With the fateful anniversary just less than two weeks away, it’s not surprising that the sino-blogsphere is filling up with posts about [*TAM*]. It’s difficult not to comment on it. It’s hard to not feel a bit like there is a necessity to address what has now lain silent for two decades.

The tragedy of the silence isn’t that there are truthful whispers in the corners with shifty eyes looking over shoulders. The tragedy is that, as with most history, this moment of history has been rewritten so completely in the coinciousness of those who are owed its truth the most that the silence comes out of a lack of anything to say about it.

The Peking Duck has an insightful post entitled “Memories (or lack of memories?) of [*j4*]“, in which Richard was asked how his Chinese friends were responding to the approaching anniversary:

I spent the next hour or so buttonholing people and calling friends and asking them all the same questions: were they hearing any “buzz” about the impending anniversary? Are their friends talking about it? Have they heard of any plans to commemorate the dead?

The answers were unsurprising. [*j4*] will be a day like any other that will come and go without any particular fanfare. The day is mainly meaningless for them and the event has “been faded from people’s memories,” as one said to me. (I like that used of words, that it’s “been faded,” as though someone had done the fading, not just the passage of time.)

Finally I asked how many of them knew who “Tank Man” was. Out of the 12 or so people I asked, only one – someone who studied in the US – had heard of him. When I asked what images of June 4 they remembered, they said without question it was the photos of burned and/or disemboweled PLA soldiers left hanging by militant protesting workmen.

That’s what the [*TAM*] anniversary is to many, if not most, Chinese. The day when the gov’t was forced to quell a violent domestic rebellion. Not the powerful and peaceful student-led march to political reform that we view it as in the West. That there is such a striking contrast says so much.

The question I’m left with is why? Is it simply that the Party is so heavily weighed down in its own dogma that it is not able to admit fault unless it has been dead more than 30 years, and then only conceding 30%?

Eddie Izzard has a great bit about how we handle blame differently when we are children and when we are adults. As a child we’ll come up with the most impossible lies to deflect blame, including shifting the blame on otherwise innocent bystandards (friends, etc.). However, as we age we understand that accepting responsibility of our faults is not a weakness, but a showing of maturity. A display of strength that illustrates we are not so insecure as to assume our entire identity is tied to a single offence.

Like the litany of shoulder-shrugging questions that fill my head about this country, I may never know why. But if this country has shown the world one thing these past two decades it’s that change can come, and can come quick.

An amusing post at ESWN shows the paranoia still felt in the upper-echelons — an odd thing to feel if it was just a bunch of violent workers they were quelling (h/t HHR via FarWestChina):

Why 300,000 Printed Newspapers Had To Be Destroyed (05/19/2009) (Gonewater) On May 12, a certain newspaper printed an advertisement with this accompanying photo (which is about representatives from a foundation and a newspaper visiting a school). After almost 300,000 copies were printed, an eagle-eyed person at the printing plant found something. As a result the printed copies were destroyed.

Can you identify what is the problem in the photo [click to enlarge]?

Here’s the answer, for anyone that couldn’t be arsed to squint, crook their head, furrow their brow and figure it out.


  1. regarding the photo, i wonder if anyone not connected to the anglophonisinophilibloggosphere™ is aware of the destruction of newspapers. it seems that if people were aware of such a paranoia there would be more than a couple conspiracy theorists to bring attention to the act as something pointing to a sense of guilt.

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  3. Ummm…wow…I guess I need to brush up on my MENSA puzzles so I can notice weird stuff like that.

    This country’s “IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH” mentality surprises me more than it probably should. Just when you think that the nation is taking some steps in opening up it’s economy and lessening restrictions on visitors, it goes and does strange stuff like this.

