Two more about June 4

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In response to previous "lost memory" dispatches --  here, here, and here -- two more notes I thought worth sharing, the first from a Chinese person I know and the second from an American teaching in China.

The Chinese person was of grade-school age in 1989. He wrote in response to this plea from another Chinese person recently put under house arrest:

First and foremost, to hear a student-aged person saying "don't give up freedom" and read Yuhua's op-ed on NYT are like reading romanticizing of that history. What i read in these, call me detached or cynical, are their own sentiments and emotions unrelated to what actually happened 20 years ago, rather than true and fair understanding of it, which is what i want to read and remember. I don't deny those people have their own faith and dreams, sometimes glorious. But celebrating their faith and dreams through memorization of that history is absurd. Feels like ripping the history of its true meaning and rewriting it for one's own sake. And this is a lot worse than forgetting or misreading history.

Second, I don't understand why the (managed or controlled) oblivion of that part of history should be such a big event. There are tons of other events in modern China history that we don't know or remember. So why single out this particular part of history? Was it because of the fact that death occurred to thousands of unarmed students? Well, if that's case, we should lament a thousand times for those died during the great famine, political movements and culture revolution, not to mention the millions killed during the civil war. I can clearly remember that we were taught during high school that in each of the great campaigns in the civil war, tens of thousands of enemies were killed. Great military successes. But we were never taught in the same book that those were also human beings, killed in that large number and then forgotten (I guess they were probably not part of "the people" Yuhua was talking about). I don't mean to be sarcastic or cold-blooded about this. What i want to say is that our history is never short of such carnage episodes and since we have forgotten or ignored so much of it, why pick this out in particular and romanticize it. Only to make it sound very very very absurd!

After the jump, the dispatch from the foreign teacher:

Until I came to teach in Suzhou, I taught high school history in Phoenix, Arizona. In 2007, my wife was selected to represent the city of Tempe, Arizona on a Sister Cities teacher exchange with Zhenjiang, China. She spent one month there, and then her host teacher spent one month with us later that year. 

The Chinese teacher is a woman in her mid-twenties (I'll keep that it present tense as we still have contact with her). She came to Tempe with another teacher from Zhenjiang who had also participated in the exchange. I didn't pass up the chance to have good guest speakers, so both of the Chinese teachers accompanied me to my high school one day. 

They both did a very nice job presenting, but partway through the day, our teacher friend began to dig through all of my own history books any time she had a few minutes. Later in the morning, when I finally didn't have any classes, she approached me. Looking furtively from side to side (literally), she whispered, "What do you know about.... Tiananmen Square?" 

The caution took me aback, of course, and considering that we were in an American public school classroom, it came off as almost comically theatrical. Still, any true-blooded history teacher thrills at such intensity of interest, and I proceeded to bring out all of the resources I had. She studied all of them with intense fascination, including, of course, my centerpiece, the iconic image of the lone man standing down the row of tanks. 

And there came the shock. She had never before in her life seen that photograph! Perhaps the single most famous image of the last twenty-five years, and it was new to her! She studied it at great length.  However, the older teacher (late thirties), looked at the photograph nonchalantly, and then gave me a knowing look. She later confided to me that she had friends who had been at Tiananmen that day, but she didn't elaborate. 

One of the truly amazing things about China is how free it can really seem, and yet under the surface there remains all of the great unspokens of the past.
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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.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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