Idealism in China

The elders of the Chinese Communist Party […] hold all the guns. To them, the shouts of the students were nothing more than the wailing of infants, easily stamped out.
Translated by Luisetta Mudie
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By a listener in China, name withheld

1. On idealism, and those who took part in the 1989 pro-democracy movement:

In the spring of 1989, China saw a recurrence of the political phenomenon known as peaceful demonstrations. Young people got together to express their anger en masse, and there were silent sit-ins and hunger strikes lasting many days. Some of them refused to retreat in the face of advancing tanks, and some of them went to help their classmates who were hurt even in the face of machine-gun fire. Some fearlessly stared down the army’s killing machines, refusing to let them enter Tiananmen Square, in the hope of protecting the students. I saw their upright spirit, but I also saw the immaturity of their youthful idealism.

Freedom, justice, and human rights aren’t won just by shouting slogans. Their arrival requires a huge output of strength, and they need further effort to be maintained. The United States won its freedom through the sound of gun and cannon-fire. A Western proverb says that to have the truth, one must first have the power, whereas in China we say that political power comes from the barrel of a gun. That is the truth. It is just as true from the point of view of the elders of the Chinese Communist Party, whose hands hold all the guns. To them, the shouts of the students were nothing more than the wailing of infants, easily stamped out.

2. On young people, 20 years after Tiananmen, and on the pragmatism of the market system and the law of the jungle:

The vast majority of today’s youth differs greatly from the youth of 1989. They lack a moral bottom line, they lack conviction, and they have little interest in setting the world to rights. They jeer and thumb their noses at the 1989 student movement. This belongs to the mourning process of a nation, and these are the main reasons behind it:

(i) The need to earn a living, the bribe machine, and the market economy

People vote with their feet. Amid a wave of civil service fever, more and more young people are joining the ranks of the Communist Party. How can you blame people for wanting to make a living? Amid the bubble economy and the financial crisis, the salaries of Party, government, and military officials keep on rising, while the income of ordinary workers has stopped dead in its tracks. As the economic situation worsens, and the Chinese Communist Party seeks to hold onto its illegal grip on power, these attitudes are likely to harden further. This is a contemporary embodiment of the principle carried down from imperial times, which everybody has to serve somebody.

(ii) Pragmatism

Deng Xiaping once said that it doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white; as long as it catches mice, then it’s a good cat. This means that anything goes, as long as one’s own interests are involved. That which is not in my interests is wrong. This is the standard pragmatists use to judge things. This so-called pragmatism is just another way of talking about the selfishness and grasping qualities inherent in Chinese culture. If we follow this principle, then breaking the rules of society looks like normality, and society has an unwritten code. But the breaking of social principles is the harbinger of social breakdown.

(iii) The law of the jungle

China has regressed gradually into a society where the law of the jungle applies. Here, the weak are gobbled up by the strong, and this has become accepted as a law of nature by many people. It is normal and inevitable if some people are sacrificed in the struggle for resources. Mining disasters happen every few days, and yet most people remain silent on the subject. In fact, this denotes their consent for the law of the jungle.

RFA’s Mandarin service asked its listeners in China to submit essays of up to 500 words related to the Chinese government’s deadly June 4, 1989 crackdown on protesters in and around Tiananmen Square in Beijing. These are some of their recollections.


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