Tuesday, 2 April 2013

"On China's state-sponsored amnesia"

                                                                                   Cristobal Schmal, via NYT
I remember so well the morning of June 4, 1989.
I was in Canberra, only just back from Beijing, and there on the morning TV news of the Chinese government's crackdown -- "a massacre" as it soon came to be known -- of the demonstrations in Tiananmen square and surrounds.  There were tanks, troops, shootings, dead residents, in the 1000's they said on the news, perhaps in the 100s we later estimated.  I went back to Beijing just a few days later, to a still-traumatized city, empty, eerily quiet, little traffic, hotels along the main drag with bullet holes in the windows.  I stayed at the Great Wall Sheraton, where the reception desk greeted me with a mordant "活着呐?... you're still alive then?".... that was the greeting in the aftermath.  Everyone, but everyone, in Beijing knew what had happened.
So it's very hard to imagine that these demonstrations and the crackdowns, with hundreds maybe thousands killed -- and which took place all over China, not just Beijing, huge and active and optimistic to change the corrupt and undemocratic ways of the leadership, then crushed brutally -- could simply be forgotten.
But that's what's happened. I can confirm from my own recent visits to China, that young, even youngish, Chinese know nothing about June 4th. Let alone the "Gang of Four" from the seventies.
Below is Yan Lianke writing from China, in the New York Times International about the big amnesia.  Which he suggests goes beyond those that don't remember because they weren't born then, implicating in particular the intelligentsia:
IN March 2012 I met Torbjorn Loden, the Swedish professor of Chinese language and culture, in Hong Kong. He told me that while briefly teaching at Hong Kong’s City University he asked the 40 students from China in his class what they knew about the June 4 Incident, the pro-democracy movement that ended in bloodshed in 1989, and if they were familiar with the names Liu Binyan and Fang Lizhi, two prominent democracy advocates of that era. All the students from China looked around at one another, mute and puzzled.  Read on.