Thursday, 1 October 2009

This morning in Beijing Flag-raising Ceremony

On this October 1, I was thinking of my own memories of China since early childhood, around 1960 I was a little kid and China was a far away place where an Emperor lived and all I knew of China as a small child was stuff found in children's books about a mysterious country and people wearing traditional clothing. Then by 1967 I saw a French movie on television about the Temple of Heaven and the story was about kites flying in the great park surrounding the temple. The temple in this movie and the park was in a very sad shape, no trees and mostly dust all around, very different from today's park and the magnificently restored Temple of Heaven. When I first visited it in Beijing in 2004 it was not yet restored but it was magical because though the park now had trees everywhere as in Imperial times, there were lots of kites flying. Of course I also heard of the Red Guards and the Cultural Revolution but that for me was the stuff of fantasy again about this far away land called China. Chairman Mao was a great benevolent figure always smiling, I would discover later that he was not such a nice man. Then when Canada recognized China and established diplomatic relations around 1971, that was before Kissinger and Nixon, I was excited about it because it meant that Canada was again making diplomatic history. I was in Ottawa the day the first Ambassador of the PRC arrived all dressed up like Chairman Mao accompanied by mean looking Red Guards. I realized much later how much fantasy and propaganda we were fed about China and how it was evolving. When Zhou En Lai and then Mao died, China was still very distant in terms of the knowledge I had but I remember being shocked to hear that Mao's wife had been thrown in jail, how could this be I wondered. But my real knowledge or understanding of China came when I arrived in Beijing in July 2004, this was not how I imagined it at all, this city did not look like and imperial capital, more like a vast construction site, it did not look like a Chinese city more like any city in the world. I was disappointed and I was also frustrated with the fact that I could not have conversations with Chinese people because I knew so little Mandarin. I spent 3 years in China and learned quite a few things about the Chinese Han and the country and its politics.
In 60 years great progress has been made and that is a very positive thing for all living in China. However China as a super power and not a democratic one at that, raises some concerns. Because when you put aside all the propaganda of the Communist party in how it presents itself to the world, you know it does not sound true, there is only one point of view in China and it is dictated by the Party. Only time will tell what will happen.
For the moment it is all about celebration.

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