My Fraught Celebration–China-at-Seventy

This week, on 1 October, we mark seventy years from the moment Mao Zedong declared, at Peking, the founding of the People’s Republic of China. 

As one who lived there for eighteen months in the mid-’80s, a decade after the Red Guard’s rule and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution ended, and as one who was expelled from China for protecting African foreign grad students from wrongful imprisonment there, and yet still recognising the importance to China and the world of what culminated on that day, the forcible and necessary dragging into the 20th Century of then 600,000,000 people from an impossibly corrupt Western-encouraged feudalism, I yearly approach this day  with focused thoughts and mixed sensibilities. 

Particularly I think of two of my students there, Ms Liu Xiao-yi and Ms Zhang Ting, whom we helped get out after the Tian-An-Men Square People’s Liberation Army massacre of 3,000+ young people, democracy demonstrators,on 4 May 1989. I think, too, of the New York-based Chinese pro-Democracy monthly I helped edit in the early  ’90s and the brave souls who guided it. 

I think, too, about how courageous are Hong Kong’s democracy activists, now, today, as I write.

As much as I want Peking, whose imperatives are not wholly pernicious, as much as I want Peking to settle with the democracy movement, recent increased violence and the Party’s longstanding sense that compromise is weakness lead me to be as hopeful as I was when I followed the nascent open-politics movement on the eve of the PLA’s slaughter. I was not hopeful, then nor am I now. 

My Mao-pin, like the one you see here, bought in 1986 from a student desperate to be rid it in the changing tides of Chinese politics, sits, as it has for many years now, at my desk.

As much as I do and fully understand why Mao Zedong and Zhou En-lai believed so ardently in their mission, I’d like to be in a position again to help some escape to new lives in Germany and in England and again to help edit a States-based overseas-Chinese Democracy movement journal. 


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