Memories (or lack of memories?) of June 4

This morning I received a request from a reporter I know asking if I could comment on how my Chinese friends and acquaintances were responding, if at all, to the upcoming 20th anniversary. (The reporter was not in China.) I replied that to the best of my knowledge they mostly were not responding at all, because to them there was nothing to respond to. As far as airbrushing June 4 from the collective Chinese psyche is concerned, Mission Definitely Accomplished.

But being thorough and obnoxious, 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. June 4 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.

Once again I marveled at the party, so efficient at some things, so hideously inept at others. I tried to explain the significance of “Tank Man” to a couple of people, but it didn’t seem to register, the anonymous “everyman” holding his shopping bags, and for one insanely dramatic moment capturing the minds and hearts of the world and bringing the military machinery of The Party to a halt. It didn’t work; my friends didn’t seem to understand why it was particularly admirable. The one who knew of him said she wondered why he was so revered. This isn’t because my friends aren’t smart or sensitive; they are both. But our views of what makes a hero are quite different. Again, River Town says it all. The hero would be those who unite people, bring them together and create constructive harmony. It wouldn’t be the lone rebel throwing a monkey wrench into the state machinery.

I understand this, and I was not surprised. One friend said, “Maybe some of the older people here care. My friends and I don’t really know much about it.” I took solace in Alice Poon’s post (courtesy of China Geeks,” which tells us in Hong Kong it’s a bit different, as people react with revulsion to Donald Tsang’s remarks that “economic prosperity” has in effect neutralized the tragedy and caused most Hong Kongers to allow it to drop into the memory hole.

I can still recall the scene in Toronto in which I broke down in tears when I watched TV news while in my brother-in-law’s house – I saw tanks rolling towards Tiananmen Square and the frightened students scrambling to get away, some carrying the wounded on carts. The first thought that came to mind was: “Why on earth are they using tanks to kill those helpless and unarmed young people? Why are the soldiers killing the peacefully demonstrating students?”

Twenty years have passed. Those questions still remain unanswered as of today. Meanwhile, Hong Kong has been able to reap economic benefits from China’s open and reform policy. But most Hong Kongers would never conflate economic prosperity with a serious matter of right and wrong. Tsang could not have made a worse judgment on this issue. Even when the Mainland authorities have been trying to twist the truth around (like laying the blame on the students’ alleged intention to revolt against the CCP – an allegation that is refuted by Zhao Ziyang in his secret memoirs) and to forbid discussions of the subject in the Mainland, this has done nothing to obliterate the shameful deed from Hong Kongers’ memory.

With the passage of time, people’s vehement disgust with the ignominious murderous act has indeed been diluted, as is evident from the declining attendance at the Victoria Park June 4th vigil over the years. Yet, as if to help reverse the trend, a couple of recent incidents have managed to re-ignite Hong Kongers’ feelings of revulsion. In 2007, pro-Beijing DAB legislator Ma Lik blurted out a preposterous “pigs-crushed-by-tanks” analogy which caused a public outcry and, last month, the HKU student union president surnamed Chan tried to defend and rationalize the Beijing government’s violent crackdown, which caused an outburst of anger in Hong Kong society and led to his being ousted from his post.

Still, I find it heartbreaking that here, in what 20 years ago was the vortex where it all took place, there remains in the minds of the young no image of the men and women who died in the crackdown, no stories of the bravery or even of the daily turn of events, the “Goddess of Democracy,” the sort-of hunger strikes, the meeting of Wu’er Kaixi wearing his pajamas with Li Peng, etc. Instead, it’s basically a void, interrupted with a few government talking points and state-issued photos, like those of pre-“Liberation” Tibetan serfs with their limbs hacked off by evil landowners. And I say, What can I do? And I answer, Write it down, and do your tiny, microscopic bit to keep the memory alive.

