Most Americans over the age of ten remember the June 1989 photograph of a lone Chinese student in Tienanmen Square challenging a worn out military tank. What the stills do not illustrate is when the tank moved one way, the student also moved in position to block it. Chinese students received faxes from overseas friends with the current news and pictures, the world was cheering, and hope deferred was no longer sick – at least for a while.
After the Soviets collapsed we wondered when China would crack. Killing a thousand students (the figures are wildly contested) was the all-wrong-thing-to-do. Children are the pride of the Chinese and this was the 1st college generation after the One-China Policy, a child who might be the only one a family would ever have. If a student is in Beijing he got there via 18 years of brutal study, through the Mother of All Tests and into the best of the nation’s universities. Added to the parents’ horror was the students’ disillusionment.
They know their constitution; they know it is a republic, PRC means People’s Republic of China, i.e. representative government with their voice if not a vote. Their constitution guarantees freedom of speech (a little), religion (a little), and on and on, now empty words, only raw power counted, but the crack appeared in the wall of absolute power and Beijing slowly, while couching its moves quietly, is changing. Today a new generation of tweeters and bloggers co-opt information. Eventually they will take charge of the nation as well.
In the USA our “tank” is a monolithic Congress, already very unpopular and a tone-deaf President who substitutes strong-arm for leadership. Oligarchs everywhere are so self-focused they fail to recognize failure. On the surface this looks like a Health Care debate – it is not.
Small things trigger major events. At Tienanmen it was an innocuous wreath on a grave. The liberation of Poland from the Soviets was ignited when meat-starved stevedores found a ton of ham headed for the 1980 Moscow Olympic games; one container split and the truth spilled out.
Our last straw is 25 years of mis-mal-and-nonfeasance at every jurisdictional level where abuse of power, higher taxes, reduced efficiency, above-the-law judges, presumption, elitism, sleazy NGOs and lobbyists’ contempt for those who pay the bills is coming to a head. Don’t they know that both Johnson and Carter tried this same stuff and left office in disgrace?
The Tea Parties and Town Halls, our local Tienanmens, are not vigorous debates but a wake with a viewing of the oligarchs. Only a small number of Congress-people appear to show signs of life. The rest hide as the public braces for a Pyrrhic Presidential victory and grits its collective teeth for another year.
But this is not just us; the phenomenon is everywhere. Tibetans have never been happy, the Uighurs have more political and economic than religious demands, and even mild-mannered Mongolians are muttering they want their land back. Taiwanese travel to official Beijing, laugh and drink red wine with no intention of sacrificing their Western liberties for re-union with China – but meanwhile there is no harm in some lavish fare. The Iranians only pretend the guys in charge actually are, the Cubans see hope for their democratic future, North Koreans are starving to death, and Chavez has run out of bribe money. Now the Tienanmen Squares have blanketed the Mediterranean and the mighty will fall, a changing of the Muslim-Persian guard.
When the people ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.
It reminds me of Alexander Haig in the White House intoning, “I’m in charge here.” No honey, you’re not. Across the globe it’s Tienanmen on steroids. We are looking at trees but the forest is clear. We have entered a new era; someone else is in charge.