It’s Book Week, apparently…

At least it is here in Oz. Book Week is a product of the Children’s Book Council of Australia, but I have decided to use it as a pretext for a post even if my choices may not exactly be junior reading.

In fact I read a great deal. After all, what else is a septuagenarian to do, eh? But I rarely bother to review or even list what I am up to, unlike some years past when books tended to be a bit of a mainstay on my blog. I’ve decided my reading is essentially my business, for my pleasure or edification even. Much of it too is of e-books, particularly free ones — I am after all a pensioner. But there is also Wollongong Library, and it is, I have to say, excellent.

My current batch includes this:

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Yes, Chinese. Very topical lately. Very impressive, given 1) I rarely read science fiction and 2) this is apparently not his best novel. He has impressed quite a few though:

Both Barack Obama and Mark Zuckerberg have curated or shared lists of their favorite reads. That such lists usually serve some PR or political strategy is boringly obvious: an elite is never not political….

There is however, a work of fiction that they both have on their lists . It’s a much-feted epic science fiction trilogy from the Chinese writer Cixin Liu….

Fascinating right now to have a Chinese novel that includes among much else these scenarios:

Still, there are incredible moments in the novel, like Chen and Yun’s trip to a derelict Soviet research facility or the hints of Chinese anxieties about conflict with the US (the last portion of the novel is about a war with an unnamed “enemy,” though their vessels all bear the names of well-known ships in the US navy). Liu’s fourth novel in English demonstrates that Chinese science fiction, the world’s largest such market, is an important archive for scholars and readers alike. Let Ball Lightning be the fifth column of a Chinese science-fiction invasion.

In Paris Review a translator, Amanda DeMarco, is quite critical about Ball Lightning.

We’re here for one thing and one thing only: Liu’s ideas. (Actually, the misogyny matters. I can’t enjoy Liu’s work fully because of it, but that’s another essay.) His books are propelled by the fascination of scientific discovery, in which the mysteries of existence unfold around the reader. In Liu’s hands, everyday reality reveals itself to be composed of marvels, and the results are nothing less than mind-blowing. For example, as one character explains in Ball Lightning: “In the briefest period after the Big Bang, all of space was flat. Later, as energy levels subsided, wrinkles appeared in space, which gave birth to all of the fundamental particles. What’s been so mystifying for us is why the wrinkles should only appear at the microscopic level. Are there really no macroscopic wrinkles? Or, in other words, are there no macroscopic fundamental particles?” From this single intriguing question, Liu extrapolates a series of ramifications that ripple through human existence, from defense and politics to the nature of the soul and the afterlife. Liu’s visions of the future are so vivid and near at hand because he presents them as extensions of reality around us. Another dimension is available to us within the world we know, accessible through human ingenuity; just because something is invisible to us now doesn’t mean it won’t soon materialize. To join Liu in this perspective is to recognize the most fantastic aspects of our reality.

This immanence and imminence of possibility felt true to the fabric of my experience of China, the not quite benign magic of the unexpected. The only predictable aspect was my reaction when enchantment eventually gave way to exhaustion. On our final day in Beijing, I dumped Cixin Liu’s books in a trash bin on our hutong—they were too bulky to carry back, and we didn’t know anyone who would want to read them in English. I feel a bit cowardly admitting it: the future is nice to visit, but I’m not sure I would want to live there.

Hmmm. I didn’t register the misogyny so strongly, rather being taken with the science and imagination, as well as the sense of what felt life in the PRC may well be like. And I do want to read more. Wollongong Library, it appears, can oblige,

Other books in my current swag (all book links to Goodreads) include Sarah Rainsford, Our Woman in Havana: Reporting Castro’s Cuba, Stan Grant, The Tears of Strangers: a Memoir, and Stephen Markley, Ohio: a Novel. All good. The last is a first novel and took me a while to get into, but once I did I found it again gave that sense of felt life in a particular time and place that I value in what I read.  In this case, given Dayton, it was most topical. My old friend Ernie Tucker had been there before me, I notice.  The book, that is, not Dayton.

