Friday, August 2, 2013

In Tien an men Square



It is hard to exaggerate the international impact of the Chinese Revolution and the creation of the People’s Republic of China. A large part of a billion people rose up and overthrew Japanese imperialism (to “drain the water” in which the guerillas swam, the Japanese army murdered some 20 million people in three provinces of North China in the winter of 1940-41; Chalmers Johnson, Peasant Nationalism in China), Chiang Kai-shek who spent more time fighting peasant Communists than the Japanese, and his American imperial supporters.

In Tien an men, there is the hall that Mao spoke from to declare the words: Long live the People’s Republic of China, long live each of the people of China who stood up, across it along with yet another picture of Mao.

Long life to the emperor was an old saying in China.

They lived in once Forbidden Cities, lie in once forbidden mortuaries in once secluded parks.

Long live the People’s Republic…

***

The National People’s Congress in Tien an men has a huge and elegant building. It is not the small parliament in Greece, where there is no room for an audience to attend, each delegate confined, arms tucked in, to a too narrow seat, held in thrall to austerity/brutal oppression by Germany and the American banks, while many thousands of people, sometimes a million, talk (in democratic assemblies), rage and demonstrate in Syntagma Square…

The National People's Congress does not yet live up to the promise of the construction...

***

A single soldier, each of the same height, takes up his or her position, with honor as my student says with pride, beneath the single red flag that flies above Tienamin Square. In China, as at the 2008 Olympics, there are a billion people, two million soldiers, 2/1000 or .002% of the population but still a lot, including many who from a distance look the same.

No exploit determines this beyond being a good soldier, just the height.

***

At the other end, Mao lies entombed, sleeping the sleep of the Emperors. It is no longer the cooperative revolution of which he dreamed; capitalist inequality has emerged and is growing (even the regime is getting concerned about this). The regime is also too harsh (something Mao extended), its laws redolent of the emperor’s brutal arbitrariness (the regime recently executed a Filipino drug-pusher despite the protests of the Philippine government; neither diplomacy nor an idea of proportionality of punishment to crime nor any sense about capital punishment – China joins America in isolation from civilized nations in this respect - deflected this “sentence”). The great protest of students at Tienamin Square and the desparate government massacre is relentlessly suppressed.

***

Liu Xiabo, who talked some students out of the Square at the government's request, is locked up for thinking some democratic thoughts. Ai Wei-wei who worked on the Olympics' “Bird Nest” in 2008 is locked up for mocking the secret police (publicizing spying on them spying on him…) and the government.

***

The original Chinese revolution was more democratic than what exists elsewhere in the world (see William Hinton, Fanshen for a vivid account of how ordinary people came into political life). The liberation of women - "women hold up half the sky," as Mao once said - is visible in Liaoning University where I taught. That creates a kind of promise or potential here.

Yet freedom of speech is shunned, and no parliamentary or judicial review of bad policies permitted.

***

Individual rights and the rule of law are not yet a tradition in China. But the regime knows it depends for stability on rapid growth, on the support of the people, and, despite brutal factory conditions, sometimes seeks to head off the danger of popular protest with concessions (unlike America which has become, in the Republican program and the concessions to it by Wall Street Democrats an unending provocation…Of course, protest like Occupy has some effect, making Obama, once again, become Obama…).

I look up at the construction workers high on the buildings at night, a thin stream of light illuminating them, and fear for them, too (during a building workers strike in Boston in 1970, two of the workers took me around, pointing to each building and making a correlation between the qualities of the materials used and the number who died...in 1968, Lyndon Johnson put out an impressive pamphlet called "On the Job Slaughter" - 15,000 killed per year at that time, some 2 million disabled - to pass the Occupational Safety and Health Act...).

***

Because of the heavy-handedness of the Chinese state, some of my students believe – without much knowledge – that Milton Friedman points the way. There is something amusing in the Chinese adoption of American fads (Sage, my youngest son, who was in Hangzhou near Shanghai last summer tells me that there is a Chinese version of the American tv “Big Bang Theory” – hilarious largely because the actors and scenes are Chinese).

We had an interesting discussion of the body count of “freedom” accompanying the “Chicago boys” in Chile – one could do some obvious quantitative work, not that political scientists do in this case, to debunk this purported notion of “individual liberty” - and the depredations of the “Republicans”/Wall Street Democrats (Richard Rubin, Larry Sommers): stealing the social security, education and medical care of ordinary people on behalf of shuttling still more money to the .0001% (in this context, it is also amusing that the New York Times has discovered, yet again, the corruption of Chinese officials...).

