SixFour Thoughts

36 Comments

I’ve been debating with myself today about putting together a post on that topic which has the brass in Beijing with their gitch in a twitch. In truth, I’m a bit muddled on where I sit with the issue.

On one side we seem to have Western activists shaking their fists and demanding action, recognition, acknowledgement, better bumper stickers and other assorted things that activists define themselves with; and on the other we have a nation of people saying “Anniversary? What anniversary? Oh… so?”

Whether crying injustice, or feigning indifference — I feel neither properly defines my thoughts on the matter. Do I join with my largely Western brethren and fight the power or do I take the attitude of my complacent co-residents and leave the scab where it lays?

I truly believe that anything, whether a person or country, is made stronger by understanding its faults. But who of us ever looks at their faults when on the defensive? No, much better is the time spent defending and deflecting. Even the people, the poor whelps living beneath the alleged yoke of repression, will side with their overseers before allowing foreign commentary to tell them what is in their best interests.

And so I know this is a China problem, for China to look at and China to decide. I’m here, I’m watching, I’ll remember – but action, in my opinion, is not my duty nor my decision. I don’t even feel qualified to state whether action needs to be taken. Sure, freedom of speech and a free press would be an awesome step ahead for China, and I sure as hell would like unfettered access to the Internet, please and thank you.

But something about the rah-rah-rights! being shouted from abroad doesn’t feel appropriate to me. Maybe it’s my time here that’s tempering my views, or just that in my time here I’ve aged a bit, but the protester of my youth is starting to see things differently. Starting to see that to understand China and the actions of her government, you need to understand that its mechanisms don’t work in four-year terms. Everything moves at a lengthened pace.

Anniversaries are a good time to examine that. Twenty years is no small amount of time, but it’s also not a long time. It’s a good amount of time to reflect on the changes that have come since the student protests in Tiananmen.

Hell, I woke up this morning and China was different from yesterday, never mind two decades ago. The majority of its people enjoy a quality of life unseen in its multi-millennial history. Despite wide-spanning attempts at censorship, your average Chinese person has more access to information from around the globe than ever before. Never has matching, and possibly exceeding, their counterparts from “developed” nations been so within the grasp of your average Chinese.

It may not be conclusion reached, and there is yet much ground to be covered. However, I don’t think it can be argued that it’s not the right track. And while much of that course was set in ’78, I wonder if ’89 didn’t do more to create modern China than we give it credit for. Motives not withstanding, the spring protests of that year said in no uncertain terms that the people weren’t satisfied.

Often it is called a violent repression, a stifling of a peaceful movement. And it was these things, but from the government’s standpoint, it was an act of defence. Violent or not, the entire institution of power was being attacked and China’s history is nothing if not littered with similar examples — ending one power to allow another, virtually identical, power rise in its place. Do I agree with the action they took? No, of course not. Never. But understanding isn’t agreement, isn’t complaisance. It is merely understanding.

And whether I, we, or they deem it the “wrong” action, it did force Beijing to tighten its focus on wealth, prosperity and capitalism. Things desperately needed in a country with an imaginable level of poverty.

And from that wealth is a slow growing justice for all, which in turn is paving the way to a level of liberty and personal freedom that is, if not the same, comparable to the West.

So when I think of the events that happened on this day 20 years ago, I’ll not forget the tragedy, the unneccessary violence and the terrible loss of life. But I’ll also not shame their memory by thinking they died pointlessly and that nothing has changed.

Talk on SixFour Thoughts


36 Comments
  1. Well said my friend. I too feel very conflicted about this one. On one hand I am all for rights and freedoms, but on the other hand I don’t feel as if it is my place at all here.

    While you are right in saying that sixfour did a great deal to generate the economic and social changes of the past two decades, I still feel that they did this in the wrong order. People’s minds need to be opened before their wallets are.

    With all of the foreign investment pouring in, with all of the English being taught, and with the increased contact with foreigners, then surely there is going to be more exposure to the outside world and more and more people are going to know about events like this. Eventually the Powers That Be are going to have to admit to what happened, and after that happens I imagine that there are going to be a whole generation of people who are angry and disillusioned with the government that sought to withhold the truth from them for so long. Who knows what kind of mood people will be in then?

    The only lasting changes come from the grassroots, which is the one part of Chinese society that none of us will ever be able to permeate. In many Western countries immigrants are considered part of the country and culture almost immediately, but here you have to be Chinese to be anything more than a visitor. Even someone such as yourself who has been here for half a decade and has Chinese family is not really a part of the country. As such, our actions can never really generate any sort of long term change here.

    As much of a cop-out as it feels like, I think that my only place in all of this is right here by a computer informing my friends and family back home about what is happening here and not in the street. It doesn’t fully sit right with me, but I think that it is all that we have.

  2. The issues raised by the protesters in 1989 are as important and relevant today as they were then. China is a growing power in the world. They make extremely expansive territorial claims, they have already are establishing military bases abroad (and there will be more) and they will likely attempt to use their economic and military power to push their interests, which is to say they will roll-back freedoms elsewhere, through collusion and coercion. It is therefore imperative that the world continue to pressure the thugs in Beijing on these issues, and be aware that human rights in China is not an academic or political matter. It is something that matters to everyone.

    Never forget their butchery and the way they continue to defend it today.

  3. Great post, I have very similar feelings about this issue. However, ultimately I have to agree with maxwell, though with less vehemence. If China is going to continue increasing its influence upon the world, then Beijing’s belligerence must continue to be incrementally reigned in.