Demonstrating students in Shanghai with their makeshift statue of liberty

Demonstrating students in Shanghai with their makeshift statue of liberty

Photo courtesy of Diane Gatterdam’s ongoing series of stories and photos about the demonstrations on Facebook.

Update: The erasure of TAM from China’s memory is getting noticed.


Philip Cunningham on the Zhao memoirs and TSM

We all know I’ve had my rifts with Philip Cunningham before, ever since I first saw him on CCTV-9 at the start of the Iraq war in 2003. But I have to thank him for writing a superb piece (proxy required here, I’m afraid) that makes mincemeat of the revisionist movement I referred to in an earlier post to shift all the blame onto the students and the US media.

I said from the very first day this blog shifted from a place for personal doodling to a place to chronicle my feelings about Chinese life and politics that the students at Tiananmen Square were not angels – but that I loved them anyway. Cunningham knows better than I do. He was there, he stood with them and watched them and knew them. I was only “there” as a spectator watching CNN the first year I was able to afford cable TV, and later, through the books and articles I read after moving to Asia. So I was delighted to see that Cunningham’s observations are so close to my own. This is a sampling; please read the entire article.

The students were indeed imperfect, and in unwitting ways mimicked the best and worst tendencies of their communist elders. But they did not carry out the bloody crackdown, rather certain units of the PLA did. As for the units of the PLA that refused to join the crackdown, they should be considered people’s heroes on a par with the man in front of the tank.


To blame it on the students, as many young people in China do today, is to fall for a propaganda line, to take one’s eye off the ball.


As best I could judge, from studying the crowd every day for a month on the square, is that the ever-shifting crowd largely organised and ordered itself, at once subject to the vagaries of mass psychology and the kinetics of crowd dynamics, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. Countless individuals poured into Beijing’s most central plaza to create a vivid living tableau with their passion and dedication to peaceful change; they became part of a whole beyond individual control yet coherent and compelling.


The only real crime was demanding a military solution and then turning the guns on unarmed civilians.

The value of releasing Mr Zhao’s belated memoir, which goes for the jugular by singling out a hard-line clique within the CCP, on this, the 20th anniversary of an unnecessary tragedy, is to get the public eye back on the culpability of those most culpable.

Philip (and this is rhetorical, because I don’t think you hang out here much), I always knew you were brilliant. I also felt you were maddeningly unfair in your taking it easy on the CCP while going after the US with no mercy. But that doesn’t matter right now. I’ve been reading your blog and articles like the one referenced above, and I have to say I have a deep respect for you. It may still piss me off when I think back on those conversations you’d have with Yang Rui on CCTV 9 – the ones where I nearly threw something at the set because I felt you were applying such blatantly different standards to the US and China – but I think your contribution to clearing the air over the tragedy of Tiananmen Square is without parallel, and I admire you for it. There is a lot of obfuscation out there as the anniversary day nears, an insistence that the Chinese people don’t care about the “incident,” that it can all be blamed on the students and the Western media, that the CCP “had to act boldly” or else there would have been no economic miracle, that the bloodshed was all for the best…. So much bullshit. For your clearheaded, unsentimental yet passionate recounting of what actually happened and who is and who is not to blame for the bloodshed, I have only two words: Thank you.


Audio/print excerpt of Zhao Ziyang’s memoir – in Chinese and English

This is absolutely extraordinary. A friend just tweeted it, asking, “So, is the Washington Post website going to be blocked in China?” I’ll be stunned if it’s not. We all know China can be quite tolerant of news on Western sites, as long as it’s in English, knowing you can never galvanize the masses if you’re not speaking in their language. Thus, this will almost inevitably be harmonized. And if not, it’ll be unprecedented.

Go there while you can if you want to hear Zhao dictating a portion of his story on cassette before it was smuggled out and published. Controversial stuff, too, as Zhao challenges the decision to crack down on what had been orderly if chaotic and messy demonstrations. Money quote:

Of course, whenever there are large numbers of people involved, there will always be some tiny minority within the crowd who might want to attack the PLA. It was a chaotic situation. It is perfectly possible that some hooligans took advantage of the situation to make trouble, but how can these actions be attributed to the majority of the citizens and students? By now, the answer to this question should be clear.

