Thursday, June 04, 2009

The Missed Train

By Chip Tsao | published Jun 04, 2009

Call it a brutal massacre. Or call it a military crackdown. Or to be more officially correct, call it the “June 4 Incident.” Does it matter? The shocking events of that night 20 years ago are becoming, sadly, an irrelevance not only in China, but in the rest of the world.

Chinese students these days would rather hate the Dalai Lama than remember and sympathize with the martyrs who died in the name of democracy 20 years ago. Hilary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi have either dropped or repackaged the sensitive term “human rights” when dealing with their Chinese hosts on their pilgrimages to the Middle Kingdom. Britain and Europe turn to China for financial bailouts or more trade agreements to bolster their post-financial crisis economies. The Chinese people had a golden historic opportunity to change their own fate 20 years ago. They might have inspired the people of Eastern Europe or the late Soviet Union, but that was a dream realized by others. The Chinese people missed the train—and the world has since moved forward.

This is the grim reality one has to face while crying over the spilled blood. With Machiavellian hindsight, one could say that had the students in Tiananmen Square been purely driven by political calculation rather than romanticism, they would have gotten the message from their primary sympathizer within the communist leadership, Zhao Ziyang, and the peaceful demonstrations would have ended before it got worse. This would have helped Zhao survive and buy time. Had passion given way to rationality, the student leaders would have perhaps realized that the carnival-like show they had started was, like Cinderella’s ball, subject to a time limit—and democracy was never like a graduation party or a fairy tale.

History is always a big “what if?” question. According to historian A.J. P. Taylor, if the chauffeur of Crown Prince Franz Ferdinand made a right turn on their way to the new town hall in Sarajevo, he would have escaped his fatal assassination, thus preventing World War I. The recent publication of Zhao Ziyang’s memoirs adds a nostalgic footnote to such tragic cynicism. We have to wake up to the sad fact that it is up to them—the Chinese people, yes, THEM—to decide what kind of fate they will embrace. If they generally agree with the notion that being well-fed is more important than being free, as Donald Tsang put it, then so be it. A post-1997 Hong Kong is now in a different game. You missed the last train at midnight, and there’s no use to stand on the empty platform crying over your expired ticket. All you need to do is buy another ticket, be calm, and wait for dawn.

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