The Tiananmen Effect

“The Sichuan quake has inspired a powerful, and unpredictable, movement among China’s youth.” Melinda Liu and Mary Hennock writes on the Newsweek website:

Youth movements like this are rare events in China. In 1968, during the tumultuous Cultural Revolution, Mao Zedong sent millions of educated, idealistic youth “down to the farm” to work the land. In 1989, a different generation of students turned against the regime. At times in the last few years, Beijing has begun to rally Chinese youth around nationalist causes, but always pulled back once emotions got too heated. In the current outpouring of altruism, nationalism takes “a much more civil and compassionate form,” says Tsinghua University philosophy professor Daniel Bell.

That happens to suit Beijing’s needs perfectly. Before the quake, the regime’s foremost priority was to ease the growing tensions between China’s rich and poor, city and countryside, rich coast and underprivileged interior. Bell points out that ordinary Chinese have been struck by how many of the Sichuan villages demolished by the quake were deeply impoverished. In Chengdu this week, groups of young professionals chanting “Go! Go! Sichuan” marched through the streets collecting donations for quake victims. Others sang peace-and-love folks songs in a public square. Bell expects the new, strongly compassionate mood to boost “fair society” politics and give rise to civic organizations involved in protecting the environment, fighting against local corruption and promoting the rights of migrant workers. “Some of us hope to stay in touch, maybe even set up a ‘volunteers’ forum’ online,” after the initial recovery effort in Sichuan ends, says Hu. His Buddhist organization plans to station volunteers in the quake zone for at least 18 months.


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