> 22 politics

22 politics

2008-05-05 - jjackunrau

At the Nanjing Massacre memorial… Well, I think I should head back there and read everything in the exhibition hall, so maybe I’ll refrain from too much commenting on that just yet [I never did get back -JJU]. But outside the hall we wandered the grounds where stones are placed for specific massacre sites and the ground is scattered with stones to represent the 300,000 dead. Cheryl says that was a number specifically and politically chosen. Because they can’t tell exactly how many people died. There’s the Grave of 10,000 Corpses but it doesn’t have that many bodies identified (all through that hall they’ve got scattered femurs and humeri broken beside the walkways). The 300,000 was chosen to be a larger number than the atomic blasts killed in Hiroshima (and Nagasaki?). To ensure that Chinese suffering could be quantitatively higher than that of their enemies. So people wouldn’t have to say “Sure fewer died but it was more horrible.” More died and it was more horrible. No wiggle room for the devils. I should be fair. I only saw the Japanese called devils outside the museum by the statues with their quotes and poems.

Cheryl talked a lot about Japan and her time at the Hiroshima memorial. She’s heard people speak on the topic of this whole ugly history. Japanese pastors saying “Our salvation lies in your (Chinese) forgiveness.” Japanese civilians saying “Yes it’s true we didn’t know what was happening but we can’t get away from our guilt that way. It’s our responsibility to know what our government is doing in our name.” (I know that one chilled me with responsibility. We live in a democracy. My government represents me far moreso than the CCP represents an ordinary Chinese person. And what are they doing in my name? Well, at least I’m not an American.) Chinese Christians saying that one of the great obstacles to faith was the idea that god even loved the Japanese. How could that be?

Later in the evening we were at Wang Xuefu’s house and were talking politics. He speaks of the Nanjing Massacre and the Cultural Revolution as psychologically traumatizing events for the nation. As a country “Chinese are very good at forgetting” he said (something I think needs a bit more explanation or at least some speculation) but that means the wounds get buried deeper. The government isn’t interested in healing. All they care for is other things: Economics. Power. And if they can harness the wounds and use them for their own purposes then that’s exactly perfect. Healing would only hurt that agenda.

We got into the story of a prof at Nan Da who is a member of a minority political party. He submitted an open letter to the CCP asking for open elections. On Xuefu’s couch we all sat back with mouths agape, laughing at the audacity. What happened? He was forced to resign from his party and is no longer allowed to teach classes.

In the last couple of weeks there’ve been protests in Lhasa. Monks and civilians in Jokhang Square marching angrily. And this has been shown on CCTV which probably means a forceful clampdown is forthcoming. But not too forceful since the eyes of the world are starting to focus on the country. There was a 19-year-old woman from Xinjiang who supposedly smuggled gasoline onto a plane to try and hijack it in an attack on Beijing. In the media reports the focus is on outside separatist forces using these Chinese people to make revolting statements. “And they’re such monsters they’d even use an innocent teenaged girl to try hurting China.” All these outsiders giving the government excuses for support from the people.

One of Xuefu’s friends is a professor and former journalist and he says that his greatest regret is being part of the propaganda machine for so many years. He’s the one who taught Xuefu about proxies and tunnelling through the Great Firewall. We talked about how there are no rules in China anymore, how classrooms are set up as dictatorships just to satisfy the teacher’s desire to feel important.

Korean respect for age and authority was held up as a kind of model for integrating Confucian values with Western freedoms. Cheryl talked about her Korean friend who won’t talk politics with his family because then his father would demand to be listened to, and “I don’t want to vote for who my father wants people to vote for.” By not discussing it the son isn’t forced to disobey when it comes to the ballot box.

We talked about how in China the people in power have no ideology any more, no ideals beyond staying in power and keeping the good life all that money affords. Supposedly people had thought maybe Hu Jintao would be someone who’d start the process toward democracy but once he got in it was all the same old thing. If a transition to a democratic society were to happen many people say it would be chaos. On these couches in the nicest Chinese living room I’ve ever been in, that chaos was limited if the transition was led from above. Sure a revolution would be chaotic but so much of that is because it would be a fight between the people and the government. If the government were to gradually institute more local-level elections and work its way up, there wouldn’t have to be blood. But how could that happen? It won’t as long as people have the feeling that things could be worse.

