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Web Letter

What do we really know about Tiananmen? What do you really know about it?

Justin Raimondo wrote an excellent analysis of the events that led up to Tiananmen and the "communist" Party that followed. Much more nuanced and balanced than anything one would ever find in any US Government propagandist, um, er, I mean mainstream media.

Millicent Wilson

Berkeley, CA

Jun 7 2009 - 12:13am

Web Letter

Although China is one of our biggest trading partners, Americans, as a whole, are very ignorant of her. Many of us are stuck in the past, while making assumptions through our ignorance. A mild, yet telling assumption is that the world will have to learn Mandarin. As that is one of the hardest languages to learn, that is simply not going to happen. Plus, with 300 million Chinese learning English, there is no need for that. Another, far more egregious, assumption is the China of Mao era is the China of today. Many know that is not true, yet this myth persists to this day, even carrying over to myself. Reputations are very hard to live down, and that is one of the reasons the Chinese had a no-holds-barred Olympics, to show the world that China is no longer the totalitarian state under Mao but rather a state that is moving forward in a very positive direction.

An Indian friend of mine, that lives in another city here in China where I, as an American, teach, offered this observation of Americans. He was very apologetic when he stated that he loves Americans but we are not worldly. Meaning, we have a very simplistic way of looking at the world, with us against them, and we therefore think we know better than them. That is a rather childish way of looking at the USA, yet it really is what we are like. Not all of us, but many, even some who should know better. As in our press, of which I was a part for ten years, ignorance of China and the assumption that the past is the present is common.

Twenty years ago, when I had my first real trip overseas, staying with my ex-wife's family in the Philippines, I realized just how caught up I was in that kind of thinking. The thing that struck me more then anything was that they were poor, very poor by American standards, yet were a very close-knit and happy family. By all rights, they should have been miserable, but that was simply not the case.

In 1959, my fifth grade teacher had taught English in Shanghai in the 1930s. We were very lucky in that part of the curriculum that year was about China, so he shared a lot of his experiences, photographs, the Chinese culture, etc. But he was stuck in one thing, that everything stays the same. I remember telling him one day I want to go to China. He said that will never happen because China is a closed country. Funny how fifty years later I am teaching the one subject I hated as a child in the country he said I would never be allowed into.

During the cold war, Playboy magazine had a parody on Russian beauty (or was it National Lampoon?), with pictures of Russian models that were anything but pretty but rather fat peasant farmers, images the West was inundated with. The centerfold was a tractor. Then glasnost happened and that completely turned around and I found, to my astonishment, that Russia is full of some of the most beautiful women in the world. That is propaganda for you.

When was the last time we learned anything, through our news, about the people in the countries we hate, unless it was something negative? No wonder there are so many jailed dissidents in China, I mean there must be, the people are repressed and of course they are going to rise up and be jailed, shot on sight, etc., etc., etc. (yes, I am being sarcastic). When in reality, the people, for the most part, don't give a damn about politics. Which has made me conclude that the Amnesty International groups, while well-intentioned, I hate to put it this way, but they are in it for the money. Yes, they bring to our attention things that are terrible in this world, but just how much of that is conjecture and how much is fact? How much of that is blown out of proportion simply for more donation bucks?How much would they lose if they stated that China has moved forward in leaps and bounds since Mao died and we need to rethink the way we think about China?

Take Iran, for instance. We hear horrible things about the country. One would think the people all walk around with a huge cloud hanging over their heads, silently begging for the day democracy, free speech and freedom rock their land. Yet they are a very proud people, proud of their country, proud of their heritage and proud of their culture. I used to chat with an Iranian online and she put it this way, "Democracy is a great ideal, it works very well for your country and much of the world, but please, don't try to shove your democracy down our throats." She was 100 percent correct, we have no business forcing a government system on a people. Nor do we have a right to insist they embrace our values. What we should be doing is embracing their culture as a way to bring peace.

What would happen if we embraced people and governments as a way of looking at the world? We usually don't look at the people unless it serves our interests. We know virtually nothing of the Iranian people (or the Iraqis for that matter), we make assumptions based on our values, values they may or may not share. If we find a group that shares in our values, no matter how much of a minority they are, they seem to instantly become a shining beacon of freedom for their country, when in fact they maybe anything but. Take for instance the exiled Cubans in Miami, the very people that were forced to leave Cuba because they were the ruling minority that kept the people in poverty. Or the exiled Iraqis who swore up one side and down the other that Saddam did indeed have mass stockpiles of WMDs and we bought it hook, line and sinker. No one really questioned their motives (I sure as hell did), we just bought their propaganda, and the rest is now history.

