Chinese nationalism

At the age of twelve, I was standing on top of the giant gate that serves as entrance to the Forbidden City in Beijing, Mao’s giant painting hanging on the huge red wall below me, and watched with my parents in amazement as Tiananmen Square filled to the brim with students wearing white headbands and armbands, shouting slogans and demanding Democracy. 

Even weeks later, after the tanks and the bloodshed and the heartbreaking arrests (I was back in Tulsa watching with horror on TV), there was a sense that the end of Communism in China was only a matter of time.  Like Russia and Eastern Europe, the demand for freedom of speech and of thought, the demand for freedom to control one’s destiny, was too high to ever see a return to the old ways of Maoism.  Deng Xiao Peng, the last human embodiment of the spirit of Revolution, was by this point a senile figurehead who only appeared in photographs accompanied by dubious quotations.  I vividly remember Chinese-American students at my middle school talking to each other at lunch, agreeing with each other that “democracy will come to China as soon as the old farts are dead.”

Well, the old farts are dying en masse, and the student protesters of 1989 are themselves getting a bit long in the tooth. 

Yet the new generation of Chinese has shown a resurgence not of democratic mindsets but of nationalistic ones.  I was shocked at how angry local Chinese-American residents became recently during all the brouhaha about the Olympic torch:

[W]hen more than 1,000 demonstrators including students, business people and engineers from mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Southeast Asia rallied in front of CNN’s Hollywood headquarters a week ago, it marked a milestone for the local Chinese community.

The protest was a rare instance in which large numbers of Chinese Americans demonstrated in unison with mainland China — in this case, calling for the firing of CNN commentator Jack Cafferty after he called the Chinese “goons” and “thugs” during a segment about China’s relationship with America.

The protest borrowed from the wave of nationalism that has swept across China in recent weeks as well as in other Chinese communities in France, Australia and even San Francisco. The protests came after anti-China critics disrupted the torch run for the Beijing Olympics.

Nineteen years ago, rallies in support of Beijing would have been unheard of. Chinese Americans were among the thousands who stood outside the Chinese Consulate to protest the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown. But dramatic changes in the nearly two decades since then have reversed the local view of China and paved the way for public demonstrations such as last Saturday’s event.

From the news I’m reading, it sounds like the majority of Chinese living in mainland China as well as the diaspora abroad (and that includes those in and from Taiwan) are adopting an attitude that forgives the Chinese government its transgressions in the name of unity.  They seem to see Western press regarding Tibet, Darfur, and other problems originating with the Chinese government as imperialist meddling, and are taking criticism of the Chinese Communist Party as criticism of the Chinese people.

I can understand why they think we’re assholes–we’ve currently got blood on our hands with our own wars abroad, so who are we to point fingers?  And as for the recent protests at USC, Chinese Americans know our students are stupid lazy assholes who party until four in the morning and who would jump to defend Tibet and whoever else, just because Richard Gere says so, without hearing their side of things.

But I, the man who once was a young boy at the Tiananmen Square Protests, have problems with the Chinese government that extend far beyond any good or ill they may have done in Tibet.  Until the government of China allows freedom of the press, until they release their political dissidents, until they stop using Yahoo and other companies here to halt access to information on the internet, and until they stop uprooting people’s lives to suit their own PR needs (two million people relocated just for the Olympics!), I say fuck the government, no matter whether they’re commies or bourgeoise socialists or capitalists or fuck all.  This is not a slight against Chinese people, who created one of the mightiest cultures and empires of all time.  But I will continue to slight the shit out of the Orwellian nightmare of appeasement and imprisonment and nation-baiting that its current government has become.

5 thoughts on “Chinese nationalism

  1. I understand your feelings toward Chinese government and the Tienanmen Square incident 19 years ago. As a Chinese myself I can assure you, a majority part of Chinese people, including myself, will not forgive the Communist Party of China for the atrocity it committed at that time. However, I need to remind you the recent massive protests against western median from oversea Chinese community are not about supporting the Chinese government. It’s about supporting Olympics and China as a nation. You may have some trouble realizing this, but we Chinese people, especially those living and studying overseas, are not brainwashed. We don’t trust and don’t like Chinese government. On the other hand, we believe Tibet is part of China and don’t want it separated, just like an American believes Texas is part of U.S and doesn’t want it separated (even though it was robbed from Mexico with a war). We view the recent boycott against Beijing Olympics in the name of ‘Free Tibet‘ as an outright attack against China’s national pride and interest, because of the news distortions and racist comments on China by western new medias like CNN. We protest because the feelings of Chinese people are hurt, not because the feelings of Chinese government are hurt. No doubt, Chinese government benefited from the oversea Chinese’ support for Olympics, but this is not something we intended. After all the Western medias and human rights organizations used a very inappropriate opportunity, which is Olympics, to protest. Olympics is not a political thing and it shouldn’t be used that way. Chinese government surely is welcoming this unexpected support from us, but it’s also quite cautious. It knows this politicizing of China’s new generation could be turned against itself one day. Today we fight against western media and Tibet separatists united, tomorrow we could fight against Chinese government united. As a matter of fact, I know quite a few Chinese protesters in U.S. recently was in Tienanmen Square 19 years ago.

    So my friend, you are welcome to fight against Chinese government, but be careful if you still want to make friends with Chinese people.

  2. badcompany, I like your style. I promise I am listening to the pride Chinese people feel in the Beijing Olympics. Let me address some of the points you bring up.

