Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Justifying the GFW but nothing else

I was only 15 when things turned bad in T1ananmen Square on the evening of the June 4th 1989. A snotty nosed high school kid who's world did not extend beyond the confines of a Sydney suburban existence. I certainly didn't know then that twenty years later I would be living and working in the country that felt it necessary to turn its army on its own children.

My memories of that day are fleeting recollections of news stories broadcast in Australia but looking at what China has become since the deaths of the hundreds, perhaps thousands of students then (either by chance or design) I often wonder what would have become if the Government did not do what they did. Would I be living in a democracy now?

Before you read on, I'd first like to make one thing very clear. I do not support the actions the Chinese government took twenty years ago today. This is not a means to justify the use of deadly force against its own citizens. It is simply exercising the 20/20 vision of hindsight.

History tells us that dramatic social and political change often results in blood shed. From Alexander the Great's conquest of Asia Minor to the attack on the World Trade Center in defense against the infidel, there is nothing like the mass loss of life to change perception. When we look at events like 9/11 we naturally think of it as something that changed our concept of security. Even those of us who are not American begin to feel that because terrorism can strike anywhere, we are not safe. The bombing in Bali also brought this home to many Australians. When we look at China, many Chinese in the two generations before mine have a deep seeded hate for the Japanese because of what happened in the Nanking Massacre, similar to how an old English WWII vet might still feel animosity towards the Germans.

It is because of these atrocities that shape the way we as a society think and feel about nations and people. These feelings are not rational or logical but come from an emotional core that is passed on from generation to generation. I even have Chinese friends younger than me that still do not trust the Japanese even though the Rape of Nanking was before their living memory.

Twenty years after the T1ananmen Massacre, students in universities across China now would have been in diapers (or at least pants with an exposed bottom) when the anonymous man in the white shirt stood in front of 4 tanks with his shopping bags. What I see from afar is that this generation of students do not have the revolutionary drive of those left in exile from twenty years ago. They have been taught to know better than to offend the government and for the most part, the affect (from my perception) is that the generation of twenty-somethings now, the age group that throughout history is most vocal about social change, has become strongly patriotic.

Living in China, one rarely hears (or overhears) support for the Dalai Lama or people craving for democracy. In the back of my democratic, conspiracy loving, Orwellian, Australian educated mind I would love to think that this is because they fear what might happen if they harbour revolutionary thought but this does not seem to be the case. T-Shirts with 我爱中国 (I love/heart China) seem to be worn by people who do in fact genuinely love their country.

When the French protesters attacked the Olympic torch, the protests and boycotts in China were not organised by the government. They were organised by citizens appalled by the attack on a wheelchaired athlete. When news of the Great Sichuan Quake broke, normal citizens donated what they could to the cause of saving the survivors. When I think back at these two recent incidents, the only thing that I can think of is that I would do exactly the same thing.

Since the Cold War, and even so far back as McCarthyism the media loves to take the easy road of portraying good and evil. In the case of China, the easiest narrative used to be that the Chinese Government was an evil communist regime oppressing the billion peasant citizens. A narrative that Hollywood would love but by it's nature is flawed simply because evil has no motive. Evil people do bad things for no other reason than because it's evil, and for the last twenty years since the T1ananmen Massacre, there has been no motive to oppress the citizens of China. In fact there is more motivation to further support the Chinese people to succeed to undo some of the stupidity of Mao's Cultural Revolution.

Governing 1.3 billion people requires a huge political machine and throughout China there are abuses of power at various levels of authority. From the local police to municipal and provincial officials. The tragedy that occurred in Beijing though was not the result of these thing. The decision to open fire on protesters, as much as we would like to label this as evil, was not. It was an act of desperation by a government that was backed into a corner. It was about disowning and turning your eldest son over to the police for drug abuse to save the future of your younger son.

I want to reiterate at this stage that this is not a justification or a defense for what the Government did. In fact it is likely that the massacre was a decision made by good people without enough foresight to foresee a potential outcome until it was too late. Using the example again of disowning your elder son to save the younger, it can be argued that as a parent you should have educated and controlled your elder son when he was younger rather than allowing him to navigate the world without enough guidance. Sacrificing a son does not make you a good parent, in fact it makes you a bad one trying to undo a past mistake.

So as I write this post through a VPN (as I cannot directly access my blog, Twitter or YouTube) I am not really that pissed off. Why? Because I see this as the actions of a good parent. One that has learned from past mistakes and is committed to not making them again. And as a son, you know that I will continue to try to circumvent your Great Firewall the same way a real son, against advice and parental guidance, might still try drugs.

So today, the twentieth anniversary of the T1ananmen Massacre, I pray for the families of the dead and oppressed, but more importantly, I pray for the future of china because over the last eight years here, I too have learned to 爱中国。


alex gibson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
alex gibson said...

I disagree with your argument that the GFW can be justified, but I appreciate your articulation of some of the Chinese peoples political positions.

I wrote a detailed response here: