Last two about June 4

Numerous previous items (here, here, here, here, and others) have addressed the Chinese government's success in erasing June 4, 1989, from the collective memory of their country's next generation. Two more accounts, both from foreigners who have recently raised the issue with young Chinese people, and each of which shows some of the drama associated with the issue here.

First, from someone now teaching in a major manufacturing city in China. (Yes, I know, this really narrows it down.):

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. 
 
It can be really hard to live here, but it's something like this that makes me love this country and these people, especially here in my city of residence.  Where others might see darkness, sadness and ignorance, it's often possible to see hope, beauty in the struggle, and real, unedited life.

The second account:

 I am currently living in Shanghai, a recent US college graduate and English teacher (born in '84). I have a Chinese girlfriend (born in '89), and since we began dating some months back I have mentioned TAM to her a few times.
After getting over my initial shock at her near-complete lack of knowledge on the subject, even when I knew that would be the case, I have tried to talk to her about it or show her media related to it. She has been general receptive to my prodding on the subject, but has uniformly come down on the side of the government. She is by no means nationalistic, or political (she in fact general loathes political discussion), but she seems to still find the government's decision to be the "right" one - or at least not one that must have some explanation (even if that is, "But look at all the good things that have happened since 1989!").

I am writing all this, though, because as this day has gotten ever closer, she has become more and more interested. Of course, I have been looking at more and more stories and retrospectives about TAM, but she has also been asking more questions. However, her real explosion of frustration and interest came a few days ago when Twitter was blocked.

She has, over the past few months, become a user of the service and found it quite enjoyable. She had even warned me a week or so before that she expected it to be blocked soon, as many of the people she follows (95% of whom tweet in Chinese) were discussing things that would normally be blocked on the internet. All the same, when it really did become blocked she was surprisingly angry.

Since then, the flood gates really have been open. She read Yu Hua's NYT piece with great interest (she loved Brothers and mentioned numerous times how both Yu and she are Zhejiangese). Last night we sat together and watched various YouTube videos of clips from the period. Today I came home to show her the pictures from the HK vigil and she was amazed. So tonight, as we left for dinner, she, for the first time, asked me, "Tell me about Tiananmen?" I started to tell her the same thing I always had (a general late May/early June summary), but she stopped me and backed me up, her questions coming fast.

"Tell me about how it started. Tell me why they were protesting."

So I did.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

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