On June 4, 1989, soliders from the People's Liberation Army opened fire on democracy advocates and killed countless of our brightest and most promising youth ... in what is surely one of the darkest and most shameful moments in Chinese history. This post is in memory of China's heroes who stood their ground in the face of oblivion.
On February 18, 1997 Deng Xiaoping died from complications related to Parkinson's disease. Within a week, the torrent of fawning boot-licking news stories covering the accomplishments of the so-called 'great reformer' crowded the covers of major English news magazines and television feeds. Nobody had the nerve to tell the truth - because in this day and age, the recently deceased are above criticism, however great their sins.
The following essay was my response to the simpering media treatment Deng, and was originally published in the UCSD Guardian February 28th, 1997. It was subsequently picked up by the San Diego Union-Tribune as well as a news-feed wire service. I've since learned that a translated version was published in a Taiwanese newspaper a week later.
s a citizen of the outlaw, renegade Chinese province of Taiwan, I was not one on the 10,000 mourners invited to the funeral of Deng Xiaoping. In fact, no “foreigners” were allowed entrance to the invitation-only ceremony last Tuesday in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.
Military leaders, government officials and party loyalists attended the ceremony in relative quiescence. The six days of official mourning were designed to smooth the way for Communist Party President Jiang Zemin to take on the mantle of leadership.
So what was the reaction from the leader the Free World? No surprise – Bill Clinton, ever the opportunist, was quick to join the chorus of simpering praise in progress: “Mr. Deng's long life spanned a century of turmoil, tribulation and remarkable change in China. He spurred China's historic economic reform program, which greatly improved living standards in China and modernized much of the nation. The continued emergence of China as a great power that is stable politically and open economically, that respects human rights and the rule of law and that becomes a full partner in building a secure international order is profoundly in America's interest and in the world's interest.”
|I’m certain your loyalty to your masters has been noted and will be appropriately rewarded in good time. But Mister President, if I may be so bold: How many electoral votes do thirty pieces of silver buy these days?|
Well, Mister Clinton - considering the extent to which your political existence was bankrolled by the butchers from Beijing, it’s not surprising to watch you kowtow to your benefactors and lick their boots in gratitude. Indeed, I’m certain your loyalty to your masters has been noted and will be appropriately rewarded in good time. But Mister President, if I may be so bold: How many electoral votes do thirty pieces of silver buy these days?
If Deng should be remembered for anything, it should be for his shrewd opportunism. Like all Communist nations surrounded by the wealth of their capitalistic neighbors, China found itself in a dilemma: covetous of the fruits of free markets, yet hateful of the necessary cultivation of the vines and soil of freedom that yield them. Mindful of changing global realities, Deng understood, better than Mao, how to manage the tides of public opinion.
Whereas Mao built a cult of personality and relied on his near-deity status amongst his acolytes to promote ham-fisted industrial policies, Deng allowed calculated, painfully slow reform to throw political crumbs to the Chinese people and in the process preserve his illusion of being a generous and benevolent leader.
Incrementalism allowed Deng to take credit for every miniscule increase in the standard of living, while simultaneously keeping the growth of industry under the eyes and guns of government leadership.
Make no mistake: Deng knew what could make China a great nation. He also recognized that the price for China’s greatness, democratic freedom, would ultimately spell his political demise. Like every dictator who sampled the intoxicating wine of absolute power, when push comes to shove, he turned his back on his people for another draught from the bottle of political influence.
On April 5, 1978, an unlikely hero emerged from the bosom of the Communist Party’s elite that sent shockwaves through the pro-democracy advocates huddled in the shadows of China’s police state. Although sheltered in the privilege accorded to children of party loyalists and indoctrinated at the best schools the blood money of Communist China could buy, Wei Jingsheng nonetheless grew disillusioned with the empty promises of a socialist utopia.
Inspired by the posters and writings displayed along the low, gray brick wall around a bus yard west of Tiananmen (which came to be known as Democracy Wall) Wei wrote, in a single night, his celebrated essay – “The Fifth Modernization: Democracy.” While most of the writers on Democracy Wall criticized the Communist regime with oblique references, parables and analogies, Wei fearlessly named names and spoke plainly.
“We want to be masters of our own destiny,” he wrote. “We need no gods or emperors. We do not believe in the existence of any savior. We want to be masters in our world and not instruments used by autocrats to carry out their wild ambitions…”
For his “counterrevolutionary crimes against the Chinese people,” Wei was arrested and sentenced to 15 years in laogai prison. Released in 1993, a weakened but spirited Wei (he had lost eight of his teeth, contracted hepatitis and developed a heart condition while incarcerated) engaged foreign journalists in direct defiance of his captors’ orders. The price of insolence to Deng Xiaoping was high: in 1996, Wei was again arrested and jailed – where he remains to this day.
Deng Xiaoping was no hero to the Chinese people. The real heroes of the Chinese people will not be found at the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall. You will find them in other places: they are university students who toil in hushed secret to organize and communicate contraband information to their classmates. They are political prisoners who languish in concentration camps at the edge of exhaustion in bitterly cold prisons away from family and loved ones. They rest in unmarked tombs outside reeducation camps as silent testaments to those whose bodies were broken for the unforgivable crime of possessing an unbreakable spirit.
Mr. Deng – what did Wei Jingsheng write on Democracy Wall that frightened you so? Did you think you could silence a nation’s cry for freedom with your gulags, your police and your state-sanctioned propaganda? Mr. Deng – where will you run, now that you can no longer hind behind your screen of Red Guards? Who will protect you when you must answer to the blood of martyrs that shrieks out for justice from the red-stained bricks of Tiananmen Square?
Mr. Deng – can you hear the howling winds of change tonight as they scatter your princeling whelps to the four corners of the world and blow down the house of cards you so painstakingly crafted?
Goodbye comrade Deng. May the legacy of Mao and the remnants of the freedom-hating pillars of your political order rest alongside your bones and ashes forever.