And it is clear, to everyone who has a mind. There were some disgusting acts of violence perpetrated by some enraged participants as the soldiers advanced. And sympathy must go to the soldiers who were attacked, as it must go to the vast majority of demonstrators who were killed or injured, who were peaceful and orderly. More on this later.

About the site: I know, it’s been quiet. And we have a big anniversary coming up, and I’ve been seeing some atrocious revisionist stuff over here on the Internets about that date that just begs to be fisked. Zhao’s memoir couldn’t have come out at a better time (coincidence, right?); itcertainly helps blast apart some of the more audacious claims I’ve been seeing. More to come.

Update: Be sure to see Granite Studio’s amusing response to the memoirs.


Anniversaries and Tea Parties

Today is not only “tea party” day and income tax day, it’s also an anniversary of a most important occasion, one that, although unnoticed in the West at the time, would soon lead to a series of jaw-dropping events that drove us to sit around our TV sets transfixed and incredulous for many weeks. It’s a good reminder that the bigger anniversary, the one for the non-event that can still scarcely be acknowledged looms but a few weeks away. Please rush to that site now, and follow the links. And fasten your seatbelts for what’s to follow in a few weeks.

Back in the motherland, I’ve been watching in amusement and amazement as the “tea party” nonsense titillates the right into paroxysms of ecstasy. All I’ll say is this: The tea parties are code. They have nothing to do with taxes. They are all about anti-Obama rage, racism, fundamentalism and the Limbaugh-Rove-Malkin axis-of-sleazels’ wet dream of imitating the Nuremberg rallies in America. The astroturfed, Fox-news-sponsored orgies of faux outrage are simply a continuation of the 2008 campaign’s insistence that Obama was a socialist Muslim terrorist born in Kenya and out to plunder the US treasury and turn the US of A into a Caliphate.

Not sure that Fox News was a sponsor? Go here; ignore Olberman but watch the Fox compliation. Priceless. And here’s my quote of the day on this topic:

[T]he teabaggers are full-throated about their goals: they want to give President Obama a strong tongue-lashing, and lick government spending — spending they did not oppose when they were under Presidents Bush and Reagan. They oppose Mr. Obama’s tax rates, which will be lower for most of them, and they oppose the tax increases Mr. Obama is imposing on the rich, whose taxes will skyrocket to a rate about ten percent less than it was under Reagan. That’s teabagging in a nutshell…

I have lots to say about lots of things but can’t muster the energy after work at the new job. I’ll aim for the weekend. Sorry to under-perform here this month, but transitioning to a whole new life is a challenge.

Update: Excellent update and great perspective on these pseudo events by a smart China blogger.


Speaking in code


Like the grass mud horse, I wonder whether this is a bold political statement and a sneer at the censors, or just a giggly prank. See the explanation here.

Via Reflections.


June 4

That time of year again. I remember my rage back in 1989. It was the first time I ever watched CNN, and I was glued to the TV set although I knew next to nothing about China at the time. I remember my shock at Bush I’s “punishment” of the dictators with blood on their hands – some all but meaningless sanctions. The man who stood up against the tank, the stranger who entered all of our living rooms and shook the conscience of the world. The moment of hope, when it seemed to so many of us that the students were really going to make a difference and force their corrupt leaders to reform. No one imagined the idealistic young men and women would be greeted with live ammunition, shot dead in the streets like animals.

