There’s a big anniversary coming up in a few day’s time. This year is quite a big year for anniversaries in general: 70 years since the foundation of the People’s Republic of China (this will be celebrated with lots and lots of nationalism), 100 year anniversary of the May Fourth movement (the Labor Day public holiday got rearranged to ensure people were busy spending money instead of thinking too much about this one) and 30 years since the 1989 Tiananmen Square incident (this is strictly taboo and will be censored in Mainland China, as ever).
Should future generations endlessly muse over the actions of the previous generation? No, but I believe we should acknowledge and learn from the past. We are in a fortunate position in that we can learn from history – other people have done things before so we don’t have to! Many Chinese people do not feel shy about reminding me of the atrocities that my ancestors (ie. the British, never mind that I only just got a British passport) committed but their own country/Party (because great efforts have been made to conflate the two) is always painted as a victim or simply the sole peaceful actor facing aggression from all sides.
Should a mature, confident state accept the entirety of their history, warts and all – or should a country posturing as a world leader teach a bogus mix of fantasy, mythology and history to validate its fantasy of being a benevolent country with “5000 years of history”? The CCP heavily pushes the (false) notion that China has uniquely long history. With the rise of Han supremacism (Han being the majority ethnic group in China), I’ve been told by many people of the eternally peaceful nature of the Han people and the appalling treatment meted out to them by any and all other ethnic groups and nationalities. It’s simply not true, but it’s what is taught as such.
Should the leaders of a country let people make up their own minds about the successes of the regime based on facts – or should a one-sided argument grounded in exceptionalism, deliberate narrow mindedness and fragile egos be the guiding principles in how people think or are told how to think? If a country is really doing so well thanks solely to one single political party, why is domestic bad news suppressed and international bad news broadcast so widely? For example, we hear a lot about American school shootings, so a lot of Chinese people will say “America, so dangerous!”, but when there was a train crash in China a few years ago the cover up was so thorough that they literally buried the train carriages in the ground rather than get the bodies out.
In Hong Kong and Taiwan, 4th June will be marked and remembered. I read a Hong Kong based newspaper pretty regularly and I’m always shocked at the number of comments on articles about Tiananmen (and naturally there are quite a few at the moment) from Mainland or pro-Mainland voices saying it’s boring to go on about this, that the democracy movement was an American plant and that we should talk more about Western war crimes. I mean, sure, we should absolutely talk about war crimes, because they’re appalling – but the fact is that we can, and we do, whereas in Mainland China there can be no discussion of the events of 1989.
Is it sustainable or ethical to refuse to allow critical thinking? Can rampant nationalism end up in anything other than conflict? I wish I felt more confident about the state of the nation, but in the light of the trade war, the ongoing ethnic cleansing in Xinjiang, the increasing online censorship and the overwhelming ignorance/apathy towards politics by the general populace, I find it very hard to be anything other than overwhelmingly pessimistic.
As we go into next week, I expect my VPN not to work. If I post anything on WeChat, I expect it to be censored. In Beijing, some metro stations will be closed “for maintenance”. Dissidents will be temporarily relocated out of the cities. 99% of the population will consider it a normal day: online shopping, watching videos on their mobiles, taking and posting selfies. Another day in consumerist China, where freedom was exchanged for online shopping festivals.