  4. Great post Ryan, I was about to comment that you appear to be “harmonized” , but that would be a bit hypocritical, because as a long term resident in China I often think along the same lines.

    I am a bit saddened by the collective amnesia- closing the eyes, plug the ears, “screaming la la la la – I cant hear you , I cant hear you” – that mention of 6/4 brings out of my adopted home’s citizens. Maybe its a Chinese face thing that I will never understand, coming to grips with the past “admitting” a wrong, and moving on seems like something that is a long time coming.

    Yes: you can have great progress, pride in your country, admit things went badly 20 years ago, be critical of your government – and still keep them around.

    No: the west(ern Media) is not bent on subverting your country or government to keep it down and you in servitude.

    If you can forget 6/4 how about losing some of the victim complex. You’ll be much more stronger, adn dare I say respected throughout the world

  5. Glen said, “With all of the foreign investment pouring in, with all of the English being taught, and with the increased contact with foreigners, then surely there is going to be more exposure to the outside world and more and more people are going to know about events like this. Eventually the Powers That Be are going to have to admit to what happened”.

    That comment very neatly sums up one of major myths that foreigners have about China… That it’s about to change with contact from foreigners and learning English.

    Jeez – nothing has changed, ask a Chinese person about the “three years of natural disasters.”
    The still believe it was a natural disaster when records show no storms or earthquakes during that time.

    Think about this…China, 1958 to 1962, for more than 20 years no one was sure whether it had taken place. Whatever the communists in China did at least it was assumed they had fed their vast population.

    Then, four years before the sixfour incident American demographers where able to examine the population statistics which had been released when China launched her open door policy in 79.
    The conclusion – at bare minumum 30 million people had starved to death.

    So what does that tell you?

    It tells us – State sponsored terror, cannibalism, torture and murder during Mao’s “Great leap Forward” and 30 million dead can so easily be hidden. That attempt at utopian engineering gone so, so wrong continues today (in other ways). That’s nearly 50 years ago.
    Therefore “Sixfour”… I’m not holding my breath.
    I’m still waiting for closure on the “3 years of natural disasters”.

  6. “Eventually the Powers That Be are going to have to admit to what happened”. Too simple, and naive.

    What make you think they have to admit anything ? What if they don’t ? Nothing will happen, except a lot of trade and export, and a stronger PLA ?

  7. “Three years of natural disasters” is more or less just a name now. Both the party and the people have learned from it, and China had already moved in another direction. The case was close a long time ago. But the name is misleading for people who doesn’t really care, which happen to be most of the Chinese.

    The party definitely learned something from 64, and the numerous changes from then on has made most Chinese believe China is moving in the right direction.

    Unfortunately, the way that the party runs makes it bad at admitting the mistakes done by the past leaders. It is not like that you have two parties to blame each other. However, I believe the mistakes will be officially admitted someday.

    Nothing has changed? Yeah, it is a communist country, what can you expect? It is a communist country, you know this kind of bad things are going to happen. It is a communist country, they are going to try taking away our freedom. Yeah, nothing has changed.

  8. After being here awhile and always reading the criticism of the government I am always amazed at the finger pointing that goes on.
    all these people declaring the big red machine is so awful and that they treat the truth so harshly fail to look at the rest of the countries around the world. America the biggest the largest proponent of democracy has been in a major battle for the past 80 years and yet no one really belabours their horrible track record. Sure the freedom riders faced trouble in the 60’s but racism iscompletely over now. The longer I live here the more I realize that expats need to look at their own past, mistakes and secrets before we can start harping on others. Its cool to yell for a free Tibet but why arent those people yelling for the native americans to get there own land back. Questioning why it is that countries are being invaded and civilians slaughtered and no one is doing anything to prevent it?
    I like this site and I will be back.

  9. @Kevin,

    I have looked at my own past. I’ve never taken land from any native American. I’ve never said a racist remark, nor have I ever enslaved someone not of my race. I’ve never assaulted unarmed students. I, Ryan, and probably the vast majority of complainers about sixfour have every right to point fingers. Your arguement is pathetic.

    @Ryan,

    It’s not your age. It’s perhaps the time spent in China, but then again I’ve been in China nearly as long as you and yet my opinion on this isn’t remotely close to yours. The slow absortion of the “ends justify the means” or atleast the “the means sucked, but hey, check out the ends!” mentality can be hard to avoid, unless you consciously remind yourself to maintain original standards. Look at it this way: if in twenty years time, Iraq is a thriving democracy, will you feel the about Guantanamo Bay and other Bush legacies the same way you feel about sixfour? In sum, you’re harmonized and need to get back home for a few weeks for R & R.

  10. @Chip

    The fact that you have personalized this and claim to not have done any of these things is pathetic. In a discussion like this it is not to point fingers at one individual and ask did you do any of these things but the group as a whole. Its similar to someone saying that I was just doing my job. Its easy to say the Chinese government did this and they are bad but I as an individau l have done nothing so I have the right to point my fingers at others. what have you done in your home country to fight the suffering and oppression? Its always easier to look at some other country and claim how bad they are and just look at all the damage they have done. Admitting your own countries faults however seems to be so difficult. there is a saying clean up your side of the street and others will follow.
    I dont believe the ends justify the means, what I do believer in is the autonomy of a nation to make their own choices wether good or bad and let them live with their outcome. I am not so arrogant as to believe that my standards are the only correct ways to live by and anyone not doing so is bad. I do not believe that by shaming people or insulting them and their ideas that I am going to help in any way. As for the suggestion that I go back home for R and R, its amazing how some would not be able to conceive that there are people who are intelligent enough to look at the problems and make a concious choice to stay here.

