Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Knockin’ On Heaven Peace Gate

I was still reading Frank Dikötter’s Mao's Great Famine before leaving for Beijing. For obvious reasons, the book did not follow me on this trip. To say I enjoyed reading it would be wrong, but the impact it had on me was immense. The political side of the book didn’t interest me much. The struggle for survival of millions of Chinese during the Great Leap Forward did. Recently published provincial reports of failed collectivism and industrialization projects, and obfuscating officials leading to starvation, mud and faeces consumption, diseases and ultimately, death, were heart-wrenching to say the least. I wonder if a sacrifice like this is inevitable in creating one of the most important and fundamentally noble revolutions in modern history.

My first stop in Beijing was Tiananmen (or Heaven Peace Gate) Square, the heart of the Chinese Communist Party. It’s in the surrounding buildings that decisions were made and executed during the famine, and where Chairman Mao was laid to rest. On one hand, I was impressed by the vastness of one of the largest squares in the world, the centralized gigantic screens proudly showing, on rotation, the vitality and vigour of modern China, and faithful comrades bowing before the body of Mao Zedong in the mausoleum. Yet, chapters of Dikötter’s book kept haunting my mind.

Why should I take it so seriously? It’s just a holiday. I’d be gone five days later. And I am, afterall, a Chinese descendant, but a Malaysian first, Singapore resident second. I should be more concerned about the troubles back home.

In this trip across the cultural center of the middle kingdom, by learning its history, I’d better understood the Chinese. Some of us have been, for the longest time, making insensitive remarks and ignorant about some of their practices. Ask yourself - would you have done the same if you were one of them? If you’d taken time to know and understand them, then you most probably would.


Kenny Mah said...

You made me realise that I should follow your lead and CK's to read up more about the history of a place before visiting it. :)

Unknown said...

Me first stop in Beijing was also Tianannmen!

HairyBerry said...

kenny, oooh, CK does that too? that's cool. for me, history is one of the best introductions to a country. it also saves me from some embarassments too, sometimes...hehe

keropok man, hi-5! next stop, Beijing duck? hehehe.