I found out something I didn’t know today. If you happened to walk around mainland China with a photograph of the Tiananmen Square “Tank Man”, something strange happens. You, know. That guy with balls too large to contemplate who stood in front of a column of Chinese tanks twenty years ago. Photograph below.
If you asked an average Chinese citizen what this photograph meant to them, they wouldn’t say it was a timeless symbol of standing up to oppression like most westerners would. In fact, some wouldn’t even recognize it, especially younger Chinese. This may seem as disturbing to you as it did to me, since there is now a large generation of capitalistic young Chinese that are bringing their country into the forefront of the developed world this century, but they don’t understand the terrifying realities of their own history. This can be dangerous in light of China’s accelerated rise.
We need China, and they need us, but not as much. What Niall Furgeson called Chimerica was the driving force in the global economy before the recent great recession, but now we have a new dynamic where China truly dominates during a time when we are declining as a world power. Make no mistake, we are following the same path as past hegemonies. Just like Babylon, Egypt, Persia, Greece, the Mongols, Rome, the Ottoman’s, Spain, and Great Britain; what goes up must come down and we, ladies and gentlemen, are coming down. Spain and Great Britain succumbed to massive debt owed to up and coming foreign powers; sound familiar? You are witnessing this happen now and China is only the largest of several up and coming powers of this era.
Now we begin to see the importance of how these young hard working Chinese see the world and their own history. The budding tradition of civil discourse occurring in China can be thought of as a substitute for the heady spirit of change present in the late 80s, but this is a low grade substitute at best. The demand to know the names and numbers of children who died in the Szechuan earthquake school collapses has become a painful experience beyond the actual loss of the children. Inquisitive and defiant parents are being watched by Chinese security forces for asking about what happened to their babies. Chinese growth and capitalism is still vigorous and coming straight for us, but a lack of openness and consideration for the individual has brought us dangerous toys, deadly milk and a deep mistrust of Chinese progress that will be hard to reverse.
This week’s twenty year anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre should be a time to contemplate what kind of China the world should have today, but doesn’t. Hopefully, this ancient and wise nation is still heading towards the same destination, but has only taken a longer path.