Nearly 20 years later it seems so far away, so distant. But not at all forgotten. At least not for me. Talking with my Chinese friends in Beijing, it also seems so irrelevant, something they would rather not acknowledge let alone dwell upon. I only really began to understand the Chinese perspective on the tragedy five years ago when I held an extensive conversation with an actual demonstrator. His words sounded so strange to me. He had gone to demonstrate, to actively protest against his government, and now he looks upon the massacre as a practical and necessary business decision. Painful to make at the time but ultimately good for the country. And I believe it’s safe to say that his opinion is in line with that of most young Chinese people today. There is almost a sense of gratitude for what the government did, saving them from the anarchy that consumed Russia in its rush to democratize. Preserving the harmony that allowed the economic miracle to rise to undreamed of height. Surely it was all for the best, and your heart has to go out to the poor officials forced to make such a difficult decision.

I understand his argument, and I understand why my Chinese colleagues across the board tow the line on this topic. Many months ago I gave up hope of having a rational discussion with them on topics like this. The last time I tried was about two weeks ago, when I argued with a beloved colleague about whether Mao had been good for China or bad. When I recited the litany of his sins, which are nearly as bountiful as Hitler’s, I got the tape recorded message that still, he was good for China. You know, seventy percent and all that. At least now I understand why she says that.

If you read my other posts on Tiananmen Square, you’ll know I don’t see the students as angels. Nothing is ever that simple. Nor were the party’s players all devils. Forces inside the party were grating against each other and…well, no sense in restating what most of us know. For me, the bottom line was that the party showed us just how ruthless and obsessed with self-preservation they were, not that there was ever much doubt. And for that, I can never forgive them, even if their own people can. I see what they are doing today, stopping parents who lost children to the Sichuan earthquake from demonstrating, and I remind myself that for all the steps forward, theirs is still an authoritarian government that can easily morph into a totalitarian police state when it feels threatened. The script is so similar; all of our hopes were raised when we saw the relative media transparency the state was allowing in the earthquake’s coverage. It didn’t take long to bring us all back down to earth.

And so we can wring our hands and complain and blog and point out the hypocrisy and the two-facedness and the outright badness. But as long as the Chinese people refuse to call the government to account or even to acknowledge its selfish intentions, like my friend who insists Mao was a net plus for China, meaningful political reform will remain minimal and painfully slow. Some uplifting spurts forward, some painful setbacks. It’s gotten better, as the cliche goes, but let’s not fool ourselves: if a similar threat were to arise now or in the future, those in power would be willing to replay the ‘incident” all over again. Reluctantly, for sure, but in the end it would be “the best thing for China.”

I’m in America for my last vacation before the fall. I know I’ve disappointed a lot of readers with the sparse posting, and no one is more depressed than I am at the inanity of some of the recent comment threads. I simply feel I have no choice. A lot of emails have gone unanswered and a lot of topics I’ve been dying to post about have gone unwritten. That’s the best I can do for now, and it won’t get better until the autumn. Let me just close by saying my work has involved me in the relief efforts for the children displaced and orphaned by the earthquake, and no matter how the government may have infuriate me in recent days, and no matter how frustrated I feel with Chinese friends who refuse to see the world as i do, the rush to help and sacrifice and give has been one of the most inspiring and moving things I’ve ever seen. As usual with China, a flood of contrary emotions collide, from tearful joy at the selflessness and generosity of the people to anger and impatience at the cruelty of some in the government to indignation over the corruption that allowed the schools to crumble. Each of these emotions is equally legitimate, and one does not invalidate the other.

Update: And let’s not forget, the TSM remains the most taboo subject in China. And for good reason.


A great first-hand account of the bloody TS crackdown

I hope everyone interested in the Tiananmen Square Massacre will visit Daai Tou Lam’s excellent site to read his post on an eyewitness account of one William Hinton, author of The Great Reversal: The Privitization of China – 1978-1989. There is a lot to learn here, especially in the wake of revisionist efforts to downplay the horrors of June 3-4. People were mown down. Innocents perished.

Whether these murders took place in the square or on the surrounding streets is irrelevant. There was indeed a massacre. And that’s no myth.


The story behind the Tiananmen Tank Man Photo


I’ve written about the “Tiananamen tank man” before, but I just came upon this article that details how the famous picture came to be taken. It’s an amazing story in itself and one I had never heard before.

