Thursday, June 4, 2009
As the nations of the world prepare to mark the Twentieth Anniversary of the weeks-long student-led pro-democracy demonstrations crushed on June 4th in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, The People’s Republic of China, twelve hours ahead of us, is already suppressing it.
The news is not controlled, it’s stifled. Television crews are banned from the Square. Access to Internet sites is blocked. Popular social networking sites such as Twitter, Flickr and Hotmail are effectively shut down. The Great Firewall of China has wound its way through the inroads of progress, ostensibly rendering modern China impregnable again. But for how long?
“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,” wrote U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Frost. Will it be Chinese students again? Or the offspring of the workers who supported them so ardently twenty years ago? Whatever it is “That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,” as Frost has it, will invariably have to surface from Chinese soil. What we know, from Jericho to Berlin, is that even in the face of the seemingly impossible, unwelcome, untenable walls come tumbling down.
Two Chinas, the mainland and Taiwan, are slowly, but no one will say surely, becoming one China—aren’t they? Invisible walls prevail. Ten days ago, I was one of six journalists invited to fly from mainland China to Taiwan for the first time in sixty years. More was made of it here than in China. Applying for a visa in New York, I was told that being a “writer” was a problem—“We don’t want you to write anything critical of us.” I was up against a wall—until I asked why they would expect something critical. I got the visa. So nothing I say is critical.
BUT. Here’s where the information factor becomes critical. I have seen first hand what a communist-controlled education can do to people, in the Former Soviet Union, in Mongolia, and in [censored]. It deprives them of the ability to think for themselves, to make decisions and to take responsibility for them. It primes them for taking orders and strips them of any notion under the sun of not following them.
Still, contradictions abound. The educated are super-educated. Three consecutive guides learned English in Chinese schools and spoke it better than many an American I’ve heard. When someone used any English word they didn’t know, they took a small electronic gizmo out of a pocket or pocketbook, entered the word, read the definition provided on the screen and “saved” it. The management and staffs of the hotels we stayed in, the grandest of Grand Hyatts in Beijing, Shanghai and Taipei, were fluent, fast on the uptake (and we gave them plenty to take up, and in) and charmingly, often wittily, responsive.
All things computed, the “new” China is better served without firewalls.