Thursday, October 01, 2009


The People's Republic of China turns sixty years old today. To mark the occasion, the poorly-dressed men that run the place closed the airport for three hours, shut down parts of the subway for about 16 hours, banned pigeons, people and balloons from central Beijing, and even told people to close their windows and stay away from their balconies.

And that doesn't even include Xinjiang province, where there was no Internet or international phone calls in the entire province a month ago (and presumably none still), nor does it include an entire generation of people that have never heard of YouTube and who tell me that only Westerners use Facebook. There are actually more Indonesians than Chinese on Facebook, which officially doesn't exist in China.

Anyway, I'm sure they threw a wonderful parade with large numbers of people in funny clothes doing artistic or acrobatic things for which they practiced relentlessly under duress, and lots of little soldiers marching in lockstep who didn't blink. Then the poorly-dressed men who run the show there (seriously, Jiang Zemin can surely afford better glasses) probably gave a horrendous speech, given the lacklustre tradition of oratory in China.

I used to be a real Sinophile in love with the idea of an ascendant China where previously poor people could now get online, go to IKEA and otherwise live comfortably without fear of being starved to death, as was previously the case under their murderous, moronic leadership. Then I went there. I fell even more in love with the 500 million city dwellers who enjoy a rough approximation of the sort of lives we live in the West, a stunning accomplishment in a very short time. I also fell in love with the 800 million people who live in the country in Third World conditions, whose situation is an appalling reminder that we won't see Mao on the US dollar bill just yet.

I also came to hate the dictatorship whose birthday is being celebrated today. It's not exactly the 60th anniversary of Chinese independence, after all, but the 60th anniversary of Mao Zedong going to the Tiananmen and declaring that China was now a People's China. In the last thirty years, the country has achieved a lot, but it only achieved a lot because of how backwards it was. Lauding the Communist Party for the progress of the last thirty years is like rewarding a drunk driver for driving into your car and then calling 911. Perhaps a democracy would not have worked in China, and much of this progress was only possible with a centralized government doing what was necessary, but that doesn't excuse the way in which millions upon millions of people have suffered.

What hurt me so deeply traveling across China, particularly in places like Sichuan province, was to meet smart, educated people who, through the luck of being born where they were, made about a tenth of what I made, and considered themselves fortunate. I admire how hard they work and the tenacity with which they shrug off the tragedies of the past, just like I admire the determination of peddlers in Tiananmen Square to sell you a pair of Olympic souvenir socks or toys. Those people are what make China such a wonderful place, the place to visit if you were only going to visit one country in the world, but they make me intensely angry at the government which humbles and cripples them.

The poorly-dressed men who control China employ millions of ham-handed minions who employ tactics like obstructing foreign TV cameras with umbrellas, embarrassing their country in front of the entire world. They try, however, to act sophisticated. They might have learned English and they might have had the Olympics, but the Chinese government is like a petty, vindictive child drunk on its own power, hardly anything to respect or celebrate. Please don't be impressed by any of this.

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