  11. @Nedzer You really don’t think that anything has changed here in the past 20 years? This country is changing all the time, and like it or not, the PRC has a lot to do with it. They define the actions, and have gone a long way to opening things up. Granted it is not taking place at the rate that many people want them to, but it is happening.

    A big part of that has to be the influence of the rest of the world. One must remember that it is only in recent years that foreigners really started to arrive to China, and Chinese really started to interact with them. A huge part of this is the spread of the English language, which like it or not, is the language that most people of different cultures communicate with one another. The spread of ideas is a very powerful force and it comes from the interaction of people from different cultures. A clear example of this from history is that the Napoleonic wars in the early 1800s helped spread the ideals of the French Revolution across Europe, and eventually much of Europe was set on Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. Someway or another the spread of ideals and cultural values is happening both here and all over the world.

    This is of course a two sided exchange, as there are definitely people in the West who are learning and taking home some of the great aspects of Chinese culture and civilization. Cultural interactions have some effect, and here we are having some effect on the people around us. If the ideals of democracy and human rights are spread into here then the pressure on the government to at least admit that a mistake was made will grow, and eventually things will change. I am not saying it will be over night, it may take generations, but the increase contact between China and the West will leave both societies changed, hopefully for the better.

    @Kevin Your critique doesn’t really make sense to me. Sure people here on websites such as this criticize the Chinese government, but this is very clearly marked as a website for expats in China. This is not the appropriate forum to talk about the US-Invasion of Iraq or the treatment of Native Americans in Canada and the US. This is a site about China. I will gladly talk about the feelings I have about the horrible things that my government does or is doing, as I am sure that any of the other writers would do, but this is not the place to do so.

    As a teacher I often deal with kids saying “I’m not the only one being bad, Johnny is too” and while that may be accurate, people are still responsible for their own actions and need to make sure that they do the right thing. Whatever anyone else is doing is irrelevant.

  12. @Glen
    Saying that this is not a forum for discussing what is happening around the world does not make sense to me. Sure we are expats living in China but world events have an impact upon us as well. My stance is such that if as expats we are going to criticize the government we should admit, be aware and take responsibility of our own countries actions. If online and around our communities expats constantly talk about how poorly China is run then we are denying alot of our own reality.
    I am a teacher as well and when my students ask me about policy or history I remind them that I as well as all the other expats are guests of this country. I have heard many cinese say to people if you do not like it here leave. Its a sentiment that most nations round the world share. All I can do is suggest there are better ways to deal with problems and hope that through constructive dialogue my opinions will have an impact.
    If this attitude that I have is unwelcome people are more than welcome to let me know and I will move on. I have no desire to upset people but I think its important to temper any discussions with some balance.

  13. @Glen – Yawn. You’re so naive that it’s actually quite cute.

    @Kevin – it’s nice to have one of the fenqing join the discussion. Kudos to you for you attempt to derail the topic. You have a high level of English – Did you study overseas?

  14. @Nedzer
    I don’t know if I am trying to derail the conversation so much as highlighting other aspects of it. All too often I listen to expats and those at home talk about how horrible the big red machine is but seldom hear people admit that all the others are just as bad. I studied Social work at university in Canada.

  15. Nope. You know exactly what you are doing and you doing a great job of it. I lke your style.
    Can you explain the concept of “face” to me. I’m not clear on the workings and understanding of this.
    Thank you so much for your time.

  16. @Nedzer, naivety to one is idealism to another. So thank you for calling me an idealist, which I consider myself strongly (and naively) to be.

    You calling Kevin out on his attempt to derail the conversation is a bit of a pot kettle black statement. How many times on here have we seen you change the topic to what you want to talk about?

    @Kevin, your views are most welcome (to me at least) around here. I do see your point and fully understand it. There is no nation that can wash its hands with its history. I think that every ethnicity has a concept of “us” and “them” where the “us” always seems better than the “them”, and Westerners are certainly guilty of that.

    While I am very proud to be a Canadian I have a hard time reconciling this with some of the crimes of my government, most notably the treatment of the natives, especially with regards to residential schools. I am sure that there are several American, Brits, Australians, and yes, even Chinese who could say the same thing. Blind nationalism and mindless flag waving is a huge problem that people of every nationality face.

    However as outsiders we are able to take a bit more of a step back and comment with perhaps more objectivity than we can for our own country when we are so caught up in personal bias. I would welcome any criticisms of the West that any Chinese have, as I am sure that there are countless accurate ones.

    My point is that this website if a “China Blog” and so the focus of the discussion needs to be on China, or else it would be just a blog like any other. If this were an America blog there would (hopefully) be some thoughts about May 4th and the Kent State shootings, but I feel that any blogs on that topic would be out of place on a China blog.

    And I fully agree, constructive dialogue is the way to go. I hope that posts here are constructive enough to start a dialogue among expats (like this one which you are a part of) because our dialogues with one another help us to be more informed for our next step of dialogues.