    I think that in many ways the increase in modern comforts may have done more to distract people from the real issues (much like it has done in the West), and instead focus on their cell phoens and which cars they drive. In many ways I think that this distracts people from thinking about what they should (i.e. the date and event in question) which I think partially expalins why nothing like this has happened since. Of course the tanks are probably a big factor as well…

  4. @Glen I personally don’t know anyone, in China or anywhere else, who seriously believes “ignorance is strength”. I can guess at what you mean, but I think if you tried to explain your rationale you would realize that saying on this public forum that everyone in China has embraced ignorance isn’t just lazy and inaccurate, but downright offensive. (Especially saying that you probably shouldn’t be surprised at this nationwide ignorance.) I take personal offense to this statement because my family is Chinese. My wife and her parents make up part of this country you describe as mentally ignorant, and yet she is smarter than myself and, I would wager, smarter than you.
    Ignorant critics of the CCP often just lump the country’s people together with the dogma that the government spews, and as an American I have first hand experience of this kind of persecution. I hate to flame you for a simple knee-jerk response and this isn’t solely directed at you; I’m just tired of foreigners who constantly talk shit about about Chinese people for not being perfect all at once. How much faster would you like things to move? If you truly are interested in the progression of this country then get off your ass and into the street. I mean you live here too, no? You fix the fucking problem if you have the answer. Otherwise, you’re the pot calling the kettle black; you are just as guilty of your own accusations (or worse since you have the advantage of an outside perspective) as your Chinese neighbor and also foster your own strength in ignorance.
    Certainly the country has terrible problems but to basically call them idiots because they happen to focus on the comforts of material gain while facing so many difficult social-political issues… What impudence!
    You especially should watch your language because lately you have been making interesting and respectable blog entries and because of that people will take what you say more seriously. People who don’t know any better might use such a statement to reinforce and perpetuate their own culture-shock driven theories that local people here are some how inferior.

  5. @Stephen “IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH” is a reference to 1984, it was one of the three slogans of The Party (along with “War is Peace” and “Freedom is Slavery”). In the book, the party continually tries to erase history and “fade memories” of the populace, much like the CCP is doing right now (and has done for the past 60 years).

    When I said “The country’s mentality” I fully meant the CCP and not the people. In Orwell’s novel it is the party that perpetuates lies, primarily for its own members, and the regular population continues to live its own life. I apologize if you thought that I meant the general population, because that is not what I meant at all. The locals I have met have been nothing short of great and they would never consider strength to come from ignorance.

    I understand that most of your rant was not directed at me, as the lumping of people and government is a very frequent thing. I know several Americans who were constantly attacked during the Bush years for their government’s decision to invade Iraq. Yet now, that they have a President who is popular with the rest of the world it is somehow ok. I don’t really see how individual people changed because their government did. I personally have little to no support for the Canadian government, and I would be horribly offended if anyone tried to lump me in with their actions.

    The point of my comment was that I think that the increase in modern comforts has done a great deal to distract people from the real issues at hand, much like it has in the West. The CCP continues to crack down on dissidents, yet where is the outrage? The Bush Administration was guilty of several war crimes and violated the Constitution on numerous occasions, yet where is the real outrage? In both the East and West there is a continuing apathy growing towards big issues, thus this not being such a big deal.

    Lastly, thank you for the comment on my blog posts 🙂 I do forget that I need to word things more carefully as a minor-internet-community-celebrity, and I suppose Ryan can’t edit my comments like he can all of my blog posts 🙂

  6. @Glen: One more superfluous comma and I’m putting you in Rm 101 myself.

    @Stephen: I think maybe the hangup here is on the term “ignorance”, as it sounds like you’re mis-defining it. Ignorance isn’t stupidity or a lack of intelligence, it’s a lack of knowledge. One being a capability and the other being an acquisition.

    Like yourself, my wife and extended family are Chinese. She and they are most definitely not stupid or lacking in intelligence, but they are most definitely ignorant to many things that those outside of China know simply because it has not been denied them.

    As for getting out in the streets and effecting change simply because of residence – that’s just silly. Commenting and chronicalling a country doesn’t imply right to change it. I can look at, say, North Korea, and understand and discuss the benefits of a different political system there, but I have no moral right to attempt change. That’d be an invasion and an act of war (obviously a very small and short one). It is up to citizens in a country to decide their course, we are just observers.