The top and middle these days have more and more to protect and the bottom can only steam and maybe have an occasional anti-Japanese riot/three minutes of hate. People are gradually getting better off (“Materially,” I interject. “In every way,” Holly corrects me, “There’s more free speech and better health care available and yeah.” I sit back chastened like the dumb westerner I happen to be.) and a lot of them see that as enough.

All this talking was happening out at Wang Xuefu’s house in the suburbs. Now my idea of suburbs is shaped by the small city I grew up in. Basically anything that’s not downtown is a suburb to me. Places with trees and lawns and such. This suburb is an hour and a half outside the city (by bus. Car or taxi mabe half an hour to 45 minutes) off shitty dirt roads and freeways. It’s more like living in Connecticut when you work in New York, or at least it seemed like that to me. One of the roads we got into a traffic jam on is the state road to Hangzhou. They’re building the subway out there so it’ll be more connected in a year or two.

Inside their subdivision though I thought I’d gone to hell. There are some little hills and a manmade lake his house backs (fronts?) onto. And it’s surrounded by these birthday cake tiered townhousey things just piled on each other. The definition of prefabbed nicety. White Ridge on the Pack ‘em In scale. The other side of their house faces a row of identical buildings across a cement tiled lawnspace. Xuefu stressed very insistently that he wasn’t a rich man, though his house was beautifully upper middle class. Three storeys, heated floors on the main and top levels. Dark stained wood staircase and dining room table. High ceilings with recessed lighting, space for a huge entertainment unit but holding a 24” old TV. A beautiful office with skylight attached to the master bedroom. Everything very clean and relatively elegant. Lacking in art for the space but whatever. A whiteboard hung in the dining room which was a bit tacky or something but in general it made you forget you were in a townhouse. He bought out there a few years ago when there was nothing, so it was cheap. He’d “had a feeling it would soon be developed” from what he’d seen in the US. So he got in at the base and it’s already quadrupled in value. Good for them and all that.

He also has a silver Buick parked in the driveway. And really, to live out there now you need to have a car. He learned to drive in the States I think, but this winter in a snowstorm (not the big one, a couple of weeks before it) they’d been driving home from some town where they were doing some training and it was icy and shitty and he spun out in a 360. They decided to take safety as a priority over the law and Holly took the wheel. She had greater experience and got them home safely in the end.

Earlier this year the car got keyed when they were out somewhere and Holly was impressed that he didn’t flip out (he really loves this car). He did complain about the ignorance of whoever did it though. “Why does he have to take out his aggression on his fellow man?” Maybe the term he used was “common man.” In any case, Holly thought “You aren’t the guy’s fellow man; you have a car.” And a nice house in suburban hell.

The day after all this discussion Zhang Guo Xian was asking Holly about different countries. “What is your view on…Mexico?” kind of stuff. She said she likes all countries. “Even Japan?” asked Xiao Meng. “Yup.” And then with obvious practice Xiao Meng launched into “Well if you really loved China…” and Holly stormed away. I don’t blame her one bit. I absolutely detest that kind of narrow party-line view of Xiao Meng’s. Holly says she’s a very good and loving friend but she just can’t talk to her about what China is like. I know that since I don’t see (or at least understand) her being a loving good friend I really don’t like Xiao Meng. All I get is the cartoon villain snickering and this narrow narrow view of the world and the TV watching and stuff. If my Chinese were better… but it’s not. So I’m stuck here seeing and hearing what I can and what is explained to me. This is really a very useless document when I think clearly about it. All that humble bullshit up front is really true. Don’t think there’s any insight here.

cars cctv cheryl woelk cultural revolution democracy holly japan korea language money nan da nanjing nanjing massacre politics power suburbs the hangman tibet wang xuefu xiao meng xinjiang zhang guo xian