I also like the article’s close:

A decade and a half later, Widener’s photograph retains all of its potency. “It’s an urgently important message about what you can do if you have the guts to do it,” says Mickey Spiegel, a China specialist at Human Rights Watch in New York City, who has hung the photograph in every office she has occupied since 1989.

Richard Baum, director of the Center for Chinese Studies at the University of California at Los Angeles, says there’s “an emotional legacy to that shot. I think that has cost China more in public image than any other single image in modern times.”

Widener, now 47 and a staff photographer for the Honolulu Advertiser in Hawaii, has considered going to China to revisit the story. “The picture’s part of my life now,” says the photographer. “His message was, ‘Enough’s enough. There’s been enough killing. It’s got to stop.’ “

Other posts about Tiananmen Square:
Tiananmen Square revisited
Tiananmen Square re-revisited
Messages on Tiananmen Square

You can see the famous Tiananmen Tank video here.

You can read Pico Iyer’s sublime tribute to Tank Man in Time magazine here.


Interview with a 1989 demonstrator in China

Below is the interview I posted a few day’s ago on Living in China. It tells of the evolution of a former flag-waving protestor in the 1989 demonstrations in Shanghai. If you’ve ever looked back at the Tiananmen Square days and wondered what those students are doing and thinking today, you may find this interesting.

David S., 34, is now a prominent executive with a multinational technology company here in Singapore, and I’ve been lucky enough to work with him on his company’s public relations. When I heard that David played a part in Beijing’s sister demonstrations in Shanghai, I asked if I could interview him about the role he played and how he looks back on those days nearly 15 years later.

What made this so interesting for me was seeing the evolution of a 1989 demonstrator, from flag-waving rebel to a proud supporter of China and its government. It is a remarkable story.

Some of David’s viewpoints are quite different from my own, but that isn’t relevant. At the end, I offer a few of my own thoughts, but I don’t want to editorialize about which point of view is right or wrong.

Q. What brought you to the demonstrations in Shanghai?

It’s hard to understand this if you weren’t there, but it would have been abnormal for me not to go to the demonstrations. We all went, it was just natural. My classmates and I were swept up, we simply had to go, it was the natural thing to do. Suddenly, we were all participating.

You have to be aware of the situation in China at that time. It was as though there were two parallel systems, one being the economic system, the other the political system. These systems were like two wheels that weren’t on level ground, and along the way tension built up over a period of nearly 10 years, ever since Deng came back to power after the Cultural Revolution. That tension was tremendous, and no one could escape from it.

Chinese society consists of multiple layers – peasants, students, soldiers, factory workers. At that time, there was tension at every layer of the society. People were confused and frustrated. Earthquakes happen when different layers rub against each other at a different pace, and finally the earth can no longer contain the energy and it erupts. That’s the type of tension that was behind the protests.

So much about the economy had improved and was changing, but politics – the government – remained status quo. In the 1970s, if you said anything disrespectful of Mao, you’d be executed. In 1989, if you said something negative about Deng in public you could still be in serious trouble.

It was the students who were most sensitive to this. Our parents all worked for the state, and there was still little or no private enterprise. They were not as concerned about ideology and change. They only had to worry about feeding their families. But as students we were more liberal, more free-spirited and more engaged in ideologies. We weren’t concerned about raising a family. We were not necessarily practical; we were very idealistic.

Historically, most great movements in China were started by students. Even today, we celebrate China Youth Day on May 4th. That’s because when the KMT [Kuomintang] were still in power and the Communists were outlawed, the students demonstrated for the Communists on May 4th. General Tuan Qi Rui was the warlord over Beijing at the time and he opened fire on them in the street. So after the Communists took power they dedicated that day as the nation’s youth, which is still a holiday today.

