Thoughts After San Francisco Demonstrations (Video Added)

An essay by a netizen named Oat Cereal (麦片粥). Translated by CDT:

Yesterday I joined the tens of thousands of demonstrators along Embarcadero in San Francisco awaiting the torch along the planned relay route. It was a sunny day, and there were mountains and seas of people (Chinese metaphor), red flags were flaying all over and singing and drumming filled the sky. The scenes that exemplified elementary school essays suddenly popped up in front of my eyes.

I am not good at long writing, but this one could be a bit lengthy, and please be patient, because I firstly wanted to record what happened that day. Of course, what I saw came from my own eyes and there’s of course partiality, but I tried to honestly put down what I observed.

– I saw a lot of people who support Tibet, human rights and freedom, who were in groups or alone walking, and many were holding self-made banners. Some held up the snow mountain lion flags, some draped them around their bodies, but the flags weren’t big. There were massive homemade signs that read, “Another _____ for a Free Tibet.” Some had “Another Biker for a Free Tibet,” some had “Another Mom for a Free Tibet,” some seniors had “Another Grandma for a Free Tibet,” some children had “Another Kid for a Free Tibet.”

– There were many more people who supported China and the Olympics. Their flags were much larger and uniform. Five-star red flags were flying all over the San Francisco Bay. Many groups were singing China’s national anthem, on a bigger scale than the free Tibet protesters. A girl besides me answered a call and I heard her say, “What? There are Tibetan separatists acting up over there? Ok, we will be over there very soon!”

– A white woman was waving a Tibetan flag. A Chinese old man suddenly said, “Long Live China!” The woman said, “Long Live Chinese! Long Live Human Rights!” The old man then repeatedly said, “Long Live China!” The woman didn’t say anything. The old man kept on saying “Long Live China!” And people around him also joined him, “Long Live China!” I said to that women, “Thank you,” and then I left.

– A group of Tibetan supporters went by, and a crowd of five-star red flag wavers shouted at them, “What do you know about Tibet?” Someone in the Tibet crowd answered, “If you don’t speak up for Tibetans, some day nobody will speak up for you!”

– In front of the Ferry Building, a young white man jumped onto a pedestal and opened up a “Free Tibet” banner. Then one of the people who were holding Chinese flags prodded the young man down to the ground. Two policemen went up and stopped the guy who was prodding him. Then someone tore the Chinese flag from him and a fight broke out.

– A lone, short Asian man had a cardboard box with “Human Rights’ written on it. He stood alone beside a rail and didn’t say anything, occasionally sniffing his nose.

All along, I didn’t see the torch and I believe many didn’t either. I was tired, and sad. I was weeping along the way. I always cry at big scenes like that. For instance, in movies when you know you’re too weak compared to a formidable enemy but you still have to fight until death. In this huge demonstration, everybody was shouting for his/her anger or belief. But what I saw was, neither side could persuade the other. The so-called whatever side “winning triumphantly” was nothing but disheartening self deception.

But what were angry about and what was it that believed in? This is what I wanted to talk about today.

Recently I’ve seen a lot on the Internet, and a majority of people think that “The enemy had an undying heart to kill us,” or “Racist West envies China’s rapid economic development,” or “Tide ebbs and flows and now it’s time we surpass them,” or “They take advantage of the Olympics to humiliate us,” or “They had a history of racial cleansing and what gives them the authority to teach us?”

Can I speak for the Westerners? That white woman who said “Long Live Chinese, Long Live Human Rights,” and the one who said “Some day nobody will speak up for you,” I think they very much represent their ideology. Human rights, freedom, conscience, truth are based on religious belief, and are what they truly believe in. If you don’t agree with this, then we cannot continue this conversation. Humans are pretty much the same. Human nature is something that’s universal. Otherwise there would be no reason for the existence of psychology. We Chinese have been influenced by thousands of years of emperor-ruled societies and grew up under an atheist authoritarian rule. In our daily lives, our human nature shares much in common with Westerners, but when it comes to faith and politics, there’s not much intersection. Now, it would be natural to draw a conclusion, with our stock information and conventional thinking, that they “look down upon us” or “have ill intentions.”

We Chinese are practical. We only believe in interests. Which is better, to be a slave with food, shelter and friends in a large plantation, or to be a free man who is lonely and worried about where to find his next meal. I think a lot of people will have a hard time choosing. So why is it that so many poor Tibetans want independence? Why is it that we gave them so much money and they still want to be independent? Why is it that we gave France so many huge orders and they’re acting up? All these are confusing to Chinese. But today most Westerners take human rights and freedom as non-negotiable because “God gives human rights.” It’s not a matter of whether we should have them or not, you just simply cannot deprive people of them. Human rights are not the right for food, so those arguments that “China is not ready for democracy because many are barely well fed” are incomprehensible to Westerners.

Is authoritarian rule frightening? Yes, it is, in two aspects. From within, it teaches people to lie. Because there’s nothing eternal to believe in and it will be ok if we lie but don’t get caught. I once wrote a “Three phase theory of power,” if you are interested you could take a look. The highest level of power is, to obey automatically, instead of being beaten into following orders. Self-censorship is the saddest experience for people under authoritarian rule. “If we cannot say it, just don’t.” How often have we run into a situation like this? There are many social costs to not having anything to believe in and having to prove whatever new things we try. We will some day have to pay the price for the whole society lying.

From the outside looking in, authoritarian rule may wage a war to divert attention from domestic problems. In modern history, there’s never been a war between democratic states. And if a powerful authoritarian country wins a war, then all democratic countries will return to authoritarian rule, and start all over again. This is the most frightening thing. So Western democracies have a natural hatred and fright over dictatorships, which is also why they criticize us and press for changes every day. If we can understand this, we’ll also be able to understand many of the confrontations we’ve had.

Today’s world has gone through civilizations, and everybody is progressing toward civilization. If we always use “you once were pirates so we can also rob” as an argument, it will become the most crude and least persuasive kids-speak. Nobody in this world wishes China to be chaotic, everybody hopes that China will be a responsible power. The US-China ties are like two townhouses with a shared wall. If you beat your children and wife, your neighbors will be involved. But it’s not because they want to burn down your house, and his/her own wall.

I saw a lot of debates between Chinese and their Western colleagues, “made so and so speechless,” and a complete victory, etc. It’s not like this, if you teach down to others with a premade conclusion, nobody can speak to you. If we don’t try to learn about others’ premises and stick to our own conclusions there’s no chance of communicating well. Without knowing the definition of truth, evil becomes seductive. I hope that those who are in the West, do more listening, less arguing. Otherwise, the West will keep thinking we “are controlled by demons” and we will keep believing that the “enemy has an undying heart to kill us” and there will be no chance to learn about each other but on the battle ground.

See also CDT Wu Nan’s video depicting the street debates in San Francisco torch rally, via Youtube: