The anniversary of the massacre at Tienamen Square is approaching, and with it the obligatory mention that the government is suppressing mention of the atrocity, let alone protests or memorials. That statement, however, is a bit less than completely accurate. While official media has indeed censored mention of Tienamen, it’s not at all as if the people of China are unaware of the event or have forgotten. China is a great nation of over a billion people, whose intelligence and conscience is quite alive and responsive. China does not react to events in the same way that we do in the West, nor does she sleep unaware of her wounds. The China to watch is not the propagandized one in Beijing, nor the popular images in the news or media, but the deep demographic currents of the people in the main. China has more than one dimension, and is stronger below the surface than it appears.
Richard Nixon made many mistakes in his life, but he knew China. Like the United States, China is made up of different regions and people from different sub-cultures, who seldom agree with their neighbors on even important issues until there is a crisis. The people of China hate corruption, which is why they rejected Chiang Kai Shek and the Kuomintang. They despise tyranny, which is why the communist government works so hard to spin everything from wars to television programs. They have learned thrift from lean years, and their history shows a deep devotion to family and chivalry; even today historical plays and movies about virtue and knights (or Shaolin monks) are tremendously popular.
And they love America.
Chinese usually refer to the United States as 美国 Meiguo*, which means ‘beautiful country’. Chinese immigrants began coming to America in the early 19th Century, and despite becoming the first race to be specifically barred from citizenship the Chinese have long considered America their friend. The U.S. was the only major power to honor all of its promises in the resolution of the Boxer Rebellion, including the creation of Tsinghua University by American educators and benefactors. The United States also stood by China in resisting invasion attempts first by Russia in 1900 then by Japan in World War 2. Nixon parlayed that respect for American non-imperialism into an alliance against the Soviet Union, which actually fought a prolonged war against China for over twenty years along their border, with casualties reportedly greater than one hundred thousand dead.
It’s really no shock that Chinese invest in the United States, whether in stock, land, or treasury notes – they have done so for generations as much as possible. Chinese routinely send their children to universities in the U.S. if they can afford to do so, they listen to American music and watch American movies. Chinese are more pro-American than most Europeans.
This is not to say, at all, that the government in Beijing is about to become Reaganite or follow the ideals of John Kennedy. Nor should it be taken to mean that China has abandoned its cultural legacy, both as a nation and in the regions and towns and families that have grown and thrived for centuries. But there is a living, active China that is hidden from the dispatches of Hu Jintao’s government, one which remembers the dead of Tienamen and works for a future for all China.
*corrected by Mister Tan