….the novel is loaded with events and the pace is skilfully controlled and gathers like one of those terrible storms that devastate the mid-West as the shocking secret crimes are revealed and the rain pelts down on all the living and the dead.

 

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China, M&M, Hastie

Last Friday I found myself caught up in a moderately fiery exchange on Facebook with an old friend, Matt da Silva, in defence of another friend, M, who, as you may know if you are a regular here, came to Australia from China in December 1989. I have known M since July 1990. Matt I first met in Glebe in the early 1980s through the literary magazine “Neos” with which we were both associated.

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Surry Hills Christmas 1992 or 1993: l-r George from Shanghai, me, M — and as you can see, 25+ years is rather a long time!

The occasion was the publication in the Sydney Morning Herald of Andrew Hastie’s We must see China — the opportunities and the threats — with clear eyes. A backbencher, Hastie is chair of the Australian parliamentary joint committee for intelligence and security, and a former elite soldier. He is also a well-known conservative, very much to the Right. His words have attracted condemnation from China — no surprise there — but also from Australian politicians and commentators, not only those on the Left, as unhelpful. Matt’s post began with what I thought a very poor sketch of US/China relations under Clinton and Deng Xiaoping, though to be fair he was perhaps stirring the possum a bit.

It surprised me that M joined the conversation. suggesting essentially that Matt should ask some Chinese people what they think. That’s where Matt’s response stirred me up in defence of M — and I admit I laid it on with a trowel, though I stand by what I said.

The irony is that I don’t entirely disagree with Hastie, at least so far as there is a need for “clear eyes” about China, a point developed in a column I subsequently read in the next day’s Herald: Anne-Marie Brady, “We need to talk about China — why Hastie was right to sound the alarm.” Professor Brady is a China specialist from New Zealand but she does have a history of her own. I have seen it said that she may be a CIA asset! I have no idea really….

Hastie does in my opinion indulge in enough over-ripe rhetoric and bad analogy to justify the exception many have taken to his piece — me not least.

Imagine if you will that the very latest military kit from China fell out of the sky over, say, Wollongong. What do you think our people would do with it? Exactly.

Hastie begins by recounting such an event, much less hysterically noted in Ron Huisken, Introducing China — the World’s Oldest Superpower Charts its Next Comeback, Canberra, ANU E Press 2010. “When US President George W. Bush assumed office in January 2001, his Administration essentially codified the preceding decade of difficulty and deterioration in US-China relations. During the election campaign, the Bush team had bluntly characterised China as a strategic competitor. Once in office, it consciously took a more detached or aloof approach to China, signalling—as befits a sole superpower—that China was an important concern but not especially important. In an early crisis—the collision between a Chinese fighter aircraft and a US intelligence-gathering EP-3 aircraft in international airspace off Hainan Island in April 2001—the Bush Administration conspicuously resisted elevating its significance and pursued a resolution through normal diplomatic channels.” Hastie notes the plane was returned in pieces.

Hastie sees this as “the most significant geopolitical moment of the 21st century” — yes, even more significant than 9/11!

Hastie goes on to liken the belief, once common in the West, that China would eventually become more democratic as economic liberalism prevailed there, to the “Maginot line”, so implying an equation between China and the threat of Nazi Germany, we being protected from China by that comforting but dubious belief. The sunny idea he alludes to was no doubt part of the “end of history” meme following the fall of the Soviet Union and encouraged by the student movement in China.

Now let me reinterpret that idea of a Maginot Line, for the moment ignoring that rarely have apples and oranges been so confused as in Hastie’s rhetoric.

If I were Chinese I might see those militarised islands in the South China Sea as something of a “Maginot Line”, protecting China’s interests against possible encroachments or invasions. (Of course the view from Vietnam or the Philippines would differ.) The century of humiliation before 1949 was not forgotten, is not forgotten. It is in part what Mao was referring to in 1949 when he asserted that the Chinese people had stood up.