  17. @Glen
    I believe that this is not a blog site for anything besides for expats living here. We have a special insight that few from the west actually have. That being the case anything we talk about will be influenced by our experiences here. Some will have been here a long time who have chosen to make this their home, while others come for a year or so then go back to their respective countries. That as well will shade the different opinions available on sites like these.
    As for the chinese criticizing the west i have heard them do it often but not in the style we as expats are accustomed to. Where we will give our blunt opinions they will do so in degress. As the language issue can be a barrier that affects many people here.
    It is our responsibility as world citizens to incorporate all the events occuring and give our outlook regardless where we are and temper them with our life experience. I really dont know about others but for me China has had a major impact on my thinking and communication. Being an expat means i am generally lumped in with all the others living here and if I do not ever say anything then I will regarded as just another expat looking to imprint my societal values on a culture that is vastly different than what I was born into. I for one do not want that and i am merely suggesting that we as a group take everything into consideration as opposed to following the party line of “chinese gov bad, we good.”

  18. Ryan- Good post. The more I ask questions the more I agree with you. Unless you ask someone who works in the govt. you really don’t know how much truly has changed since then. Oh, the government and those individuals or groups who want to change things quietly and peacefully. Both know how to work within the system.

    Kevin- I really do enjoy your comments, but this particular one bugged me.
    “Sure the freedom riders faced trouble in the 60’s but racism iscompletely over now.”
    I hope you were joking. I lived in SC for three years before finally getting to come back out here, and saw quite a bit. I know you are living in Canada, probably in a larger city. America still has lots of problems, and I am the first one to admit that to my students. Our problems are simply frequently different from China’s. Trying to explain to my students why America is violent is very difficult, because here violence is… well “history”, and there it can be a fact of life.

  19. @ Cupritte
    My apologies I was completely and totally being an ass by trying to interject some ill formed humour. Again I hope I have not offended anyone.

  20. @cupritte
    So you’re saying violence isn’t a fact of life in China. So then, what in fact is violence in China? I may have misread but it almost seemed as if you were implying that “violence” is something absent from present day life in China.

  21. I’m really very disappointed by your post, Ryan, and it’s more than a little bit depressing reading so many of your commenters echo “great post”.

    You wrote “Action, in my opinion, is not my duty nor my decision.” but this is completely wrong. You are already taking action, you have decided to take action, by writing this blog post. What other kinds of action are there, in this war of information and ideas? You have a lot of power, because you have a relatively large audience — like it or not, your ideas and your writings are influential. And that gives you a duty to use them responsibly. If you choose not to write about some topic, that’s also a decision.

    The second half of your post really seems to buy into the fallacy that the Chinese government had a black/white – either/or choice in 1989 — either stamp out the democracy movement and kill hundreds of innocent people, or to follow a program of economic development. That’s a completely false choice. There are many many examples of countries that chose not to stifle expression and yet still managed to develop economically.

    It’s the same argument I got so tired of hearing from Chinese people, that stability is all-important, and that the Chinese aren’t ready for democracy — it’s disappointing reading it from you.

    And I also have to disagree with you that it’s not appropriate for foreigners to make noise about human rights in China. It’s certainly true that most Chinese, and especially Chinese nationalists, will dismiss foreign criticism out-of-hand. But I don’t think that’s universally true — you (we) can have some influence over our more moderate Chinese friends, and that’s how grass-roots movements grow. Not all Chinese are so reactive — I met quite a few rational, moderate, reasonable, and of course intelligent people while I was there. If there are ways to communicate ideals, then those ways should be sought.

    You even linked to the Youtube video Chinese Students Unaware of the ‘Tank Man’, which I thought was a powerful and compelling illustration of what’s wrong with what is going on in modern China. The fact that most Chinese young people don’t even recognize that picture is a crime, which can be remedied, maybe one person at a time (grass-roots) by showing it to people.

    I am not happy with the short-shrift that the current U.S. administration has been giving to the issue, but I like the statement by Clinton. People should remember, should learn more about what happened, should study it, talk about it; and people should be free to do that, outside China and inside it.

  22. @Chris: In what has become a bit typical in your heated responses, you seem to have skipped every point in the post that doesn’t support your combative comment. The point is, as I led with, I am conflicted on the issue – not definitive. That you aren’t shows either ignorance or abject patronization of the Chinese you are championing. Everything about your comment screams, “I am Western – here me and know my truth is the truth! Follow me and I shall lead you to the light!”

    Frankly, for any foreigner who aspires for any change in a country not their own, there couldn’t be an attitude more misguided than that. You quoted my line “Action, in my opinion, is not my duty nor my decision,” but left the context out: “this is a China problem, for China to look at and China to decide.”

    I’m flattered that you feel this blog has influence. However, whatever influence it does have, it is purely directed towards laowai and not Chinese. Do not misunderstand my sentence you quoted as a blanket statement, it is specifically my opinion about a foreigner’s sense of action towards China.

    The second half of your post really seems to buy into the fallacy that the Chinese government had a black/white – either/or choice in 1989 — either stamp out the democracy movement and kill hundreds of innocent people, or to follow a program of economic development. That’s a completely false choice. There are many many examples of countries that chose not to stifle expression and yet still managed to develop economically.

    What you read and what I said, again, seem at odds. Of course there was a better choice in ’89. Absolutely, undeniably, completely, without a doubt. And there is entirely no question in my mind that the wrong choice was made. But it was made. Please read this line again, and better understand my point of view:

    Do I agree with the action they took? No, of course not. Never. But understanding isn’t agreement, isn’t complaisance. It is merely understanding.

