Sunday 19 Aug 2018 | 01:01 | SYDNEY
Sunday 19 Aug 2018 | 01:01 | SYDNEY

Tiananmen time travel


Sam Roggeveen


9 June 2009 10:52

One regular little mental exercise I engage in is to ask myself how I would explain to someone from another time some of the more surpising political changes the world has seen in recent years. What would Churchill think if you showed him a modern political map of Europe, and what would his reaction be?

James Fallows recently put some very moving reader correspondence on his blog which reminded me of that exercise. The Chinese Government has worked very hard to ensure that the Tiananmen Square massacre is forgotten by its people. Exposing one young Chinese person to the facts was a little like leapfrogging them into the present:

Today [several days ago], a few other foreigners and I were looking at an MSNBC retrospective (miraculously, not blocked) of the important day that happened recently, and just of reveling in the amazing photos and videos with lots of "wows" and stunned silences. 

A 23-year old Chinese girl we know very well was sitting next to us and peered over, and said, "What's that?  What's going on?"  We tried to dissuade her; since in many ways it's not in her or our best interest for her to see, but she forced herself into our huddle and was looking, and noticed all the Chinese people wearing headbands, the blood, the violence, the shouting at the police, and so on.  So she started asking, shocked by the fact that this had to be somewhere in her homeland, "What is this!? What's going on!? Who are these people?!  Where is this?!"  She was just awestruck and horrified.
So we told her the whole story from the W perspective, making diplomatic but honest allowances since most of us don't truly believe that "things" are generally that bad at all; certainly not here and now.  But she just listened to us, staring at the videos and pictures, and none of us could see her face, which was bowed intently at the computer screen and veiled by her long hair.  All of a sudden, she started weeping.  Just weeping.  She had had no idea that it had ever happened.