Just 30 years before at Versailles the assembled powers had left then impotent China in no doubt where it stood. “The event that ought to have marked a new era for Europe and the world took place in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles on Saturday afternoon, June 28, on the spot where the German Empire had been proclaimed in 1870. Had the treaty been really based on Mr. Wilson’s program, as it purported to be, had it contained a League of Nations Covenant along the lines of the noble conception of its advocates, had one weight and one measure been applied to all alike, there would have been some hope of a European and world peace born in the hearts of men that day…. The Italians and Japanese and most of the small powers had no particular interest in the treaty. Fearing to be assassinated if they returned home after having put China’s name to such a document, the Chinese at the last minute refused to sign…. The ceremony was like a funeral; for a consciousness of failure was present among the signatories. And among some was a consciousness of shame. I talked to two of the principal signatories on the eve of the ceremony, and they told me that they felt they were going to do something dishonorable. Another signatory, representing one of the British dominions, told me on the evening of June 28 that it had been the saddest day of his life.” That is from a forgotten book by a US journalist with excellent connections, Herbert Adams Gibbons, Europe Since 1918, NY, The Century Co., 1923. Good writer too. The contrasting treatment of China and Japan was the sticking point then: consider what was done with Shantung, for example. In China — “The intellectual modernization of China goes under the name of the ‘Movement of May Fourth’, because on May 4th, 1919, students of the National University in Peking demonstrated against the government and their pro-Japanese adherents.” (Wolfram Eberhard, A History of China, University of California, 3rd edition 1969.)

As you know if you have seen or read Empire of the Sun, those foreign concessions in Shanghai and elsewhere persisted until the Japanese war was over and the Peoples Republic was proclaimed. Remember the signs: “No Dogs or Chinese Allowed.”

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An ethnic Chinese writer, Len Mei, in an e-book published in 2011, The Last Days of an Empire, has a point. (English is clearly not Len Mei’s first language, nor is it M’s. M also speaks three Chinese languages — Mandarin, Shanghainese and Jiangsu dialect — and now English, which only in recent years has he been confident enough to write unassisted. Bi- or multi-lingualism are not unusual in China.) “It is difficult to separate the China today from the China yesterday,” writes Len Mei. “China’s fall in the nineteenth century was so unfathomable, that in spite of thirty years of miraculous economic growth since 1980, she is still a poor country in terms of per capita income. Only her sheer size makes her an economic giant. After reading this book, you might realize how difficult the task to restore China to her previous prosperity. From my point of view, it would need at least thirty more years. Is China today different from China yesterday? The political system may be different. One can argue that the essence remains the same. The Communist China is by the name of communism only. The Chinese communists cling to communism because it is their mandate of heaven, their justification to hold onto their power. It is the same mandate of heaven that dynasties justified their rules. Nothing that communist government does today is relevant to the communism that it preaches.”

One can well argue about that last point of course, and Hastie does. It is also true that ideologically Xi Jinping has taken the country backwards, though not as far as the years of the Cultural Revolution of which he and Deng Xiaoping were victims. Hence Deng’s invention of “socialism with Chinese characteristics” and his famed remarks about the relative merits of black and white cats. But true, China is an authoritarian place — as of course is Saudi Arabia, and North Korea is worse — and not likely anytime soon to adopt democracy.

What M knows from personal experience — and he was last in China just this year — is that the lives of his family in Shanghai and of the people around are immeasurably better than they were, materially and also spiritually, in that however much the government tries to control them travel and access to foreign ideas, including democratic ones, are far more possible now than they were at any time in M’s first 25 years. He can remember the final phase of the Cultural Revolution, and famine (in part man-made of course) when there was nothing to eat but cabbage. As a child M recalls enviously watching his neighbours eat.

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M in China, 2019

Neither I nor M is saying everything is wonderful in China, or that we in Australia need not be cautious in our dealings with Chinese officialdom. Indeed in November 2018 M was in Taiwan and had this to say: “First time in Taiwan, enjoying it! Excellent food ( not expensive) nice weather, easy transportation,the people here so friendly and warm, today on the train a mother told her teenager son to give his seat to a lady who carried a kid and the lady never heard the mother and son’s conversation, I was impressed, people here got good traditional and courtesy, I think Taiwan people a different breed to Hong Kong and mainland Chinese, I feel more comfortable here, they are representing Chinese tradition and values, if I have to choose to live any Chinese city it would be Taiwan!”