  7. “It is up to citizens in a country to decide their course, we are just observers.”

    Exactly, Citizens decided how to deal with “6.4”.

    “Matial Law” was decleared on May 21 (?), 1989 , MARTIAL LAW.

  8. the reason why no Chinese want to remember or think about 6/4 is that they are too busy making money…..not really my sentiments, but this is the exact words of my better half – a daughter of China.

    sad eh..

  9. @From Toronto: Not entirely sure what your meaning is.

    @John: The economic miracle of the last 20 years (largely to quell the civil strife that led to 6.4) is certainly a HUGE check in the wins column for the gov’t. If anything good came out of that black mark on China’s history, it’s that – that it forced the gov’t to strongly legitimize itself.

    And I think what many people fail to see is that the gov’t of 20 years ago is not the gov’t of today any more than it wasn’t the gov’t of 20 years before that. Same name, but hugely different problems, challenges and criticisms.

    Remembering what happened on 6.4 does not have to run contrary to making money or respecting the good that has come to the country since.

  10. for all of you,as a chinese ,i’d rather to be a observer than a speaker.

    PS:you’ll never undersantd chinese except you are be able to undersand chinese history very well.

  11. 1. It’s not even in their history books. How do you expect the younger generation to know.
    2. Even youtube is banned.
    3. There is no ceremony on that particular date.
    Anyway, I will be there on this 4th June.

  12. @Glen No worries. Keep up the writing. Just try not to call my wife ignorant in your next post asshole. 😉

    @Ryan Its not so much the word “ignorant” that bothers me (though I do find it condescending, and derogatory), but that he wrote the country of China believes that “ignorance is strength”. To me, anyone who believes that ignorance is strength is an idiot.
    As for getting out in the streets and effecting change; I was thinking more along the lines of teaching proper hygiene and certain social niceties rather than actually uprooting the government (though getting out there and teaching people about the laws and freedoms we enjoy in the west hardly seems unfeasible).
    Also, I don’t believe we are just observers. We participate in society, pay taxes, and simply through our presence influence the world around us. We are certainly not Chinese, but I think saying that “we are just observers” sounds like a cop out, and is even comparable to the CPC stating that they do not interfere with other countries internal affairs (which is ludicrous). Simply by their existing in the world do they affect those around them.

  13. @Stephen Again, I did not mean that the whole country believes that, but the powers that be very clearly do. Their mission is to strengthen the country is it not? And one of the ways that they do this is by restricting the flow of information (i.e. “purging society of it’s liberal elements”). How is that not trying to use ignorance (of the population) to increase the strength of the nation?

    Also, I do agree with what you said that we do have a responsibility to be more than just observes. Saying that we do not have the power to bring change anywhere is far too relativistic for my liking. As for what change, and how I can do that, I am not entirely certain. Any suggestions?

  14. Just to clarify, my objection to bringing about change is simply directed at the “getting out in the streets” bit. I think maybe we’re blurring the different ideas of what “change” is. I believe we all have an obligation to assist in positive global change, regardless of borders. Largely I feel this comes from keeping our own houses and backyards in order and as it relates to nations – showing how a peaceful, diverse and open country can prosper.

    I also feel there is a certain, but restrained, moral obligation for humanity, despite borders, to act in discontinuation and prevention of human right violations.

    However, where I don’t think we, as foreigners, should involve ourselves in change is in wars of propaganda or ideals. If the majority of Chinese want a shift of this nature, I believe they’ll make that decision and do what is needed themselves. I don’t believe as foreigners we have the right to push what we feel is “right” on people.

    If you truly are interested in the progression of this country then get off your ass and into the street. I mean you live here too, no? You fix the fucking problem if you have the answer. Otherwise, you’re the pot calling the kettle black; you are just as guilty of your own accusations (or worse since you have the advantage of an outside perspective) as your Chinese neighbor and also foster your own strength in ignorance.

    The above is what I was taking exception to. It implies that by living here we have the same rights and responsibilities to this nation as would we if we were Chinese. I just simply don’t feel that way. I don’t feel paying taxes entitles me in that way. I suppose it’s just a personal thing.