    You seem to be stating in your comment that opening our minds to consider the “why” of those days is something to be avoided and that we should only consider our own culturally crafted biases in making decisions on what we think and feel about something.

    That may work for Greenpeace signups on college campuses, but I’m sorta over it.

    It’s the same argument I got so tired of hearing from Chinese people, that stability is all-important, and that the Chinese aren’t ready for democracy — it’s disappointing reading it from you.

    Like some fridge magnet poem, you are trying to rearrange my words into the regurgitated form arguments of “us” and “them” fenqing-like statements. Please stop putting words in my mouth to give yourself something to opine on. Your opinion is welcome, but not by muddling my words out of laziness for trying to understand them. I am not saying that Chinese (or any nation’s people) aren’t ready for democracy. I will, however, unoquivivally state that my feeling about it is of a micro-like fractional value compared to what the Chinese people feel. Waxing ideologies may make for good blog posts and comments — but it is entirely useless in practicality outside of your own culture.

    Do you honestly believe that even if the entire world, Western and non, were to deem that China should adopt American-bred democracy that Chinese people would show up at the gates of Zhongnanhai and shout “Yeah! What they said!”

    There may be changes one day in China that allow greater personal freedoms and political choice. The basis of those ideals may come from abroad, just as the current political structure was not a home-grown ideology. But political evangelism will not be the harbinger. The ideas must be pulled domestically, not pushed by outsiders.

    Amnesty does a lot of good work, and I like Frontline – but that video clip, which you view as “a powerful and compelling illustration”, in just under 3 minutes showed so much of what is wrong on both sides.

    It illustrated nicely how China’s “educated” middle-class is entirely ignorant of what has become the West’s symbol for TAMsq, and implies how they are unaware of their own history and how it’s been kept from them. But it also shows an old white guy displaying how blind to the truth the poor pathetic Chinese people are, how they need to be championed and how they need Western help to shrug off the shackles of this repression. What is educational and shockingly informative to a Western audience is condescending and counter-productive to a Chinese one.

    What defined it for me was the quickly whispered “1989” by one student, and the rather deliberately vague answers by the others. They may not have had all the facts, but they certainly weren’t playing into what could easily have looked like a idealogical trap by a Western organization. Why would any Chinese risk public and professional ridicule and scorn to prove some Western-baised point on the status of China?

    People should remember, should learn more about what happened, should study it, talk about it; and people should be free to do that, outside China and inside it.

    Absolutely, I couldn’t agree more. The reason I wrote this post, despite my conflicted views, was to encourage that — if only in this small and relatively inconsequential venue.

  23. @Klortho, don’t get disappointed.

    It is actually win-win situation. The party is making the country stronger steadily, and, you guys can make ordinary Chinese people realizing the problems they overlook. Eventually, at some point, the party will have deal with them. Combining the efforts from the party and your help, there will be a much better new communist country.

  24. Sorry these are both off topic, but I am responding to replies.

    @Kevin It’s okay, I wasn’t offended at all. I just didn’t know if it was a joke or not. A lot of people who live in big cities (in America) see racism differently than where I live. It’s different, they think that most people write “EOE” (Equal Opportunity Employer) at the bottom of all job postings, and often don’t know how backward some areas still are despite all the laws.

    @Steven I am saying that I think of violence differently here. I had a friend killed in LA for his wallet. A student at the school where I teach was charged with shooting and killing a friend of his, when in fact it was another student at our school. If someone asks for my bag/purse/wallet in America I give it to them, in fact you throw it at them, then run the other direction and find cover as fast as you can. I am constantly offered rides by people when I walk from my house to the bank in broad daylight, not because they are being nice, but because they know I don’t belong in that neighborhood, and maybe think I should be a little more concerned.

    Maybe I am naive, please let me know if I am, but I actually feel safer in China. I walk by myself at night without even thinking about holding my keys the correct way, or reminding myself to yell “Fire” constantly. I hold my bag tighter here than I would in America, because I know I don’t need to let it go, that here I can fight the thieves and not be killed over something stupid. I also don’t think as much about being shot by a student (not very possible in America either, but I still think about it). I am still cautions, but not as vigilant in China, because to me violence is completely different here. It is committed by different people for different reasons(other than domestic violence, and some things that get pretty “cleanly” swept under the rug of “guanxi”), and that make me personally feel a lot safer when it is not completely random.

  25. In what has become a bit typical in your heated responses, you seem to have skipped every point in the post that doesn’t support your combative comment. The point is, as I led with, I am conflicted on the issue – not definitive. That you aren’t shows either ignorance or abject patronization of the Chinese you are championing. Everything about your comment screams, “I am Western – here me and know my truth is the truth! Follow me and I shall lead you to the light!”

    That’s a bit unfair, I think. I agree that there’s a pattern here, but it seems to me that it’s more about your being unable to accept criticism. Everything you accuse me of doing in my comment, I could say, “right back at you” for this response.

    Frankly, for any foreigner who aspires for any change in a country not their own, there couldn’t be an attitude more misguided than that.

    I’m at a bit of a loss as to where I exhibit this “attitude”, that “screams ‘I am Western'”. I have a point of view, and I stated it. It doesn’t jibe with your point of view — is that the problem? Is it that I was critical of China and Chinese people (because you were, too, in your post.)? Maybe it’s because I didn’t sound conflicted — but I have to say, I don’t think that confidence in one’s opinions is a particularly western trait.