And yes, I am cheering like mad, trembling, for the people of Hong Kong right now.

Interesting to read the conclusion of Ron Huisken’s 2010 study: “China takes itself very seriously and seems to be engaged in a quite stunning demonstration of Sun Tzu’s dictum that ‘to subdue the enemy without fighting is the supreme excellence’, inviting the world to overlook the evidence about the formidable hard power assets it is determined to acquire in favour of simply enjoying the fruits of its market and trusting in the sincerity of its rhetoric on being determined to become a benign and peaceful new-age major power without a realist bone in its body.

“One does not have to believe that China’s rise is an ominous development to see prudence in questioning its endeavour to ‘keep a low profile and hide its strengths’ until some date in the still distant future. Playing along with this strategy, but also, inevitably, being driven to hedge against less optimistic scenarios, is a recipe for a steady erosion of trust and confidence, and the emergence of a serious adversarial relationship in circumstances of already heightened military preparedness. China is well past the point where any reasonable doubt can be attached either to its aspirations to become one of the world’s dominant states or to its capacity to achieve these aspirations. It could be the case that the Chinese Government’s rhetoric about the sort of international actor it intends to be is wholly sincere. It is the case, however, that China’s system of governance inescapably erodes the credibility of that rhetoric. The policy prescription that emerges from this assessment is to become more persistent and resolute in requiring China to measure up to contemporary standards of openness and transparency, and to create opportunities for China to display its willingness to enter into obligations and commitments that genuinely constrain its policy options.”

How much of that still applies ten years on? See Ron Huisken, Australia–China relations: who’s in the dark? The Strategist 11 September 2018. Do compare some of my earlier posts such as Not forgetting China 30 years on.

Consider too Nicholas Jose, “Tiananmen remains unfinished business for China, and for Australia”, in The Strategist 4 June 2019. Nicholas Jose is fluent in Mandarin and was Cultural Counsellor at the Australian Embassy in Beijing from 1987 to 1990. Chinese democracy advocate, Nobel Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, who died in prison in 2017, was a personal friend. “His ashes were scattered at sea, preventing the site of his remains from becoming a shrine. It is hard to believe that one individual could so enrage the powerful Chinese Communist Party. It is hard to understand why China would destroy one of its best and brightest for advocating non-violent reform in legal and constitutional ways.” In the mid 1990s, through Nick, I had the privilege of meeting Liu Xiaobo in Sydney.

Meanwhile the Chinese keep coming to City Diggers Wollongong and eating all our fish and chips! How dare they? No, they aren’t really eating all of them, and they are paying. Helping to keep my meals cheap in fact by keeping the club going.

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Wollongong City Diggers, 9 August 2019

Oh, and this has been written (despite the US branding HP) on my Chinese computer…

Reading: I would still recommend the Chinese histories of Jonathan Spence — very readable and full of interesting ideas and personalities. More recently, I recommend Are We Asian Yet? History vs Geography, Australian Foreign Affairs, Issue 5, February 2019. Note that the seventh issue of Australian Foreign Affairs (October 2019) will explore Australia’s status as the most China-dependent country in the developed world, and the potential risks this poses to its future prosperity and security.

To judge from page 6 of the Sydney Morning Herald 12 August, it appears there is a campaign on. The Peril riding again perhaps? I think I will leave that alone though.

But do read Peter Hartcher.

Swimming towards Tokyo

Today, apparently, it is exactly one year to the Tokyo Olympics. I am sure Dawn Fraser remembers the last time well… More from her later.

First, though, I can hardly credit that the Sydney Olympics are now so long ago, and just as hard to credit that I blogged them! My posts began with:

Sunday, September 3 2000: 12 days to the Olympics

They say Moore Park will be finished before the Olympics, but they are finding it difficult as there are not enough graders available to do the job. Meantime Belmore Park, near Central Station, is now carpeted–not with bright flowers, or fresh green grass, but with daggy green carpet! Very tasteful. There was a bomb scare at Kirrawee Railway Station south of the city last week; apparently emergency personnel were misdirected to Canterbury Station (some distance away and on quite another line) due to a “pronunciation problem”! However, Central Station refurbishment has been completed–well almost.