    Where I do see the parallel in what you’re saying is if Glen’s own country (which is also mine) had the same problems that Glen is complaining about, and he wasn’t doing anything to fix it there.

    But the problems that China faces, or at least what I view as problems, are not experienced by my country and so I think as an observer or critic I can look at a system and exclaim why I feel it is broken, but cannot actually do anything to fix it.

    Even saying that I feel it’s a cop-out, a “sorry, complaints are my department, you need the action department.” And I don’t like it. But I also don’t see a way around it.

    As sort of an analogy (and please use it loosely, it’s not meant as an exact fit), I look at this similar to the way I look at a friend with an addiction. I can look at them and see their problem. They can look at me and see my lack of the same problem and the benefits of not having that problem. But no matter how much I try to brow beat them about their addiction, they’ll remain an addict until they make their own personal conviction to change.

    As a friend it is my job to hold to my ideals, try my best not to patronize them and support them in the ways they need, not just the ways I want.

  15. “If the majority of Chinese want a shift of this nature, I believe they’ll make that decision and do what is needed themselves. I don’t believe as foreigners we have the right to push what we feel is “right” on people.”

    There it is, in a nutshell. I don’t want to be accused of trying to over-simplify anything but I mean it really is so simple. China and her people will only make changes if and when they embrace change. I personally believe they are embracing about as much as they can be expected to.

    Like Richard, I do my share of shoulder shrugging. Recent witnessed events have gone a long way toward confirming my suspicions that I am never going to fully understand this country or it’s people. Of course we affect and influence those around us, but only to the extent they allow us to.

    I also tire of the “I have some special insight or knowledge or understanding because my wife is Chinese” argument, as well as the “I have been here __ years argument”. Neither is as rare as I used to believe.

  16. I was a fourth year student and was in the middle of my graduate project when Yiaopang Wu died on April 16, 1989. I participated and witnessed the whole thing from April 22 (the day my classmates and I came back from Wuxi)to June 04, 1989.

    That being said, as a participant of this movement our initial focus was to remeber Yiaobang Wu and anti corruption, mainly Li pengson and Zhao Zhiyang’s son, and honestly I did not know how it was led to democray movement… and how a sudden Zhao zhiyang became a hero.

    After so many years, seen the western democary, human rights, etc., and rethink what the whole thing in 1989, I would say that CCP did nothing wrong.

    Even in democatic countries, it is legitmate to use military action after delearation of Matial Law.

  17. “As sort of an analogy (and please use it loosely, it’s not meant as an exact fit), I look at this similar to the way I look at a friend with an addiction. I can look at them and see their problem. They can look at me and see my lack of the same problem and the benefits of not having that problem. But no matter how much I try to brow beat them about their addiction, they’ll remain an addict until they make their own personal conviction to change.”

    Wrong analogy, the correct one should like this:

    A big poor family with lots kids sacrificed lots in their lives, worked hard like a dog, no vacation, worked extra hours, trying to improve their lives.

    A rich neighbour pointed fingers at this big poor family and complained that this poor family did not give better life to their kids, did not send their kids to private school, did not send their kids to movie theatre 2 times every month, ….

    China has more important priorities, as you said you are an observaer, so leave things to China and Chinese, they will tackle their priorities one by one….

  18. @Glen I understand what you mean, but what you mean and what you initially wrote are two different things.

    @Ryan I don’t even believe people have a responsibility or obligation to create change, but was simply stating that change is a side-effect of our presence and can not be avoided. So, if someone is going to sit in the complaints department and pretend that their actions and complaints aren’t creating change by affecting the people who listen to or read them, then they are delusional.
    I honestly don’t expect people to get out in the streets and start a revolution, but wrote that vex inspired statement in an attempt to stimulate the idea that insultingly complaining without acting in an attempt to fix what you are complaining about is useless and annoying.

  19. I wondered why blogspot was down, and couldn’t remember exactly when it was. I thought youtube had to come back eventually. I was here in 2004 so, 25 years, I assume that it’s always rather hush hush around here, but I suspect that it is even worse on the “significant” numbered years. Great artical, I can’t believe the photo.