    You quoted my line “Action, in my opinion, is not my duty nor my decision,” but left the context out: “this is a China problem, for China to look at and China to decide.”

    Actually, I’ve looked it over again, and I can’t see where the context makes any difference. I think my points about action and duty are valid. If you’re saying that because it’s China’s problem, therefore action on your part is inappropriate, I disagree with you. Now, the question of what action is appropriate is another matter. But, again, this point is moot, because you already have taken action by writing this blog post.

    Anyway, if I can back away from mincing the words a bit — and try to paraphrase a theme from your post and your response (and forgive me, and please amend it, if I get it wrong) — I understand that you think that when westerners criticize China, they often do more harm than good, and that their attempts are often misguided, and perhaps made from self-serving motives. Here’s a quote from West miscasts Tiananmen protesters that I think you’d agree with:

    We in the west convince ourselves that by criticising China for its human rights abuses, we are aiding an oppressed populace in its struggle for liberty. In a few cases this may be true. But mostly our censure feeds the central thesis of the Communist party’s propaganda that the Chinese people are rising in spite of the west’s efforts to hold them down.

    I agree with this. But if you think about what it says, you’ll see that it’s not talking about whether or not the criticism and censure is right or wrong, but about whether or not it’s effective. Certainly I agree that often it’s not effective, and often has the opposite of the intended effect. I’d be the first to admit that, for example, the olympic torch relay protest in Paris last year was a PR disaster, even though, if a coherent message was to be found in those protests, I’d more likely than not agreed with it.

    But as I’ve said before here, I think sometimes you go too far. I notice that you often make fun of westerners who protest and advocate for human rights in China. For example, from this post:

    On one side we seem to have Western activists shaking their fists, and demanding … better bumper stickers …

    But something about the rah-rah-rights! being shouted from abroad …

    and in earlier posts. I think that mocking protesters is wrong-headed, because it implicitly supports the “central thesis of the Communist party’s propaganda” — that it gives ammunition to those who argue that the message is wrong. I mean, it’s one thing to point out that the style needs work, but it’s another thing to deride it and laugh at it.

    You seem to have the attitude that because you’re an expat in China, you have a unique perspective that allows you to see the situation more clearly than others. And because of your unique vantage, you’re conflicted. Anybody who’s not conflicted displays “either ignorance or abject patronization of the Chinese [he is] championing.” But other than the fact that being an expat in China is a unique vantage, I just don’t agree with any of it. Anybody can be conflicted, and anybody can have strong convictions. And having and stating strong convictions doesn’t necessarily make you patronizing, even if you are western and your audience is Chinese. It may be perceived that way, but I think that has more to do with the effectiveness of the Chinese propoganda machine than anything else.

    You said,

    You seem to be stating in your comment that opening our minds to consider the “why” of those days is something to be avoided and that we should only consider our own culturally crafted biases in making decisions on what we think and feel about something.

    I really have no idea what you’re talking about in this paragraph. I never said anything remotely similar. Of course I think understanding is essential. I think I understand why the government reacted the way it did in 1989, but I’m still open to learning more. The second half of this doesn’t even seem to make any sense. How does one consider one’s biases when making decisions on what to think and feel?

    Now, when I said

    It’s the same argument I got so tired of hearing from Chinese people, that stability is all-important, and that the Chinese aren’t ready for democracy — it’s disappointing reading it from you.

    I’ll admit that I was engaging in hyperbole, and I’m sorry. But I still think that by writing your post the way you did, you were implicitly excusing the massacre because of all the good things that have happened since then (I’ll explain that in a second.) I was trying to draw an analogy between that argument and those of the fenqing crowd — but you didn’t make those arguments directly, you are right.

    Here’s where you start to implicitly excuse the massacre:

    Anniversaries are a good time to examine that. Twenty years is … a good amount of time to reflect on the changes that have come since the student protests in Tiananmen.

    You then talk a bit about the changes in China — all the good changes, and then you end this train of thought with:

    And from that wealth is a slow growing justice for all, which in turn is paving the way to a level of liberty and personal freedom that is, if not the same, comparable to the West.

    But why use the twenty year anniversary of Tian’anmen to examine the good changes in China? Just by making this link, you are making a statement. Why not use the anniversary to reflect on what hasn’t changed? Why not reflect on all the political prisoners still being held, on the repression and lack of freedoms? Don’t you see that in your post you’re providing a little capsule narrative with a happy ending, and that even if it wasn’t your intention, it certainly sounds like you’re saying, “all’s well that ends well”?

    And the happy ending, by the way, is not at all clear — but I guess that’s the subject of a different rant.

    [What happened to the comment preview feature by the way? It was very helpful. Sonja told me to tell you that even though I don't agree with you, I still like you very much!]

  26. Profile photo of

    But why use the twenty year anniversary of Tian’anmen to examine the good changes in China? Just by making this link, you are making a statement. Why not use the anniversary to reflect on what hasn’t changed? Why not reflect on all the political prisoners still being held, on the repression and lack of freedoms? Don’t you see that in your post you’re providing a little capsule narrative with a happy ending, and that even if it wasn’t your intention, it certainly sounds like you’re saying, “all’s well that ends well”?