Extra police on the streets and quite a few foreign visitors are already apparent in the city. The athletes, of course, have started moving into the Olympic Village.

Today was Yum Cha again–for the unitiated this is Cantonese for “drink tea” and is essentially an endless supply of delicacies (steamed buns, dumplings, chicken feet, etc) washed down by tea. One can if one chooses have a 24 course breakfast–or more. There were ten people today–PK, Ian Smith, J***s, Sirdan, ABC Andrew, Clive, a guy from Houston Texas, a lesbian Olympic volunteer official from NZ (a friend of Sirdan), Bruce from the Albury, and me. Rabbit sent his hugs to all but was otherwise engaged today. Sad news is that John Wilkinson, who was there last time, an old friend of M, is critically ill in hospital: M has just gone to visit him….

And later:

Saturday, September 16 2000

GO THORPIE!!!! Aussie Aussie Aussie Oi Oi OI!!!!! That 4X100 relay was sheer magic.

More on the Opening Ceremony–yes that torch thing did get stuck apparently! However, wasn’t that “underwater” lighting spectacular! And the waterfall! Yes–they did lay the politics of reconciliation on a bit thick, but it needs to be addressed and the Olympics was a powerful symbolic time: so too for the two Koreas and East Timor–moving moments both. However, I think the image of the girl and the songman remains the most powerful image for me.

I was tutoring in Chinatown today. One student, an 18-year-old from Mainland China, came in clutching tickets to the Olympic Table Tennis where his team will undoubtedly do well! He too admired the message of reconciliation in the Opening Ceremony, and was touched not only by that and the two Koreas being united, but also felt the fact China and Taiwan could play together in the Olympics sent a good message to the world and to the people and the politicians.

And my site passed the 2000 today! A minor matter but pleasing. In August this diary averaged seven hits a day; this month to date it has passed the total for August, averaging seventeen hits a day! Mind you that other site I declared “war” on a week ago has averaged twenty-four hits a day so far this month, so don’t get complacent my friends!

So there has been a bit of controversy just lately:

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That is Chinese swimmer Sun Yang having his “You’re a loser!” moment with UK swimmer Duncan Scott, who had refused to shake his hand or share the podium with him — in support of Australian swimmer Mack Horton’s stand the previous day. Dawn Fraser has expressed her view with characteristic frankness:

Australian swimming legend Dawn Fraser has branded Sun Yang a “drug cheat” and “disgusting” as protests of the Chinese superstar rage on.

Aussie Mack Horton sparked a boycott of Sun at the ongoing FINA world championships by refusing to shake hands with his Chinese rival after the 400m freestyle; in which Sun finished first and Horton second.

Horton then refused to take the podium with Sun or appear in any celebratory photographs with him.

British swimmer Duncan Scott repeated the protest after the 200m freestyle, causing Sun to erupt with rage and call him a “loser”.

“They (FINA) shouldn’t have allowed this guy to swim,” Fraser said on the TODAY Show on Wednesday. “Because he is a drug cheat, we all know that. He smashed his blood vials, he got a security man in to smash his blood vials, and he comes up to court in September. Why didn’t they stop him swimming and give the other guys, who want to do a clean sport, the opportunity of doing their best times and not have to swim against a drug cheat? I support both Mack and the British swimmer.”

And I’m with Dawn.

See also my 2014 post The swimmer.

I have known swimmers in my time too.

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That is my cousin Beverley Whitfield with the Mayor of Shellharbour, Keith Grey (a contemporary of my parents in Shellharbour), on her return from the Munich Olympics in 1972 – and yes, I have held that gold medal in my hand! This is a famous image of Bev at Munich:

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Beverley died at the age of just 42 in 1996.

It was at Beverley’s funeral that I met Dawn Fraser.

Update 26 July:

Hmmm. While Dawn Fraser is a legend for good reason, her opinions may not always be spot on. Remember, for instance, on Nick Kyrgios a few years back: “They should be setting a better example for the younger generation… If they don’t like it, go back to where their fathers or their parents came from. We don’t need them here in this country if they act like that.”

