Tuesday, August 14, 2007


A few days ago I had dinner with a former staff member of mine, a really nice Chinese guy about my age. He left our company for a job that treated him much better (weekends off, paid more, etc) and it was wonderful to see him.

After walking around the downtown Chao Yang Jie area, we went to a 四川(Sichuan) restaurant that I've been wanting to try for ages now. (It was delicious and my mouth was on fire for hours.) It was the first time I've eaten chicken's feet, and while not my favorite, I would eat them again. My favorite sichuan dish so far is mapo dofu, a very spicy dish of cubed tofu and pepper. But I digress.

During dinner we discussed many things, and as with many conversations with the younger Chinese, we began discussing China's role in the world, and in particular its govermment. Now, I have grown accustomed to the fact that most Chinese people are not exactly "up on the facts" about certain situations involving China. The Chinese mi-dia frequently reports what the govermment wants its people to hear, not that annoying thing called the trooth.

I was still surprised though when my friend told me that, despite the fact that he is a 26 year old, university educated, very well spoken guy, he had never heard of the "event" that occurred in TN&men Four Sides in the summer of 19-8-9.

Never. Not, "Oh, it really wasn't that big of a deal" or, "Oh yes, a few people were arrested." Never heard of it.! He was shocked to find out about it sometime last year. When he DID start to try to look into it more, the only things he could find about it were Chinese reports stating that in fact it was the protestors that shot at the military and police, killing many of China's heroic soldiers! He knows now more about it from speaking to foreigners, and he said it made him much more angry that his government would lie about it than the fact that it had actually happened.

It is very normal here for certain stories to be kept under raps by the Parti. A protesst here, police brutalety there, perhaps some withholding of true status of AID-S in the country. That is par for the course here... what shocked me was how something THAT BIG, something so internationally known that most people will list TN&men in the top 5 things you think of when you hear the word "China", could be entirely unknown to a well educated, affluent young man.

I think there is a large disparity between the generations here in China regarding knowledge. The older generations seem to know many things, but are unwilling to talk about them. Only amongst good friends after a few glasses of baijiu have I heard some older Chinese men discuss their view of the gov, TN&men, and such related things. Those guys lived through that stuff, they were there, and their reluctance to discuss things openly stems from those days when doing so ran the risk of being turned in by a friend or neighbor, and being sentenced to 5-years in a labor camp or worse (gulp).

It is the polar opposite for the younger generation here. They didn't grow up with this fear. They want to discuss and learn more about things, they have a fervor for it, but they don't have access to the knowledge that their parents and grandparents do. Instead, they try to supplement actual knowledge of things with information gleaned from the internet, which unfortunately is often misinformation, distributed en masse by the powers that be. The more they learn, the more ashamed many of them have told me they feel about they way certain powers have behaved... which unfortunately has the side effect of making them less willing to talk to foreigners about things, where they could actually find out more information.

I myself will not discuss any subject about Chinese governpants, unless a Chinese person brings it up first. The social rule of, "don't discuss poolotics or meligion at dinner" applied triply, nay quadruply in China. It can be a very upsetting subject for some and unless you know they desire to discuss it, you should just leave it alone.

This summer was the first time that the glovernment allowed anyone to publicly remember any of the deaths that day. One woman was allowed to openly commemorate her son... one woman out of the thousands of families who lost someone that day, who petition the glovernment each year to be allowed to openly remember their lost ones. Its not much, but at least its a step in the right direction. Perhaps in another 18 years there will be no more ban on publicly remembering the event. Perhaps by that time, the powers that be will learn that the only way to avoid repeating mistakes is to learn from them, and the only way to learn from them is to remember them.

**You'll note that throughout this post, some words have funny spellings, etc. That's so this doesn't show up in a word search for certain things. I don't want to attract any negative attention from anyone, and you never know who is watching here in China.