    I think this is what it all comes down to. I don’t think my post was strikingly unbalanced in reflecting on both. If it was slanted towards the positive, it’s because this is a blog post and not an essay or report. It was written stream of consciousness (I actually started the post as a preface to writing about an interesting tweet I saw about using Google Trends to compare TAMsq to Britney Spears, but then realized I had more to say about it).

    Knowing you, and your ethics, I don’t think we’re all that misaligned. But I do think I’m a bit more cynical of the (largely Western) Cause Machine. There are people fighting for causes that I think are fantastic. True heroes that inspire and move me. But I don’t think there is any doubt in anyone’s mind that these are not the foot soldiers, and often not even the commanders; these unique few aren’t the ones that make up the Cause Army. No, largely those positions are held by students so eager to believe in something they don’t stop to really understand the issue they are so galvanized about.

    But please don’t mistake my cynicism as patronizing ‘holier than thou’, “I’m an expat, I know China!” sentiment. I really don’t. In fact, though I’m certain I have a wider perspective on the world than I did when I was in my early 20s and an eager member of the Cause Army I’m now a bit critical of, I’m not much closer to knowing the answers.

    What has unequivocally changed is that I now know I’m unsure. Whereas when I was younger I knew I was right.

    You’re right that sometimes my shoulder’s chip towards the arrogance and ignorance of cause crusaders bubbles over here. But you’ll find I’m no opponent to doing the right thing and I’m sure if you dug here and at my personal blog you’d find a number of examples proving that. Nor am I an enemy to strong convictions, provided they make some amount of rational sense.

    And having and stating strong convictions doesn’t necessarily make you patronizing, even if you are western and your audience is Chinese. It may be perceived that way, but I think that has more to do with the effectiveness of the Chinese propoganda machine than anything else.

    You’re right. But it is also not fair to assume that if something is part of Chinese propaganda that it is automatically wrong. We both have the benefit of living inside and outside two very different propaganda machines. That is a gift of perspective that many don’t have, and one I’m grateful for.

    You seem to be stating that by acknowledging that good things came out of the tragedy of SixFour, is to accept that the government’s actions were ok and justifiable. I don’t know how many times I can state this — it isn’t, it really isn’t.

    But what’s the end game? To get those still jailed released? To get a monument on TAMsq commemorating those protesters (and soldiers?) who were needlessly killed? To get the gov’t of 2009 to admit that the gov’t of 1989 was wrong?

    Those are Chinese questions. However any of us foreigners feel about the injustices that took place in China twenty years ago, means dick in reaching that end game. We’re barely in the bleachers, and we’re most certainly wearing the wrong team’s jersey.

    You keep saying that by writing this post I’ve already taken “action”. Continuing with my metaphor, that’s about the same as us being in the parking lot and me telling my buddies who I want to win the game. Physically, it’s action. Practically, it’s nothing.

    So, in recognizing my station in all this, my feeling (and in turn my writing) shows that I would rather recognize that the people who gave their lives in Beijing two decades ago did so, unwittingly or not, to bring about much of the changes modern China enjoys.

    If TAMsq. gets its monument, that’d be great too.

    [Comment preview got disabled, as it was conflicting with the js library I'm using on the site. Will try to find a work around - agreed, it's cool. Tell Sonja I like you too ;)]

  27. Just a few more thoughts …

    True heroes that inspire and move me … are not the foot soldiers, and often not even the commanders; these unique few aren’t the ones that make up the Cause Army. No, largely those positions are held by students so eager to believe in something they don’t stop to really understand the issue they are so galvanized about.

    This relates to Sturgeon’s Law … 90% of everything is crap. People often use the worst examples of something to malign a whole group, or country — China is often the victim of this. It will always be true that in any movement or political party, no matter how just, the vast majority of followers will be bleeting moronic sheep.

    You seem to be stating that by acknowledging that good things came out of the tragedy of SixFour, …

    This gets down to the core of our disagreement too, I think. I believe nothing good came out of the tragedy of SixFour. But it’s impossible to prove either way … we’ll never know what things would have been like if it hadn’t happened. So that’s why I pointed towards examples of other countries that have been comparably prosperous, but don’t have the history of their authoritarian governments mowing down their own people by the hundreds or thousands.

    Finally, I don’t agree with you that your blog posts accomplish nothing, or that other types of actions by foreigners mean nothing. I think even foreigners can have an influence on more moderate, reasonable, and rational Chinese people, if the communication is done in a way that engenders mutual respect. I hope I don’t come across as screaming, “Hear me and know my truth is the truth!” when I talk to my Chinese friends — I’ve never gotten that feedback from them (only from you ;) ). Maybe I’m naive, but I think that swaying people’s opinions, one person at a time, is an achievable and worthwhile goal.

    As for the end game … who knows? But the way things are going, with the Chinese government’s stranglehold on information, their extremely efficient propaganda machine, their one-party system, etc., etc., scares the hell out of me.

  28. Just to qualify my statement that Klortho is nutz…actually a lot of the points he brings up annoy me too, but at some point you have to let go of your illusions of “responsibility”. In the end, the citizens of this country have the only true “right” of responsibility. That doesn’t mean you have to hold back on your observations, it just means that it is probably best not to fool yourself into believing that your “brilliant” observations are “saving” China from itself.

  29. Lot of quote marks there, AndyR! I wonder what they’re supposed to signify.

    you have to let go of your illusions of “responsibility”.