So on reflection I suggest you also read from ABC Offsiders Mack Horton’s Sun Yang podium protest shows frustration with sport’s anti-doping efforts and China swim chief’s stunning Sun claim.

A really short sample from M’s travels

M is having an eight-week sojourn in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. As of this moment he is, I think, in Sumatra. He is — and has been for years — a wonderful photographer, with an eye for people going about their business and amazing scenery. He also has a sense of fun. I am offering just four out of the many he has so far posted on Facebook — I haven’t counted, but it is a lot!

The first one in fact is from a return visit three months ago to his family in Shanghai — a trip I hadn’t been aware of. And yes, that’s M.

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The next is something I would not have expected in Singapore:

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The next is from Kuala Lumpur:

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Finally, back to China. I think this is Suzhou.

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Not forgetting China 30 years on

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Yesterday SBS Viceland showed the excellent PBS documentary Tiananmen: The People Vs. The Party. I found it thorough and utterly consistent with what I had been told or had read — much of both by people who had been there. But of course the expected is happening today:

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Chinese authorities were bullshitting at the time, and they are bullshitting now.  And I might add that a fair part of my cynicism about some on the hard Left dates back to a time in 1990 when a couple I knew who had visited the Square around a year after the event assured me that “nothing happened there” — rather hard to accept when at the time I was interacting daily with Chinese students some of whom really were there at the time, some of whom exhibited post-traumatic stress one way or another. See some of my earlier posts:

Posted on June 12, 2015

Twenty-five years is a very long time, though as many septuagenarians would understand, quarter-centuries aren’t as long as they used to be. 1965- 1990 took, well, 25 years, but 1990-2015 has gone by in a matter of minutes! 😉

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That was taken in winter 1990 on an excursion to Wollongong with my class of overseas adult students. The couple on the right are from Korea, as I think is the woman with the red bag – or is she Chinese? Blue umbrella is Zhang Rui from Tianjin in China (a scientist) and next to him another Chinese, Ding. The taller slightly older man is Bill Zhang from Guangzhou. Lovely man.

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Bill and I in Hyde Park 1990. He had been photographing the grass so his wife in China could see this wonder: apparently at that time great dollops of lawn were in his eyes quite an exotic spectacle.

Why these students? As I noted in another post where there is indeed another story too:…

Here’s a related memory:

I am glad I visited the garden, as I called in on Sam, who has the “dress up as a Chinese princess” concession in the garden, something he has been doing for fifteen years now. I first met Sam, who was once in the Beijing Opera, in 1990. I remember it well. I was in a coffee shop and Sam was serving. I was reading an illustrated book about the Tiananmen incidents of 1989. “I can tell you all about that,” said Sam. “I was there.” And indeed he was. It turns out Sam is giving up the “dress as a princess” business in April, and going into something new. He’s over fifty years old now too. How time flies!

Some time in 1990 or 1991 I took Sam (and M and a guy from Tianjin, a scientist, called Rui) to SBHS to talk in a history class that was studying China. Sam rather stole the show when he told the students how his father, also in the Beijing Opera, had been beaten to death by Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution. Kind of brought Chinese History to life, that did.

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With my class at Wessex, probably late in 1990. Japanese, Korean, Indonesian, Chinese.

And:

….

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That publicity shot for last night’s Foreign Correspondent shows people associated with the Australian Embassy in Beijing in 1989. The gist of what we saw is in this story: Tiananmen Square crisis station: the Australian embassy in 1989.

Jailed Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiabo was offered asylum from Australia in 1989 but turned it down and went on to become China’s most famous dissident.

Following his role in supporting student protesters in the run-up to the brutal crackdown that year, the literary critic turned philosopher and agitator would be imprisoned and tortured.

After the Olympics he was picked up again and this time given an 11-year sentence for “inciting subversion of state power”. He won the peace prize from behind bars and it was awarded symbolically to an empty chair.

