a quest for a Cosmic Equilibrium—Tai Ping Dao—after he had previously seen the world in terms of a Mao Dun clash of opposites that was supposedly leading to a new Socialist society.

As the Tiananmen Square protest gains intensity and as hopes for real change mount, Galvin begins to realize that acts of violence would not help the cause; yet the very violence of the June 4th Tiananmen Square repression nevertheless pushes him into a deep depression: What options are possible if non-violence fails? Can one re-initiate a struggle that might fail once again? Can any approach, violent or non-violent, work at all?

And as the novel progresses, Galvin finds himself haunted by an opposing form of radicalism, Protestant fundamentalism—with its Biblical deterministic anti-Red Dragon anti-China apocalyptic vision.

At the same time—as significant examples of radical post-Leninist-Stalinist-Maoist anti-systemic anti-globalization, anti-capitalist movements—images of white Supremacism, extreme nationalism, and pan-Islamism begin to creep into the story, brandishing their own colors. The rise of a repressive Chinese “new authoritarianism”—in radical opposition to both multiparty democracy and Communist oligarchy—is also foreshadowed.

A neo-Mongol axis vs. “end of history” allies

Although the major focus of Year of the Earth Serpent Changing Colors is on the evolution of Galvin’s thought, Galvin is just one the many ex-pat characters of the novel to experience the social and political impact of the “changing colors” that was taking place in societies throughout the world in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The presumed end of the Cold War—when the Soviet Union ostensibly began to democratize—was at a turning point that could have tipped the scales toward the rise of democratic movements around the world—that is if Beijing had not opted to repress its pro-democracy and anti-corruption movement. In so doing, Beijing not only sought to squash demands for multiparty democracy, but it also hoped to put a damper on democracy movements around the world, by means of more strongly supporting its authoritarian allies, including Putin’s Russia, and by cutting international ties to Taiwan.

For its part, in the years after the transitional year of 1989, the U.S. deluded itself into believing that the world was at the "End of History.” The triumphalist neo-liberal / neo-conservative belief that “democracy” could be achieved by force of arms—if it could not be achieved by the ballot box—provided Washington with a “radical” ideological rationale that it could act with impunity and engage in a number of post-Cold War military interventions, with or without UN Security Council backing.

These costly military interventions later included the NATO air war over Kosovo (1999), as well as the U.S.-led interventions in Afghanistan (2001), Iraq (2003), and Libya (2011)—after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S. that are “predicted” in the novel by the “ghost” of Marco Polo. None of these military interventions helped to establish full-fledged democracies as U.S. and European elites had promised. Nor did they help resolve other issues that only diplomacy can achieve, by reaching out for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, Ukraine and Russia, Greece and Turkey, North and South Korea, or China and Taiwan, among other ongoing disputes and conflicts...

By 2008/14, the Global War on Terrorism began to morph into an even more dangerous Major Powers Rivalry. Given Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in 2014/22, Russia and China, along other states and societies, now appear to be forming a Neo-Mongol Eurasian Axis of authoritarian states (as depicted in the Post-Mortem of Year of the Earth Serpent Changing Colors) versus the U.S. and its essentially insular “democratic” allies.

A number of questions arise: What are the best options to prevent the real possibility of more intense and wider wars? Is it still possible to reach long term accords with authoritarian states? And will the U.S., the Europeans and other Allies necessarily agree to common strategies?

And with respect to China, the key geopolitical question lies before homo geopoliticus: In the quest to achieve a more just global and equitable society, how to best deal with a radical “new authoritarian” Beijing after the Tiananmen Square crackdown?

Is it possible for the U.S. and Europeans to engage in a new global peace initiative in working with China and other major and regional powers to better manage, if not help resolve, a number of burgeoning conflicts around the world—but without capitulating to authoritarian demands and interests or else exploding into a global conflict?

Is the apparent inability of Homo Geopoliticus to cooperate over a number of regional conflicts heading the world toward a nuclear Apocalypse? Or is it possible to achieve apocatastasis—a global equilibrium—a Tai Ping Dao?