Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Misinformed Youth

In our office we have some flat-screen TVs and are able to get some satellite channels like the BBC, CNN, and HBO.
And today on the eve of Tiananmen, we tuned into CNN and watched two documentaries. The first was a timeline that went through the chronology, showing clips of Premier Li Peng, and the picture of Zhao Ziyang with a bullhorn trying to tell the students to leave the square, and his assistant, a young Wen Jiabao behind him.
The other was about one of the pro-democracy student leaders, Chai Ling, who fled to the United States and is now running a software company for universities. In what may be a technical problem, we couldn't really hear what she was saying and had to turn up the volume.
The story shows her meeting a man who lost his legs 20 years ago, his legs crushed by a tank when he tried to save a girl. Chai says that she feels indebted to him and says she will do what she can to support him.
A few of my younger colleagues who were toddlers two decades ago, gathered around the TV to watch and interestingly they laughed when Chai Ling's name was mentioned, as well as when the announcer said hundreds, maybe thousands died. Why laugh? What's so funny about that?Twenty years on we still don't know the truth about the numbers.
However, it was funny when at the end of the stories that the host added CNN broadcasts of the Tiananmen anniversary were being blocked in China.
Not. Yet.

Then we watched a BBC story about Chinese students studying in the UK and asking what they knew about what happened 20 years ago.

One young woman professed that in her first year overseas, she knew more about Tiananmen than in the previous 22 years of her life.

Others said that people did know, but it was harder to find information in China.

The story concluded by saying that being abroad had opened their eyes.

Then one of my colleagues, a 20-something young man came over and muttered that the BBC story was so biased.

I asked him why he said that and he said that it was annoying for them to say that being overseas had given them more information about June 4 because you can find it in China.

Another young woman piped in, saying people of their generation did know, but they had to know where to find the information.

Explaining that it was just another angle to the story, the young man didn't seem to believe me, saying the west is so biased about what happened.

He even asked me if I thought foreign governments were involved in manipulating the student movement, and if democracy means overthrowing the government.

I tried to explain that the students were idealistic -- all they wanted were greater freedoms and accountability from the government -- they were not looking to overthrow the government. In fact, I said, they were staunch nationalists.

This completely threw him off, as he had never heard this side of the story before, having been taught years ago that the June 4 incident was about a group of people who were anti-Party and anti-socialist and these rebels had to be put down.

He asked me to explain why the movement grew so large, and that's why he thought foreign governments were behind it.

I said that people first turned out to mourn Hu Yaobang because they thought he was a good man, and from there, more and more people started coming to the square, that it was a spontaneous action.

He claimed to have a lot of knowledge about what really happened, but it seemed so skewed to me.

"Were you there? Were you in Beijing at the time?" he asked in a challenging tone.

I said I watched it on TV and saw the news reports.

But then he retorted, saying I was watching it through foreign media eyes, again biased in his view.

There was no reasoning with him that in good journalism, the story is as balanced as possible, with as many different views presented so that the viewer or reader can make up his or her own mind.

The only thing we could agree on was that Tiananmen was a horrible crime, killing innocent people.

Why can't these young people see that because of the hundreds, maybe thousands of people who died, they are enjoying the freedoms and better living standards they demanded?

But perhaps they will never realize that; and that is the tragedy of the next generation.

They do not even know their own recent history, and from that will never understand what it means to fight for democracy and accountability.

I mourn for those who died, innocent lives who fought for what they believed in.

And I mourn for the next generation, the vast majority of whom will never know -- or want to know -- the truth behind June 4.


ChopSuey said...

In an internet cafe in xi'an, i recall watching a kid who sat in front of me. he had a clip playing in mandarin with english subtitles that showed a history of the democracy movement through time (ie. beginning at ww 2) and continuing to the present.
i hope others are able to find it and see what history was like perhaps with some western bias tho.

Anonymous said...

We are all biased when looking back at history. We see it through our own tunnel vision. One fact most historians forgot to mention was at that time the Soviet president Gorbachev was making a state visit to China. It will be a big lose-face if there is civil unrest right at the heart of the capital city. In order to clear the mess of demonstrations the government had warned the students days before to clear Tiananmen square. Had they done it this tragedy might have been avoided.