The Australian embassy in Beijing’s cultural counsellor at the time, Nick Jose, had become a good friend of Liu Xiaobo in the run-up to the crackdown on June 3-4 when the People’s Liberation Army opened fire on protestors to reclaim Tiananmen Square.

“I took him in my car from my flat to the embassy gates and I said ‘Well this is it, we can drive in, the gates will open and the gates will close and you will have effectively sought asylum from Australia or you can go and find friends who live nearby’, friends I also knew,” Mr Jose said.

“He thought about it, he looked at me and said ‘Thank you, but no’, he would stay in China, he was Chinese, China was his country, China was his fate…

Nicholas Jose, Claire Roberts and M at M’s Chinese New Year Party, Redfern, 2009

Tonight’s Four Corners is a must see: Tremble and ObeyAnd here is a very relevant ABC story: Tiananmen Square massacre still remembered by Chinese soldier and witnesses 30 years on.  Another perspective is John Simpson, The night the lights went out: what really happened in Tiananmen Square. “Thirty years on, the events that took place in Beijing remain misunderstood – and the Chinese government wants to keep it that way. ” However, I do think Simpson is just a bit too clever in his article, and underestimates the significance of what so many of the students actually thought and did.

In depth and with an intimate knowledge shown of Chinese history and culture, see Tiananmen 1989 — Three Decades Behind China’s Gate of Darkness — June Fourth, 1989-2019. One item there I read at the time I was preparing my own From Yellow Earth to Eucalypt: trans. Pang Bingjun 龐秉鈞, with John Minford, in Geremie Barmé and Linda Jaivin, eds, New Ghosts, Old Dreams: Chinese Rebel Voices,  1992, pp.106-107.

In the First Light of Dawn

Xi Xi

In the first grey light of dawn,
We curl into the air,
Trailing from the ground
Up into the open sky above the square.
Limp, leaden, dumdum-pocked
The corpses lie
Mashed into the concrete.
Suddenly weightless
We drift
Like balloons.

We hear the sound
Of your weeping.

Mother, I beg you
Not to look for us again in the square,
The wasteland, where
Crushed tents, banners, command posts,
Public address stations
Strew the ground.
Teachers, students, friends
Are all gone.
The acrid smoke of gunfire
Fades as
Thousands of lives
Turn to ash.

Tomorrow will be Environment Day —
A Sanitation Show is planned,
The square will be scrubbed
Nice and clean,
As if nothing ever happened.

We hear the sound
Of your weeping.

We fell together,
Together we rise,
Joining once more our parted hands,
Holding our torches even higher.
A wound gapes
On one man’s chest;
A tank tread
Furrows one man’s brow.
But these wounds lie
On the body’s husk;
We are beautiful beyond compare.
Nothing can hurt us now.
We will share
The city’s splendour
With the stone beasts —
They, on their columns,
We, on the People’s Monument —
Calling
Across the square.

11 June 1989

Update 5 June:

ABC was excellent yesterday, specifically The Drum.  Later that night ABC News carried an interview with Nicholas Jose. (You sound older, Nick!) (But don’t we all!) See also Nicholas Jose, Tiananmen remains unfinished business for China, and for Australia.

When I published an account of my interaction with Liu Xiaobo in Chinese whispers in 1995, I felt I should not identify him by his full name. As one of the thinkers who best articulated the alternative China that many people envisaged in the late 1980s, Liu had played an important, courageous role in the events of 3–4 June 1989. I was with him when he made the fateful decision not to take refuge in the Australian embassy. That same night he was picked up while riding his bike along a nearby street and taken away. When he was released from detention 18 months later, he went on with his reasoned critique of the Chinese system, eventually authoring Charter 08, a call for reform, for which he was arrested again and heavily sentenced in 2009.

He was in prison when he was awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize, which he dedicated to ‘the Tiananmen martyrs’, and in prison at the time of his cruel, state-sanctioned death in 2017, aged 61. His ashes were scattered at sea, preventing the site of his remains from becoming a shrine. It is hard to believe that one individual could so enrage the powerful Chinese Communist Party. It is hard to understand why China would destroy one of its best and brightest for advocating non-violent reform in legal and constitutional ways.