Q. Where were you, and what was your own role?

I was studying medicine at the Shanghai Second Medical University, now a part of Fudan University. I was asked by my classmates to be the flag bearer because I’m quite tall, so my role was to carry the flag and wave it in front of the demonstrators. Every day we would march from the university campus all the way to the People’s Square, and I was in the front holding and waving the flag.

Q. Looking back, are you glad you did it? Do you have any regrets?

No, I don’t have regrets and I don’t think what we did was in vain. It was important for us to make our voice heard. For my generation, the crackdown had huge implications for our lives, probably like the JFK assassination had for Americans.

But I have to admit I am no longer interested in politics, especially now that China is undergoing a natural transition toward democracy, with the economy being the core and the catalyst for that change. And nothing can stop that change, no matter how much the Communists want to preserve their old values.

Q. We all know about the violent crackdown in Beijing. How was it handled in Shanghai?

There was nothing like the martial law that took place in Beijing. The Mayor of Shanghai at the time was extremely competent, and he made an appeal to the city on TV and he calmed everyone down. I’ll never forget, he said something that was ambiguous and politically brilliant: “Down the road, truth will prevail.” That could have meant he was sympathetic to the students or totally with the government. But it was very calming to hear him say it.

The mayor organized factory workers to clear the roads, not the army. These workers were the parents and uncles and aunts of the students. Some members of the student body tried to stir up these factory workers, and I think that was a very dangerous thing to do. Students demonstrating was one thing, but if it was factory workers – that would need to be stopped, and there would have been a riot. That’s why Beijing was much more tense.

Bringing in the factory workers truly showed the leadership and tact and common sense of Shanghai’s mayor – Zhu Rongji. Beijing is the political center, but Shanghai is the financial center, and it could absolutely not fall into chaos, no matter what. That’s why you saw factory workers and not the army.

Q. How did you hear of the massacre, and what effect did the news have?

My father and I heard about it on the radio, on ‘Voice of America’. That was the only source there was. Soon we all knew what had happened. We watched CCTV the next day. The reporters were wearing black and some of them were obviously in a deep state of grief, their eyes visibly red, as they announced that the anti-revolutionaries had been put down. I saw those reporters with my own eyes, and soon afterwards they were replaced.

At the moment the news broke of the crackdown, I was angry. How could it happen? All of the demonstrations were peaceful. How could they justify tanks and machine guns? I gave up all hope in my own government, and I felt ashamed to be Chinese. We were also disappointed in [then] President Bush – he was softer than we wanted. All that Bush did was impose sanctions, and that disappointed us. We were in a dilemma. We wanted the US and others to do something, but we also knew that would have hurt us.

That was part of being 20 years old in China when you haven’t seen the world, no Hollywood movies, you’ve only read Stalin-style textbooks. I matured ten years overnight, and I also became a little cynical.

For so many years China had a stringently controlled educational system. From kindergarten to college, we all read the exact same books and took the exact same exams. We always believed everything that the government told us, and they told us it was an honor for ‘the people without property’ to shed their blood and sacrifice their lives for the cause of communism, fighting against the two great enemies, the Nationalists [KMT] and the Capitalists. We were brainwashed.

After Tiananmen Square, most of us believed that all government was evil. We saw that our government would kill us. I remember how my aunt told me she went to the Tiananmen Square area shortly after the crackdown and there was someone saying through a megaphone that there had never been any shooting even though she could see the bullet holes on the walls, which were soon cleaned up.

But now, that sense of shame is gone. When I look at it all objectively, I believe the government did the right thing. Maybe they didn’t do it the right way. I still have reservations about the tanks and the machine guns. But at that time they couldn’t afford to sit down and negotiate. The students wanted power, and in 1989 the social cohesion wasn’t there to support that. It was only 10 years after the Gang of Four, and it wasn’t like today. In retrospect, Deng at that time couldn’t afford to show further weakness. He had to hold the country together. Yes, we paid the price in blood, but we are still one country, one nation.