  20. Haha, I just realized all the errors that I made… sorry, complete exhausted and forgot to edit. Please don’t bother to correct my math. And let me just say… I can believe the photo… I just mean I’m shocked they saw that. I’m not an idiot I promise, I’m just forget to edit and have been having insomnia for the first time in my life as I can’t stop thinking about all the cool stuff I’ve been experience and everything I should do instead of sleep (I’m in China).

    Stephen-I completely understand your rant. It is something I often struggle with too even realizing my own ethnocentric ideas.

    And to all commenters, I can understand the argument to not take be the one to act. But I have an observation from today. I live in a very small city, and am personally very interested in environmentalism (like my dream job would be somehow encouraging environmentalism in china, either through a company or good NGO.) So I live in a very “small” city, and called a woman I had met on the bus who works a the local 4th tier (worst school possible) University. I asked her if she could help me to see if there were any activities around the University (environment club or something), that maybe I could attend, or any clean up activities I would love to participate. So she’s out of town but she tells me she can have one of her students meet with me. So I meet with the student, and she says she can help me organize this activity. I try to explain no no, I don’t want you to have to do more work because of me. I ask if there is a club or anything and she says no, but there is clearly interest in this type of activity. And on the bus, of course there was a woman and her son very interested in me. This young girl the quick thinker, says that we will be organizing this event soon, and I will be there, so I can talk with her son then.

    Think about how much influence you have on people, and how big of a difference your own choices and actions make. I take the bus constantly, partly because I am cheap, but heck… I walk if I am feeling well, and I can. You can at the very LEAST lead by example. I’m not editing this, so sorry about grammar errors, but I need to attempt bed, and I want to post today before you all think I’m a moron.

  21. Well… China is a crazy, mesmerising, wonderful place not that much different to the rest of the crazy world we all live in. The events that unfolded in ’89 are worrying to think about but I am sure it was something that was done reluctantly and after much consideration from the CCP, taking into account the days leading up to the military ‘crackdown’. No country I have ever come across (including this one) enjoys the slaughter of their own innocent citizens. Most countries have had similar events in their history but with much less media coverage and away from the typical modern western attitude. The ideals that the dialogue of the word ‘ignorance’ raised makes me consider the word ‘stubborn’. Governments have their agendas and people have their lives to live and never the twain shall meet. Governments are self-serving beasts that service the needs of the populace but really, what is the real agenda of any government… world domination?

    Change comes to us all in many shapes and forms. Affective positive change is something that we can all work towards and assist with (even without getting into the streets). Leading by example and being those crazy foreigners with their western ideas affects positive change. Being proactive and assisting with environmentalism affects positive change. Being internal tourists, talking with taxi drivers and shop assistants, chatting at bars…. all promote change.

    That’s not to say that either way is right or wrong. Looking for the middle path for the middle kingdom is one avenue that seems to be slowly emerging more and more as my mind become more accustomed to life in China. Yes, there are many things that people do which may be odd (for typical westerners) but who are we to judge.

    The events in ’89 were dark though unfortunately not uncommon.

  22. The fact that the western world enjoy the *OBLIGATION* to change China in their way makes more Chinese people to support the Chinese government.

    By the way, It is not hard to bypass a firewall.

  23. @Chang What do you mean by the west changing China “in their way”?
    I know you don’t mean that when western people feel obliged to influence China by propagating principles of personal freedom ie. freedom of speech, freedom of information, etc. you see this as a driving force for Chinese people to embrace a fascist regime. So what exactly do you mean?

  24. Hi Stephen, China definitely need to change in the direction you said 🙂

    The “way” I mean is like “when”, “what first”, and “how fast”, sort of stuff.

    When A says B be ignorant, it is very likely B feels A the same way.

  25. Oh, I understand now. So when you said the entire “western world”, you really just meant certain western people who talk down about the way things are progressing in China.
    I think maybe you and Glen should get together and go bowling. 😉

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