    Oh, by all means, let’s all let go of all of our illusions of responsibility … why not? No one person can ever really make a difference anyway, so I guess none of us is really responsible for anything. Too bad those sad, pathetic protesters of 1989 didn’t let go of their illusions of responsibility … it’s their own fault they got killed and thrown in prison, really.

    I just don’t understand what’s so stupid or naive about caring about your fellow man, even if he’s from China. And I never said anything to imply that I’m fooling myself into “believing that [my] “brilliant” observations are “saving” China from itself.” 怒!

  30. @Hlortho, it is brilliant to extend AndyR’s conclusion on you to the 1989 protesters. There is no chance that a Chinese that sympathizes the 1989 protesters will hate you.

  31. For the record, I know Klortho well enough and he’s definitely not nutz :-)

    @Chang: Who’s talking about hating anyone? This isn’t a hip hop rivalry – we can disagree and still all be friends. And also do not confuse the differences between Klortho’s opinion and my own as any lack of sympathy for the ’89 protesters. That’s simply not what is being discussed.

    @Klortho:

    I believe nothing good came out of the tragedy of SixFour. But it’s impossible to prove either way … we’ll never know what things would have been like if it hadn’t happened. So that’s why I pointed towards examples of other countries that have been comparably prosperous, but don’t have the history of their authoritarian governments mowing down their own people by the hundreds or thousands.

    So, it is your belief that had (a) the protests of 1989 never happened, and in turn the crackdown never happened, China would likely still be the economic miracle it has become over the last 20 years? Or (b) had the protests happened, and peacefully resolved (with no “real” change – ie. a revolution of sorts), China would likely still be the economic miracle it has become over the last 20 years? Or (c) are you saying that SixFour could have been a peaceful stepping stone a la The Velvet Revolution, the end of apartheid in South Africa, etc.?

    I’m not trying to pigeon hole you here, I’m just trying to understand what your meaning is. Not that it really matters, because none of those things did happen, what happened happened and that’s my point. I’m not trying to excuse it, I’m not trying to say “let bygones be bygones”, and I’m not saying that those responsible shouldn’t answer for their crimes.

    My belief is only that the rapid economic reforms of the early 90s were inspired by the events of SixFour. I believe they were a legitimization effort by a government shocked and reeling for having rolled out their army on their own people.

    You seem to be implying that to recognize this, or even imply that there could be a connection is to some how dishonour and disservice those who died. I simply disagree with that.

    Oh, by all means, let’s all let go of all of our illusions of responsibility … why not? No one person can ever really make a difference anyway, so I guess none of us is really responsible for anything. Too bad those sad, pathetic protesters of 1989 didn’t let go of their illusions of responsibility … it’s their own fault they got killed and thrown in prison, really.

    That’s not what he was saying, and you know it. Not once did AndyR say “all“. What he’s saying, in agreement with my central argument here, is that as foreigners our “responsibilities” are not equal to the responsibilities of nationals to decide the course of their own country.

    You may not have said you are trying to save China from itself, but your implication of it is a strong connector throughout all your comments here. And I think maybe that’s where we’re disagreeing – I think you read me saying “we have no responsibility” as “we all need to be indifferent to the plights of our fellow man.” But that’s not what I’m saying. Of course I think we all need to care – I don’t think that’s stupid or naive. I do think it’s naive to assume that caring equals action. And, similarly, that saying “action is not our place as foreigners” equals a lack of caring.

    I think even foreigners can have an influence on more moderate, reasonable, and rational Chinese people, if the communication is done in a way that engenders mutual respect.

    I agree. Just as Chinese can have influence over more moderate, reasonable and rational Americans. But that’s not the change that moves nations.

    I’ll end my thoughts on this with a repeat of what I said earlier in this thread — while history teaches me that foreign ideologies are often welcomed within borders, it also shows foreigners with ideologies are not. Despite their common horticultural metaphors, planting your opinion-swaying seeds in the Chinese population, doesn’t make a grassroots movement. That’s a Chinese “responsibility” should they choose it to be so.

  32. @Ryan, sorry about that. I was a little bit short of vocabulary.

    What I wanted to say is that many Chinese respect what the 1989 protesters have done, but the circumstances have change so much, and the typical Klortho’s point of view does annoy many people.

    Sometimes, people just embrace the opposite ideas when they were pissed off by someone. More than 80% of Chinese believe that China is changing in the right direction, so, It is very unlikely that Klortho would get the Chinese thinking his way, more likely the other way. If you wanna do something good, do it in a smart way.

    I definitely see guys like you as positive factors on China’s way of changing.

  33. The issues raised by the protesters in 1989 are as important and relevant today as they were then. China is a growing power in the world. They make extremely expansive territorial claims, they have already are establishing military bases abroad (and there will be “more) and they will likely attempt to use their economic and military power to push their interests, which is to say they will roll-back freedoms elsewhere, through collusion and coercion. It is therefore imperative that the world continue to pressure the thugs in Beijing on these issues, and be aware that human rights in China is not an academic or political matter. It is something that matters to everyone.

    Never forget their butchery and the way they continue to defend it today.”

    Ahhh STFU maxypad.

    Go Look in the mirror and your own fucking backyard.

    need I remind you…

    Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo, Thats right Kosovo, NOT Kosova.
    NATO and its ring of missiles around Russia

    Screw your “Freedom” and “Democracy”.

    Go and tell that to your Handlers in Tel Aviv and D.C.
    Neocon Asshole.

Leave a Reply

Connect with:

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Return to Top ▲Return to Top ▲