    Unlike perhaps most of the protestors, my reasons for criticizing the Olympics there stem not from issues with Tibet but with the millions of people displaced from Beijing and the thousands jailed for protesting the Olympics themselves. There are also plenty of human rights violations in non-Tibetan China that worry me when it comes to supporting an Olympics there.

    I also worry that the non-Chinese world may see the Beijing Olympics as a representation of the government itself, and the support and success of the Olympics may be a PR coup of the government in the eyes of the world in a similar manner to how the Nazi party won a temporary respite from criticism with their Olympics in the 30’s (not that the Chinese now have any similar sentiments to the Germans in the 30’s, but the government certainly is trying to gain legitimacy despite its curtailing of liberties).

    Also, I think it’s unfair to accuse the Western media of “attacking” China with our coverage of the Olympic protests and the Tibet issue.

    First of all, the coverage here certainly has not been all pro-Tibet–the media seems to be solidly against the protestors who have been attacking the torch.

    Secondly, I think that a lot of the Western media is more interested in attacking the Chinese government itself for its injustices, and not at all interested in accusing the Chinese populace of anything. I’ll take it as a given that our media is complacent and lazy, and for sure paints broad pictures in black and white of issues that are far more complex than a soundbite can handle. But I don’t think it’s fair to say that criticism of the People’s Republic is “racist” anymore than it’s fair to say that criticism of Israel’s actions is anti-Semitic or criticism of Kim Jong Il is anti-Korean.

    I would accept criticism calling us hypocritical, or one-sided, or ignorant, because all those things are true about our media! But I don’t think that cries of “racism” in U.S. coverage of anti-Olympic fervor fit how we depict the issues of China and it’s political presence in the modern era.

  3. orangehairboy, thanks for replying my feedback on your blog. One thing I find quite interesting is many human rights activists in Western countries are not interested in communicating with the people they vow to liberate. Obviously you are not one of them.

    As for the ‘racism’ claim, maybe I used a word too strong and I take it back. But I used it for some reason. As you know, the protest in Hollywood you mentioned was not directly related to Olympics. It was about Cafferty’s comments that Chinese are “goons and thugs”. Later Cafferty clarified that he meant Chinese government, not Chinese people. However after watch the video clip on Youtube I simply don’t buy it. Judging from the context he meant exactly Chinese people. Those Chinese people demonstrating in front of CNN surely don’t buy it either. My impression is had Cafferty used this kind of words on African American people or Hispanic people, he is already fired (like Imus). But Mr. Cafferty is still on TV every night and this won’t help with CNN’s image among Chinese community.

    I appreciate your concern over the violation of human rights in preparation for Olympics in China. This is actually something mentioned a lot on internet before all this Olympics torch rally uproar happened. My impression is before the torch rally, the general altitude toward Olympics among Chinese people, both overseas and in mainland, are slightly negative or just no concern. Many people view Olympics as a way government officials use to boost their own power and to make money. I saw a lot of criticism on internet about the displacement of people (as you mentioned) to make way for Olympics games and waste of money that could have been used to help poor people or for eduction.

    However the mood among Chinese community were totally changed when the torch rally was attacked in Europe. Majority of Chinese people suddenly became strong supporters of Olympics. First of all, at least on the surface the host of 2008 Olympics is not Chinese government but China as a country. Olympics is not a political event. After all it’s just a sports game. Secondly the claim on ‘free Tibet’ pissed most Chinese people off, since they all believe Tibet is part of China (which is supported by history that Tibet has been ruled by China’s central government ever since Qing dynasty). Now the attacks on Olympic torch are viewed as attacks on China’s national symbol and unity. There is a sense of crisis among Chinese community and this quickly transformed into wide spread demonstrations in support of Olympics across the world.

    I think the recently rally among Chinese community in support of Olympics is essentially a good thing. First of all, it provides an opportunity for China’s younger generation to participate in political movements and this will speed up the democratization of China. If you had studied Chinese history, you will know in China patriotism and pursuit of democracy are twins. Chinese people’s national identity was awakened during the invasion of western powers in later 19th century and they pursued democracy to save their country. Great student movements, like the May-4th movement in 1919, were often both patriotic and democratic. I have no doubt the recently rallies by Chinese oversea students will awaken up their sense of personal responsibility and freedom and they will bring this newly acquired altitude back to China once going home.

    Secondly I think it will make human rights activists in Western country to reconsider their way of protesting and communication. It’s convenient to label the people from the country you want to ‘free’ but disagreeing with you as ‘brainwashed’ or ‘robots’, but it will achieve nothing. Where is the hope of change if even the most educated and liberalized people from that country are against you? Chinese people want freedom as much as people from any other countries do, they simply want to pursue it their own way and don’t want to be force-fed with it. If the human rights activists really want to change China, they should talk to Chinese community in the first place, to understand their way of thinking. They should work with Chinese people, not against them. I hope the recent incidents around Olympics will provide opportunities for dialogs between these two parties and we can find some common ground to start with.

    Anyway, thanks again for your response. I am always an optimist. I believe most people in this world are good and we can make it better if we work together.

  4. Maybe the reason so many Californians sympathize with the Tibetans is that we wish California could leave the U.S.! We’d be the fifth largest economy in the world and could have all the gay marriage we want!

    On the other hand, if we must stay in the Union, we’d be more than happy to let Texas secede!

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