Thursday, June 04, 2009

June 4th

June 4th, 1989, I was in China. It is a date that had changed the history of modern China, in many aspects. In particular, it drew a line between an idealist China and a materialist China.

The picture on the right is a perfect illusion of the distinction. In the middle there stand two Premiers in Chinese history. The one in the front is Zhao Ziyang (Chinese: 赵紫阳), a Pre-June-4th Premier. Behind Zhao it is Wen Jiabao (Chinese: 温家宝), a Post-June-4th Premier (actually Wen is the current Premier of China). The picture was shot at the night of May 19th, 1989, when Zhao was trying to comfort the students in Tiananmen Square. At the meantime, neither of them was the Premier (Li Peng was the Chinese Premier in 1989). But Wen was the director of Zhao's office.

Zhao and Wen had very different personalities. Zhao was more or less an idealist that was similar to Mikhail Gorbachev of Soviet Union. In the mind of Zhao, China might not rise again until Chinese people could gain the political freedom. The thought liberation must be prior to the flourish of economy. In contrast to Zhao, Wen is more a materialist. Wen believes the economic growth be the first and the political freedom be the second. In his mind, it is fine to ask people to temporarily scarify their various freedom to exchange a better life in material satisfaction. The right of living is above all the other human rights, including the freedom to think; a typical philosophy of the extreme materialists.

It is not my duty to judge the correctness between the two thoughts. (The reader might judge it yourself.) Inevitably, however, this philosophical distinction significantly reformed China.

The majority of the youth generation in China before the June 4th were eager in fighting for gaining more freedom in all aspects of the nation. They were interested in national politics and dreamed of China to be an ideal society that might be governed by leveraging the collective voice of its people.

The majority of the youth generation after the June 4th, however, abandoned the former seemly intangible dream. They started to pay the most of their attention to earning money and enjoying the material life. They care less of the national politics but care more on individual interest. China does have achieved breathtaking progress in economy since then, while it has also paid heavily on the loss of morality national wide. On one hand, this period of Chinese history is a legend of economic growth. On the other hand, in the same period the nation had sold its soul. The absolute truth in China disappears. All truth becomes conditionally right.

Is this China what we expect? Is this China the best interest of all the Chinese people? The only thing that I can tell definitely is that China really could have been a totally different nation if there were no June 4th, 1989.

1 comment:

Cecilia Abadie said...

This explanation gives a great historic framing to what a young Chinese friend explained to me some months ago regarding the trade off between freedom vs economic abundance.
Most likely the old ideology will swing back with a new twist when the pendulum is ready for a comeback.