***

In 1989, Tien an men was also a scene of democracy, ebullient student and worker protests for a month, echoed all over the country, divisions in the leadership, murderous suppression of student protest on June 4th, and one person standing up nonviolently to a string of tanks. In a kind of parallel inversion, such a scene for the world - the memory of "89" - is suppressed among the Chinese, just as the Revolution was passionately but idly denounced and buried in America and among satellite elites, and yet is here, in Tien an men, powerfully.

***

As at the Olympics, the Chinese people have pride in their accomplishments. The regime is developing economically, lifting hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions out of poverty.

That pride has yet to be squandered – is not so likely to be – in expansionary wars. China’s example has been curbed by international isolation (in the less developed countries, none has lifted up so many people, through work and education, as this.)

***

Still, the regime is also no longer locked into potential war with militarists and imperialists. There is danger – Taiwan or the two deserted islands near oil in the Pacific a potential flashpoint or the continuing isolation and loud talk of North Korea, China’s tiny ally (20 million people) along with Pakistan – but it is not intense.

***

The US has ravaged the Middle East. It (fortunately) has no energy for military involvement with China, nor even with North Korea (part of the “axis of evil,” the neocon Richard Perle’s 2003 fantasy of where to invade next…).

The dance (Obama barked at China over the two Pacific islands), however, continues.

***

Still, Obama and the Chinese leaders have some sense. There is, also possibly, a world to be saved or at least not destroyed here…

***

Students learn English from primary school. This started in the 1990s and is extending earlier and earlier. Many young men and women wear t-shirts with American advertising slogans (all that they sell in the fancy malls although made in China; manufacturers of t-shirts with Chinese slogans and lettering, not much worn, are relegated, more cheaply, outside). I have seen but one belligerent t-shirt in English – “Tibet is a part of China now and forever,” unnecessary to say if it were true rather than a meme of conquest and ethnic cleansing (the case is complicated; the Dalai Lama seeks to make Tibet an autonomous region in China; Beijing is full of artifacts from and seeming valuing - except for excoriation of violent, i.e. suicide-committing "monks" - of Tibetan culture; Chinese settlers under the army extinguish the culture Beijing seems to admire...) which is not for sale in such stores.

***

Studying in America or Europe is every family’s dream, even though it separates the one child from the parents, even though it is dangerous.

Two Chinese women students were killed in the crash in San Francisco. One was killed by two Chechen/American madmen at the Boston marathon…

***

America is the land ruled by guns (by gun-crazy capitalists who seek only money and have no sense of a common good). In China there are no guns, and little worry even in public places about theft…

China is a place moving into capitalism from the left, in which the government often furthers a substantial element of a public good (Chinese cities growing rapidly employ many from the countryside in construction; yet they defy any aspect of tradition in seeking a towering ugliness/sameness of modernity, the buildings like giant gray mushrooms after a storm which will not melt away….

Here some turn toward the traditions, always possible, would be a relief, a gift).

***

Beijing buses run on electricity. As American newspapers note, China emphasizes production of solar panels (Europe and the US are trying, unsuccessfully, to suppress it rather than outcompete/outinvent it). See here and here.

***

Everyone in China grows up knowing what foods are good for the body (bitter chrysanthemum root or lettuce and walnuts or vegetable soups are cooling in summer; others warming in winter), or about Chinese medicine with its 5,000 year tradition (I and my wife spent an hour in the main clinic in downtown Beijing). America is a culture which has forgotten food (“fast food” is but flavored chemicals, fattening without nourishment, creating an obese population and producing new diseases like teenage diabetes), and American medicine, good in emergencies, also cuts itself off from much knowledge about health from the past (some drug companies are interested in patenting medicines from earlier traditions, but this is still weak) or even Europe and Latin America (homeopathy)

***

Fast Food – KFC, McDonald’s - is present in Beijing (not as ubiquitous as in Liaoning) though not around Tien an men Square. But the Chinese, while thinking it is for special occasions, have not yet been possessed by it (people are still mainly lean…).

Whether and how the Chinese will be selective in their relationship with America remains to be seen.

***

China is not the cooperative scene that it was. It is also growing too rapidly. The regime is sometimes brutal. The government has not resolved to break out of its isolation nor has the need for pride – sometimes oppressive as in Tibet or dangerous in inviting larger conflicts – been overcome by wisdom. We are all in this together on the planet; long live the unity of the peoples of the world is the other half of the slogan on the building in Tien an men where Mao declared the People’s Republic in 1949.

***

The Chinese people are still inspiring.

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