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.