Monday, June 2, 2014

Mass Amnesia

A colleague recently suggested that China’s Communist Party reminded him of traditional Chinese dynasties like the Ming and the Qing. In light of this, maybe we should call China’s current regime the Hong dynasty, Hong being the Mandarin word for red.

But no, this isn’t quite right, because red symbolizes communism, and the Chinese Communist Party, whatever it is, is most definitely not communist. In fact, capitalists are playing such prominent roles in the leadership today that a name change is called for. Maybe “ the Chinese Capitalist Party?”

               What do we workers want? More money!

               When do we want it? Now! *

Since Deng Xiaoping pushed China so decisively down the capitalist road, it might make sense to say that the Mao era (1949-1976) represented the Hong dynasty and what we are seeing now is the “Qian” or “Money” dynasty. The pattern whereby a ruthless warrior spills rivers of blood to unite the nation, rules tyrannically, and then sees his dynasty fade shortly after his death is a familiar one in Chinese history. It happened with the first emperor’s Qin dynasty (221 BCE) and again with the Sui (581-618 CE). So is this pattern being repeated, with Mao’s brief but bloody regime being replaced by the more enduring dynasty founded by Deng Xiaoping?

Another colleague suggested that the Chinese Communist Party is not like a traditional dynasty so much as it is like many other right-wing dictatorships of modern times. Such dictatorships concentrate political power in the hands of a small elite which hide their decision-making behind closed doors, control the media, intimidate the populace, and enrich themselves while pretending to “serve the people.”

Imperial Japan of the 1930s and 1940s was a typical right-wing dictatorship. The government of Imperial Japan controlled all the nation’s media and used it to spew out self-serving propaganda. In addition to this, it used military force to intimidate or gun down any civilians who dared to protest its rule. And this is exactly what the Chinese Communist Party did 25 years ago on June 4, 1989, in the incident known internationally as the Tiananmen Massacre.
Louisa Lim has just written The People’s Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited about the slaughter of civilians in China on June Fourth and about the systematically brutal and pervasive efforts by the Communist Party to cover up the slaughter. Covering up its sins with misinformation, violence and threats is also what the Imperial Japanese authorities would have done in their day, hence my argument that the CCP is acting like the Japanese during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945).

An ongoing source of trouble for the party’s cover-up is the Tiananmen Mothers, a group of women whose sons and daughters were gunned down by the People’s Liberation Army in 1989. One woman, Zhang Xianling, spent months trying to dig up the story of her 19-year-old son’s murder. What she found out, after struggling to locate witnesses of the killing, was that her boy was out in the streets taking pictures on the night of June 3 and that a soldier saw him and shot him in the head. The wound did not kill him immediately, so he lay for hours on the pavement as the life slowly ebbed out of him. Whenever any citizens asked permission to take him to the hospital, the soldiers threatened to kill them if they approached the dying boy.

Finally his body was removed and buried by the soldiers in a shallow grave on the grounds of the high school where he was a student. This proved problematic when the boy's corpse, and a couple others buried nearby, began to produce a stench that made it impossible to hold classes in the school. At the same time, bits of their clothing began to poke through the surface of the earth. So the bodies were disinterred and moved to another grave site.

Eventually Ms. Zhang located the site of her son’s ultimate burial and had his remains cremated. To this day, in memory of her son and as a gesture of protest against the Communist Party, she regularly visits the place where he was killed. The authorities are so hostile to this behavior that they have installed a security camera trained on the spot of the boy’s murder just for the purpose of deterring her.

And that’s not all they do. They periodically prevent her from participating in activities that they fear will remind people of the killings, and have guards watching her round the clock. According to Lim, “this five-foot-tall, 76-year-old grandmother poses enough of a threat that an escort of state security agents, at times as many as 40 strong,” follows her as she goes to the dentist or the vegetable market.

Since the government has worked so hard to keep the younger generations of Chinese ignorant of the June Four killings, Ms. Zhang’s guards often have no idea why they are watching her. Once, after she explained to a young female guard why she was being watched, the woman walked off her post in disgust.

It is the ignorance of China’s younger generation about the June Four Massacre that justifies the word “amnesia” in Louisa Lim’s book. Whole generations of Chinese are growing up with no knowledge of the slaughter that was brought down on Miss Zhang’s son and hundreds of others 25 years ago this week when they protested against the corruption and lack of democracy in the Chinese Communist Party. The party, it seems, has succeeded in hiding the reality of this massacre from an entire generation. Even the Imperial Japanese authorities would no doubt be impressed with the effectiveness of the CCP policies that have accomplished such a massive forgetting of history.

In conclusion I have to express my sympathy for the Tiananmen Mothers and my admiration for their courage. May their struggles be rewarded someday soon.

Hu Yaobang, a liberal reformer whose death triggered the Tiananmen protests. Does he not deserve the honor of the Chinese people?

*Picture by Jon Berkeley