I bought a DVD here in China about what the world would be like if the US military suddenly ceased to be the police of the world, packed up and left every country we had troops in. You'd think the author of the DVD would be very much in favor of that, since I live in a tightly controlled country (supposedly!) that doesn't like our military much--but it wasn't anything like that. It was put together by an American immigrant (the country he came from escapes me) with some of the most egregious propaganda I have seen in ages. One segment was about Taiwan, with a young Taiwanese spokesman claiming China will invade sometime in the near future. That is pure folly. China and Taiwan have been working closely for years normalizing relations. Yet the DVD would have you think that Taiwan is on China's hit parade of future invasions. There was no mention of diplomacy, or trade, of being open, all it talked about was repression. Nor did it talk of China's dislike of expansionism, what it has learned from its past, what it has done in the last fifty years, it was just more of the same kind of BS fear-mongering that continues to create more misunderstanding and hate. I have talked to people from Taiwan here in China and they mirror the feelings of the Taiwanese spokesmen. Yet the Chinese here don't even feel that way, they believe that the problems will become less through peaceful coexistence. There is ample evidence of that and lacking evidence of a pending invasion. So why are the Taiwanese saying the invasion is imminent, and the Chinese are saying peaceful coexistence? I mean, history does not paint an invasion, unless one wants to go back almost sixty years to Tibet, but the world and situations have changed radically and the totalitarian state of China is no longer in existence. My conclusion: people who live under a constant barrage of propaganda simply lose their common sense. We, in the USA live under such a system through our press and government. We like to think we are free, but how much of that freedom is an illusion brought to us by our media? I mean, are we really free when we are taught hatred, racism and bigotry? Look at our press critically, I mean very critically, and you'll find it.

About a month ago, I got an e-mail from an American about China, making claims that China is repressive, backwards, and that a Chinese person can't even own a television--so why am I such a communist sympathizer? I must be paid by the government, or I am the Chinese version of a Tokyo Rose. (I have been ganged up on on more conservative forums by everyone, and I mean everyone, saying I must be paid for doing what I am doing--all without using their common sense to realize that what I am saying hits maybe twenty people). I also get quite a bit of e-mail from people wondering what it is like to live in a country that lacks modern amenities. Yet I can walk into a Home Depot or a Chinese version of that in Shanghai and buy a shower equipped with a phone, TV and computer--which I think is kind of silly; nevertheless, this country is not lacking in modern conveniences but is rather embracing them at a faster rate in many cases than the West is. Then of course there is the e-mail about what it is like living in a police state. If this country was 10 percent of what many think it is, I would not be here. I would no more want to live in a repressive society than any red-blooded American would.

Tiananmen needs to be put in perspective. It happened twenty years ago. Much has changed in China since then. For instance, their judicial system is going through reforms, one being a appeals system that seems to be working; another is that all capital crimes are now automatically appealed to their supreme court, and the crimes one can be put to death for are being reduced along with executions for most capital crimes based on the prisoner's remorse and behavior in prison. Yet in the West we know very little of that. For all the West knows, China is still communist, yet that is a economic system and capitalism is the polar opposite.

Of course China has a long way to go, but at the same time, this incessant China bashing needs to be toned down and we need to give them a huge amount of credit for moving from total repression to an open society and then some.

Old assumptions and beliefs die hard, especially with governments that we are taught to hate from an early age.


Jim Em

Henan Province, Henan Province, China

Jun 4 2009 - 1:36am

Web Letter

An excellent article, if written with condecending shots every so often, which none of us needed, I'm sure. I don't know why Mr. Wasserstrom thinks he's the only one who understands what's going on there.

Insightful, nonetheless.

chip thornton

Reisterstown, MD

Jun 3 2009 - 3:27pm

Web Letter

I agree with most of the article, but I don't see how China has changed. They executed 10,000 people last year. The Chinese government is still as cruel as it ever has been, but we now owe them several trillions.

James L. Pinette

Caribou, ME

May 29 2009 - 6:01pm

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