As I write, at the equivalent of 11pm Saturday night in New York -- 11am Sunday morning in Beijing -- links to three of the four NYT essays about the 20th anniversary of Tiananmen Square are broken. (The page with links to the four essays is here: as of this moment, items #2, #3, and #4 are instead linked to essays about the recession from three months ago.)
I am sure that will be fixed soon. A quick note about the one essay that is readable at the moment, this one from Yu Hua, the author of Brothers. He says he is writing about the event for the first time ever in order to emphasize two points:
The first is that the Tiananmen pro-democracy protests amounted to a one-time release of the Chinese people's political passions, later replaced by a zeal for making money. The second is that after the summer of 1989 the incident vanished from the Chinese news media. As a result, few young Chinese know anything about it.
The first point is continually thrashed out in all articles about the current state of China's economic and political evolution. For the moment I want to underscore the accuracy of the second.
I have spent a lot of time over the past three years with Chinese university students. They know a lot about the world, and about American history, and about certain periods in their own country's past. Virtually everyone can recite chapter and verse of the Japanese cruelties in China from the 1930s onward, or the 100 Years of Humiliation, or the long background of Chinese engagement with Tibet. Through their own family's experiences, many have heard of the trauma of the Cultural Revolution years and the starvation and hardship of the Great Leap Forward. But you can't assume they will ever have heard of what happened in Tiananmen Square twenty years ago. For a minority of people in China, the upcoming date of June 4 has tremendous significance. For most young people, it's just another day.
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