Jimmy Lai is a publisher in Hong Kong.

During the Cold War, it was not uncommon for some in the United States to attack what they called the forces of “godless” communism, whether in China or Soviet Russia. But this is a misconception.

Communist regimes are definitely atheist, but in their behavior they are not godless. Chinese President Xi Jinping recently gave the world a fresh reminder.

In mid-September, Xi visited a museum in Hunan province, stopping at a statue commemorating the “Ragged Quilt.” There, he retold the story of how three female soldiers in the Red Army spent the night at the home of a villager. As the soldiers left, they cut their quilt in two and gave one half to the woman who had sheltered them.

The story is meant to underscore the hardships endured by the Red Army on the Long March of 1934-1935, a daring strategic retreat from overpowering nationalist forces. The Long March, with little food or medicine, and only ragged quilts for troops to keep warm at night, remains to this day a great symbol of the Chinese Communist Party’s legitimacy and its solidarity with the Chinese people.

Xi praised the Long Marchers and held up their sacrifices as the highest standard of revolutionary glory. Yet Xi was not there to honor sacrifices made in the 1930s. He was there to demand similar sacrifices today and celebrate them as virtues in his new China.

Following the museum visit, Xi went to a primary school, where he preached to pupils the importance of a “Red” — that is, revolutionary — education to safeguarding China’s core values. A photograph accompanying the story showed him beaming with fatherly kindness as he spoke to a group of small children.

Taken together, the museum and school visits sent an unmistakable message, presenting Xi — like his idol, Chairman Mao Zedong, whose rise to power began amid the Long March — as China’s new father, deserving of the people’s sacrifices.

For me and many of my fellow Christians, the “Ragged Quilt” analogy poses problems. Christianity teaches that God, the Father, sent Jesus to suffer for our sins. Xi offers a morally perverse substitute, asking the Chinese people to suffer for him in revolutionary glory.

Who is this man to ask such a thing of the people he leads? The answer is familiar. He is a dictator, and dictators sooner or later forget that they are mere humans, imagining themselves as taking God’s place. This is why communism, though atheist, will never be godless.

But if the gods of communism are false ones, the suffering they ask — and impose — is all too real. Liu Xiaobo was awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize for promoting democracy in China and was rewarded in his homeland by dying in prison seven years later. Tibetans are routinely jailed and suppressed, and more than 1 million Muslim Uighurs languish in labor camps in the Xinjiang territory, subjected to a genocidal campaign by the Chinese Communist Party.

My fellow citizens of Hong Kong — who are experiencing the oppression of the new national security law as the noose tightens on any hope of democratic reform — would remind you that the suffering is not limited to China’s hinterlands.

All of these efforts reflect the aims of a dictator intent on depriving citizens their individuality, the better to allow the CCP to exert control. One tool in this effort is keeping people in ignorance — hence the online Great Firewall of China. Access to information is denied, and entertainment from movies to video games is sanitized to suit the CCP, while free speech and open expression are outright banned.

Recently, a Beijing-based reporter from the West said to me: China has its own culture and thousands of years of history. Its moral values cannot be reconciled with those of the West. Is it any surprise to find we have conflicts?

I thought: How terribly sad that a Westerner assumes Chinese people are somehow incapable of desiring freedom. Say this for Xi: He at least knows it isn’t true — otherwise he wouldn’t have to spend so much time and energy suppressing his people’s desires.

Yes, people are all different. But regardless of their history and culture, human beings yearn to be free, to improve their lot by pursing knowledge and exercising the liberty to create, to achieve, to contribute.

My fellow Chinese share that yearning. They don’t want a new communist god who revels in their suffering. They have lived through this before, with Mao, and know the human wreckage that will follow.

The West must wake up to the true nature of the New Cold War: It isn’t about fighting over intellectual-property theft; it is about China using its size and wealth to challenge the moral principles that have made the West a beacon of freedom.

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