Sunday, January 18, 2009

Ryan Pyle Blog: The Year of the Anniversary


Every year we move forward we end up celebrating an anniversary for something that happened in years past; whether it be as small an act as adopting a baby puppy from a pound or beginning a new career or even getting married.

So as the year of 2009 gets going I've sat back and looked at my calender and I'm utterly speechless. Living in China and being a "China Watcher" I'm blown away by the sheer number of major anniversaries that China will be lining up to celebrate (and pretend never happened) this year. Let's take a quick at a few of these, in no particular order.

1) Of course the big daddy of them all will occur on October 1st 2009, marking the 60th Anniversary of the People's Republic of China. It was 60 years ago that the Communist Army pushed out the Japanese and sent the KMT in to exile in Taiwan. Preparations are already under way in Beijing for a grand military showing, roads are already said to be reinforced. Zhang Yimou, the creative force behind the Olympic Opening Ceremonies, has been commissioned to come up with something for this show of shows. Watch out for another city lock down and potential visa problems. Five star hotels, brace for another season of bleak occupancy rates.

2) Reform and Opening continues on. December 1978 and January 1979 where key dates for China's reform and opening movement initiated under, then President, Deng Xiao Ping. While the 30th anniversary was officially celebrated in the middle of last December expect there to be a lot of continued talk about China's 30 years of capitalism; especially if the current crisis worsens.

3) The year of 2009 will also mark the 50th anniversary of the Dali Lama's exit from Tibet. That's right, in March 1959 the Dali Lama had to flee Lhasa for India, and begin his life in exile. It's generally assumed that there may be activity in various parts of China this year to commemorate that event. All eyes are, no doubt, watching. Just remember that in March it'll have been a full one year since the Tibet riots that left several Chinese shop keepers dead. There could be a lot of mixed emotions on both sides (Tibetan and Chinese) of this and clashes of culture and religion could occur. As an aside I've already had a Tibetan guide tell me that government officials are already suggesting to tour guides to keep foreign tourists out of Western Sichuan, which is a Tibetan region, during that time.

4) It's been 20 years since June 4th 1989. Tiananmen Square demonstrations have left an tough legacy for China to deal with. The idea of pretending it never happened as worked well enough so far, loads of people are still in jail and the rest under house arrest - and China's economy is still the main reason why most governments around the world self censor themselves about this issue. What might occur for the 20th anniversary? Nothing is most likely the correct answer. Expect another city lock down. As an aside, Ma Jian wrote a book published last year titled "Beijing Coma" in which he talks a about the Tiananmen Square days in 1989. His take seems to be that many of the student leaders of that movement may have been much less democratic that originally thought, using democracy in the name of installing another authoritarian regime? We may never know the truth, but it makes an interesting read.

5) August 8th 2008 was the moment when China entered the world stage, and billions around the world tuned in their TV's to watch a spectacle that could have only been duplicated in North Korea. I was blown away by the opening ceremony, and I even have a fake dvd copy of the event. And the date of August the 8th will be celebrated each years as a day to promote sports and physical activity in China.

6) Another new anniversary wins for being the most confusing of the bunch, the Chinese government has just recently announced that March 28 is going to become a yearly holiday in China, and it's going to commemorate the ending of slavery in Tibet. As the government sees things, Tibet was a horrible and cruel civilization dominated by poverty and slavery. The official line is that the Chinese government rescued the Tibetan people from their own government leaders and freed them. Apparently this occurred in March 1959, the same time Tibetan leaders fled to India and around the same time as around one million Tibetans were slaughtered in a one sided defense of their Himalayan kingdom. When asked to comment about the one year anniversary of the riots last year in Lhasa a Tibetan women (held at knife point, maybe?) said "After all these happy years for us, it's a shame that the Dali Lama is still trying to ruin things and reinstall serfdom." Confusing times for ahead for all of us. I needed a machete to just to get through the propaganda in the China Daily this weekend.

7) On May 12th it'll be one year since the Sichuan earthquake that killed 88,000 people. This anniversary is one that sits close to me because I spent about 16 days in the quake zone just after it happened and I was overwhelmed by the destructive force of mother nature. I still to this day believe that the casualty rate is much higher than official numbers suggest, easily topping 100,000. I don't know what a government would gain by artificially keeping the numbers down, but perhaps I'm wrong. Either way some 15,000 to 20,000 of the dead where school children who died when their schools collapsed around them mostly due to poor construction. In some towns other buildings were left standing while schools, right next door, lay in rubble. Expect the parents of the dead school children to continue hassling not only local government officials but by traveling to Beijing in order to make official requests and complaints. It's pretty clear the parents aren't interested in hush money, they want heads to roll and it'll be interesting to see if Beijing feeds any of it's own to the sharks. My guess is more arrested parents.

8) My last point is one of wishful thinking. I hope that sometime this year the Chinese government adjusts it's legal system to allow for less political collusion. If they complete this task this year, then in 2010 I can sit back and write an updated version of this blog and praise the government for taking real steps to reform in 2009. You see, the local county and provincial courts all report to the Party Secretary for the province, not to Beijing. So essentially the Party Secretary for a province is a God-like figure that decides what does and doesn't stand as acceptable behavior. But what's been happening a lot is that local people fed up with government corruption have been caught for crimes like trying to travel to Beijing to tell on them, or even contacting foreign media. These crimes, because of their political nature, tend to stay under the radar and are handled at the local level - never reaching ear shot of Beijing; not that Beijing has a track record of over turning anything or standing for much more than the will of the party.

It's my opinion, based on my frequent travels and conversations, that this country may very well tear itself apart sometime in the next decade, especially if economic hardship hits, and something that might legitimize the Communist rule in the eyes of the people is to free up the legal system and allow provincial courts to report to a central court in Beijing, and to keep the party officials out of the loop. With all the talk that our current Chinese leaders splash out about ending corruption in China; that would be the first big step forwards. And it would quickly differentiate between the honest, hard working government leaders (of which there are many) and the scum. So that is one anniversary that I would like to celebrate in 2010. Let's hope there might be someone out there, high enough up the food chain, who feels like I do. But I'm not holding my breath.


Ryan Pyle

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Ryan Pyle