Tiananmen reflections part two

People watching is one of the best ways to learn about another culture. And hands down one of the best places to people watch in Beijing is in Tiananmen square and you will no doubt see mostly Chinese tourists. If you want to check out another post about my Tiananmen reflections, check here. 

Many of these Chinese people are visiting in hoards of groups, with a majority of them being middle-aged or elderly. They usually are wearing a ball cap of some sort perhaps a yellow hat or red one. Their leader is carrying a Chinese flag and continually reminding them to follow accordingly. Most of the Chinese men are thin and wearing dark clothing that is ten sizes too big for them. Their skin is dark and they enjoy taking breaks to have some sunflower seeds and their wives are unpacking the food they cooked themselves perhaps brought all the way from home wherever that may be. The biggest thing I’ve noticed is how wide-eyed they are looking around like children in a candy shop which is the best way to look around.

I wondered how far these Chinese tourists had traveled to see Tiananmen square. Was this their first time in Beijing? Was this the first time they had left their home town? Did they like Beijing cuisine?  What is their home town like? Did they my shorts were inappropriate? These are the things I think about, y’all.

Right next to Tiananmen square is The National Museum which is fabulous to see. It’s exterior represents Stalinist Russia’s influence on 1950’s China. Its interior has some fabulous exhibitions, especially ancient China’s exhibition. But perhaps the most  striking thing was reading the captions of some of the exhibitions because they clearly had a flair of propaganda infused throughout. For example, This quote comes directly from the entrance to an exhibition:

” The current exhibition is presented in memory of the past and to warn future generations. Let us stand closely around the CPC central leadership with Xi Jinping as the general secretary of CPC and take efforts to build socialism with Chinese characteristics. We should stick to peaceful development and world peace. Let us continue our endeavor to build a moderately prosperous society in all respects, to build a strong democratic, culturally advanced and harmonious socialist country and to fulfill the Chinese dream of great renewal of Chinese nation! Let us continue our peace and development for all of human kind. ”

There were many other quotes similar to this and as I was reading it to myself in the museum, another foreigner walked up to me and said ” Don’t you find this all a little strange?” And while I did, after living in China for a year, I felt that I understood it.

I showed this quote to all of my Chinese colleagues and they  too thought  it sounded very propoganda-laden  and over the top but to a different generation, these words still ring so true.  As I was taking a photo of this quote, several elderly Chinese men and women walked up and proudly posed in front of the quote in Chinese and I could see them all smiling and nodding their heads. These were the same people I had seen so wide-eyed outside of Tiananmen.

The amount of change that this generation has experienced, still boggles my mind. Some of them have been alive to see  a country go from one of no centralized government to one of the most powerful nations in the world. They have seen their families quality of life improve more   in the span of one generation than six or seven generations prior. I’m sure some of them have suffered in different ways due to drastic changes in the country, but they still stand so very proud of their country.

And that’s pretty cool to see.

 

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Tiananmen reflections

I recently asked a Chinese man what the biggest change he has seen in Beijing over the past twenty years in Beijing. This was a kind and gentle man who is soft-spoken, one of those people who has kind eyes. To be honest, before he answered I was expecting him to say one of the following things because I think it’s what I would say if I had lived here for long.

The destruction of the hutongs

The destruction of modern values

more foreigners

more KFC

more traffic

more people

less family time

more international products

more movie theatres

But he replied with, “people smile more.”

This man arrived Beijing in 1988 to attend university. Beijing was the biggest city he had been to and at that time he said it really felt like China’s version of a “college town.” At the time, every student wanted to come to Beijing for university and students were everywhere around the city.

While it was an exciting time for him, he also said it was a tumultuous one as well. He told me that many of his fellow classmates were angry with the government and Beijing was becoming a hotbed for political unrest. Students felt cheated by communism  and were starting to questions communism and its merits.

He said, “I remember being near Tiananmen Square and hearing big tanks rolling into the square. They were everywhere and I was so scared. I wasn’t one of the brave ones that stayed that day, I left and went back to my dorm.”

He was referring to the day that is known around the world as the, Tiananmen Massacre. I honestly am getting chills just writing about it right now because I’m living in the very city where this happened right before I was born a city that looks so different from it did that day. He reflected on the fact that he easily could have been one of those unarmed protestors who were killed but he decided to return to his dorm once he heard the tanks rolling in.

I was truly shocked that he opened up to me about this topic, I would expect some of my younger Chinese friends to be OK discussing this event, but not someone who was in the midst of it all.

He described it as a time when “nobody knew what was true and what wasn’t.” We will never really know how many people died that day.”

He sat there for a minute, half smiling and we were both silent for a split second, but then his face changed into a large grin and he said “but now, it’s amazing! Everyone is smiling.”

Humans are awesome.

China is in a constant state of preservation vs. destruction.The Tiannamen massacre happened because people were wanting change in their government, they wanted a democratic movement. The government fought to preserve its communist values. Now, we see a China that is still communist, but with so many democratic and free-world undertones.  Five star hotels sit next to 500 hundred year old alley ways. Women who are fiercely convinced that hot water is the only temperature of water to drink, talk about their new iPhones. Men and women who experienced the ups and downs of Chairman Mao’s rule, now buy organic food online. I hope you see what I’m getting at.

Now, I know all the above information isn’t unique to China. We see this phenomenon in every corner of the world. However, what makes China so unique is that for thousands of years, this country was fiercely private and valued itself on tradition. It isn’t uncommon to be walking around some hutongs and have elderly men or women tell you that wearing open toed shoes is unhealthy for your body’s “chi”.

It was only in the last one hundred years that common people, and not royalty,  were allowed to eat Peking duck.

The man went on to say, “although so much has changed in Beijing, people are happier than they were before. I’m happier than I was before and I’m happy about that.”

China has experienced the most rapid economic growth than any other country in the history of the world. It’s easy to be overwhelmed with so many changes but I think that getting back to the core of the little things like smiling, is what is really important. While there will continue to be a battle between preservation and destruction in China, at least people are smiling more than ever before.