Chinese Amnesia

This is not a personal blog post about my trivial and adventurous experiences in China, my impressions are surprisingly neutral so far, and I feel it’s more imminent to dig straight in to politics, which I actually avoided for quite a while now. I cross my heart and promise to write something more convivial and personal about all the perks of travelling in China next time, but for now, I’ve spent too much time as an immigrant in Beijing, and hence, all is politics.

However, I am very slowly coming to terms with being in China. Not that it’s such a strange world to be in, not that it’s intense or strikingly different from any other place I’ve visited, it’s just that I want to get under its skin before I actually voice my opinion of it. Because it is, after all, a controversial country, a cause for many a politician to judge, to point at and to fear. But it is also a mythical, historical enticing country of which the rest of the world only been presented glimpses. During the last hundred years China went from a dynastic empire, through a big leap into communism and forward to ultra consumerist capitalism. Parts of me want to compare it to Iran, with its deposed Shah, religious revolution, secluded borders and now finally a slow political reformation towards openness. But where China is today is so far away from Iran, much thanks to the country’s strong and, sort of, progressive leadership. And another but – in Iran I constantly met people willing to discuss politics, internal and global, being extremely well informed about the rest of the world, and constantly accepting that their leadership is a dictatorship, dreaming of better days. People remember the days before the revolution, they talk about the internecine war with Iraq in the 80s, and they acknowledge their present by understanding the past. Whilst in China, politics doesn’t exist if you’re not a member of the party. History is not discussed unless it’s the pre 20th century one. Though people here lived and remembered the detrimental decades under Mao’s rule, it has been efficiently erased, both from academia, education, culture, politics and also, more or less from people’s minds.

I don’t know how much deeper I can go in to China’s current state of amnesia, and the question of: does it really matter?

China doesn’t have to be like the problematic western countries in that sense, no. Thanks to having a one party rule, the party actually manages to plan long term, and not just for the coming four years; where they start focusing on the re election campaign in the midst of it. That is one part where democracy seems to have failed. Compare the democratic leaders of the western world, some even denying climate change while the Chinese government realise the need to deal with the environmental impact of their massive population. The train transportation is fast, reliable and cheap, and reaches to every little nook and cranny. The metro during rush hour in Beijing is full, but not overloaded as maybe it would be in other cities with such a population. The many ring roads around the capital flow steadily thanks to regulations on who’s allowed to drive on them. In central Beijing, you notice the silence of the electric motorbikes, the space between driving cars, and slowly ask yourself how a 23 million people mega city cannot be overcrowded? Travelling through the massive land masses in the west, you will see miles and miles of wind power stations, a recent investment with which China grows to be the leading nation of renewable energy globally. In conversations with my Chinese friends, they have no complaints about what freedoms they are missing, they have everything available in their own country. They have some of the most prestigious schools and companies, they have the opportunity to travel, study and work abroad. They can live and eat cheaply, with higher standards than in many European countries.

Why linger in history when the present is looking so good?

Turning your head towards the US, a country which never really dealt with the trauma of slavery and the perpetual wounds it has created. Or South Africa where Desmond Tutu’s confession-without-punishment was the only reconciliation offered to the black population after decades of systematic marginalisation, violence and oppression. The two countries oppressed black population still hurts from history, suffers from political inaction to deal with visible scars. Then turn your head to look at Germany, or Rwanda, two countries shouldering the responsibility for genocide, living side by side with memorials, education, civic programs or psychological rehabilitation. Countries with strong, growing economies, where there still are problem but where most of the population agrees never to let history repeat itself. Germany has a growing right wing movement, but no KKK renaissance or Charlottesville. Rwanda needs a few political reforms, but Hutus and Tutsis are living side by side merely two decades after one seventh of the population was murdered in cold blood.

What has this to do with China? When China is extending their influence all across the world; they do so forcefully. From articles in many political magazine, you will be given examples of China’s push over global politics. Not knowing where this comes from, the people of China can’t have any reaction to it. When they are not educated or in any way enlightened about the abominations conducted on the Chinese people by their own leaders, the post-tiananmen generation may not have full understanding of the actions the government currently are taking. The middle class benefits greatly from their strong leadership, while the lower class, oppressed ethnicities, or any intellectual opposition will suffer in the worst way. Now that China is taking their policies to a global scale, this will have severe consequences. In Iran, I still believe that the people will have their way, and democracy will eventually, slowly reach the top layers. But when large amounts of the people, as in China, don’t have any incentive, no knowledge of how or why it could change, it will not. The danger of amnesia is partially not knowing where you came from, but mostly to have no real grasp about how horribly wrong things can go – and can do so fast. In Germany, it took less than a decade before a raging world war broke out, in China as well as in the Soviet, people were killed in the millions during the first decade of revolution, and in Rwanda, 700 000 people died in 100 days. If China is to be the new world power, it would be comforting if the leaders displayed some humility, empathy and acknowledgement about committed crimes, and maybe guaranteed that we are not retrograding towards that. Instead, they firmly state that most of what was done during the Mao regime was fruitful progress, and they mainly ignore the negatives. Mao’s portrait is still on large public display, like an old stern grandfather of a young country, and his presence is omnipotent. The opposition is systematically held outside any sphere of possible influence.

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