Feng Li / Getty Images
Chinese President Hu Jintao, right, and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao award medals for outstanding Communists during the celebration of the Communist Party's 90th anniversary at the Great Hall of the People on July 1, 2011 in Beijing, China.
"GREAT JOURNEY. GREAT PRACTICE. GREAT SPIRIT. LONG LIVE THE GREAT COMMUNIST PARTY OF CHINA!"
Eulogizing slogans, Party flags, celebration posters, flowers and plants, mass “red song” sing-a-longs, security guards with red armbands patrolling the streets, revolutionary movies and intensive TV news coverage. You can't escape the chance of being reminded every second that today is the 90th birthday of the Communist Party of China.
I believe that like me, many other Chinese people have been feeling nauseous lately by the seemingly endless bombardment of Party propaganda. It’s like someone who keeps telling you “I’m great, you have to love me, ” ever since you were born. And this someone is with you your whole life.
Just two weeks ago, a heavily invested, star-strewn movie called “Beginning of the Great Revival” was launched in China, with all the biggest Chinese actors and actresses re-enacting the early history of the Party. There’s nothing wrong with educating young people about China’s history, especially with celebrities like Zhang Ziyi and Chow Yun-fat, and I have no doubt all these revolutionary forerunners truly believed in communism and universal equality 90 years ago. But we all know China is probably one of the most capitalist countries in the world now. You can do almost anything with money.
I can’t help thinking about when, in 2007, I traveled to North Korea and watched the performance of traditional Korean folk song "Arirang" in Pyongyang’s stadium. It was carried out by 100,000 performers who were hired by the government, but allegedly didn't get paid, despite big ticket sales. For me, watching the dancers, the acrobatics, and the singers was an exotic experience. I watched it with great interest along with many other Chinese and Western tourists. As outsiders, we saw it as an event of fantastic proportions. But for the natives, it was probably different. They were watching their fellow citizens perform a nationalistic ceremony for hours on end, knowing they weren't getting properly compensated. And with the famine in North Korea, surely these performers had worries about food; that was not a concern for us.
It’s the same when I see foreign media at the Great Hall of People to listen to President Hu Jintao’s tedious speeches, which rambled on for hours. Chinese people have been listening to such speeches since the day they were born. When Chinese children go to elementary school, they become the “Communist Young Pioneers” and wear red scarves that are “dyed with revolutionary martyrs’ blood. " When they go to junior high school and high school, they join the “Communist Youth League." Such recruitment is usually universal, but sometimes the teenagers who don’t perform well are excluded. I still remember the humiliation when I was told by my junior high school superior that they would not let me join because of my tendency to talk too much in class. But foreigners just see the festivities at the Great Hall of People; they do not see the history behind them.
The pressure to join the Party
When young people enter college, they move onto the next stage of proving their faith: the struggle to join the Communist Party of China. This stage is much more strict and applicants are heavily scrutinized, so college students have to be politically correct to join. “Politically correct” means you support the Party unconditionally and you can’t complain openly about the Party’s policies. It’s important for many students to join, because if they later choose to work for the government, there’s a much greater chance to be promoted if you are a Party member. Non-Party members are excluded for certain government organizations.
My father joined the Party in his early twenties while serving in the army. He doesn’t like it when I complain about the government and thinks I’m too influenced by the West. He knows that in our textbooks, history is often twisted and many facts are not told. He knows the corruption is so rampant that it’s almost incurable. He knows hundreds of millions of people were forced to starve to death under the Party’s policies in early 1960s, and he knows students were slaughtered when they called for democracy 22 years ago. But he firmly believes China would become a chaotic mess without the Party and its leadership. It’s hard for me to share the experience with him after, as a student in the U.S., I read literature censored in China. He’s spent all his life under the Party’s education, and I can’t force my opinions on him.
This morning, I was at the American Embassy in Beijing and saw long lines of Chinese citizens waiting in the rain to apply for visas to go to America. I couldn’t help thinking, my dear Communist Party, that you tell your people you are the greatest and you want them to love you and kiss you on your 90th birthday, but your people just can’t wait to leave you.