You have to realize that Deng changed my life – everybody’s life. He opened new doors for all of us. In 1982, my mother was among the first batch of scholars who were sent abroad to study, and she went to Harvard. She returned to become the director of a major Shanghai hospital. So we are grateful. And soon so many other changes happened.

I feel a great respect for our leaders. There are some, like Li Peng, who I still have no respect for. But Deng – soon we felt as though he had torn down the Berlin Wall. I wondered, if Deng had not handled the demonstrations the way he did would China be the country it is today? The whole nation is changing and people are more affluent, and I feel proud of being Chinese. People once looked down at us, and now they have respect for us.

Q. But what Deng achieved – could he not have done it within a more democratic system? Did there have to be the ruthlessness?

After going to the US for five or six years, I saw that the level of democracy there can only happen in a society with a certain level of education. What the people of China now need is leadership. China is one century behind the US, and you can’t expect us to change that fast.

This is why many Asians resent it when Americans try to insist that the Chinese adopt their style of democracy. Shanghai may be ready, but if you go out to the surrounding areas, you’ll see it just isn’t possible, that it will take more time. I believe that one day, China will have Taiwan-style democracy, but it has to be built on a strong economy.

Q. I agree that Western-style democracy isn’t right for China today. But can’t there be a compromise? Can’t the government be strong, without tolerating abuse of the poor by corrupt officials, without tolerating the marginalization of AIDS victims, without arresting kids who write about government reform on the Internet?

The way we view human rights is so different from the West’s. We have 1.3 billion people and many of them go hungry. Putting food on the table and a roof over its people’s heads is what our government has to worry about. AIDS, corruption, the Internet – that is all secondary to the leadership of 1.3 billion people. If I were running China today, I would not be able to hear all the different parties. I would have to have my own agenda and stick to that agenda. I believe that if a secret vote were held today most people in China would vote for the CCP.

For more than 150 years, starting with the Opium Wars, our national pride has been bullied by the Europeans, the Russians, then the Japanese. Now China is an economic and a military power. And it has no intentions of being aggressive. So I am not giving up my Chinese citizenship. Ten years ago I would have jumped to do that.

Looking back, I firmly believe the government did the right thing, though they could have handled it better. We paid a high price. Our leaders in 1989 could have shown greater human skills and greater negotiating skills. But let’s live with Communism for now and change things one thing at a time. The Chinese now have a much better life than they did 100 years ago. Not so long ago, my house was the first in our hutong to have a television set. The whole neighborhood would come to our backyard and sit on the ground to watch. It was just a 9-inch TV, and we put a large magnifying glass in front of it so everyone could see – that is how inventive we Chinese had to be. And now, so many families have two color TVs. They enjoy a better life, they have pride, they just put a man into space. Over the next couple of decades, China will probably overtake Japan. The world now needs China as much as we need them.

Thank you, David.

This was definitely an eye-opening interview for me. Coming from my own background where the rights of the individual are sacred, I was intrigued to hear such a different point of view. As readers familiar with my writing know, I am not quite so easy on the CCP, and don’t feel all can be forgiven under the mantra, Change must take place slowly. But I have the highest respect for David, and find the story of his transformation and his great personal success to be impressive and inspiring.


My interview with a 1989 demonstrator in China

Yesterday, for an article I’m hoping to write for Living in China, I interviewed a Singapore executive about his role in the 1989 student demonstrations. It was absolutely intriguing. He was in Shanghai, not Beijing, and the differences between how the situation was handled in the two cities is extraordinary.

He didn’t tell me anything earthshattering, but it did impress on me how fundamentally different the Western and Asian approach to human rights is. I have been aware of this, but I never actually discussed it face-to-face with a native Chinese. It’s an interesting conversation, to discuss something as frightening as the Tiananmen Square massacre and agree on everything that took place, and yet arrive at such different conclusions.

I’m about three-quarters done with the article and it should be ready to go by Monday afternoon or Tuesday.