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.