Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Zhou Yongjun and The Internationale

For those of you who may not remember (or weren't born yet) back in 1989 a group of Chinese activists, comprised almost entirely of students, challenged the government to make pro-democratic reforms. It was on television and everything. They famously assembled in Tiananmen Square, with media people from around the world, and basically demanded concessions, or at least a public dialogue. What about? Basically, democratic reform to keep in step with numerous and far-reaching market reforms.

No need to ask what happened, at least in political terms for China. They crushed the 150,000 or so protesters with the military, killing about 2,500 people. It was, up until then, the saddest day in my life. I was young and felt a strong kinship with these men and women. It's still there now, that feeling, but it's more about being comrades. The cruel, draconian Chinese reaction was shocking to me then, and made me very angry. And as I said, deep sadness followed. Today, looking back, it touches me as I recall the feeling of optimism among radicals here for their comrades overseas. But I should have known.

My father knew. As students stuck flowers into the gun barrels of Chinese soldiers and Dan Rather was effusive over the "televised revolution," my father simply said that it would be over soon. "Trust me," he said, "they're not going to let this happen." I was optimistic and thought great things were about to happen. He was right, of course.

They most certainly did not let "it" happen.

These days, democracy isn't doing well in most of the world, particularly in China. But capitalism, despite the recent banking crisis, is doing fine. Free-Trade Zones all over China look like progress to Americans, because of the mythology connecting capitalism with democracy. Over the years I've found that most people think the protests were about opening up the country to capitalism. They were not. Hell, the students were singing The Internationale, a song of profound meaning and emotional currency with socialists, social democrats, communists and leftist radicals in general. Here's a taste:

Arise, wretched of the earth
Arise, convicts of hunger
Reason thunders in its volcano
This is the eruption of the end
Of the past let us wipe the slate clean
Masses, slaves, arise, arise
The world is about to change its foundation
We are nothing, let us be all
|: This is the final struggle
Let us group together, and tomorrow
The Internationale
Will be the human race :|

There are no supreme saviours
Neither God, nor Caesar, nor tribune.
Producers, let us save ourselves
Decree the common welfare
That the thief might bare his throat,
That the spirit be pulled from its prison
Let us fan the forge ourselves
Strike the iron while it is hot
|: This is the final struggle
Let us group together, and tomorrow
The Internationale
Will be the human race :|

We'd sing the same thing when marching with Jobs with Justice or during our conventions. The tyranny of an undemocratic state is as bad as the tyranny of a corporation without worker control, or at least a strong, politicized union.

I mention all this about that time and place (Tiananmen Square, 1989) because I read this morning that Zhou Yongjun, now a US citizen, was arrested at an airport in China on a vague charge of "political crimes" and/or "fraud." He was returning to China to visit his father, who is ill.

It's easy to admire such a man. Returning to China despite the ongoing danger he faces. The article reads:

At first he was accused of spying and political crimes, but now they have switched to this financial fraud accusation," Zhou's partner, Zhang Yuewei, told Reuters from the couple's home in California, adding that the charge was unfounded.

"He's been under secret detention for a long time, since he tried to enter China last year. He wanted to see his father, who is old and sick, but I didn't want him to go."

Zhou, a leader of the Beijing Students' Autonomous Union, was jailed for two years following the suppression of the movement. He left for the US in 1993 but was sent to a labour camp after returning to see his family in 1998. He returned to the US in 2002.

As I finished the article, on The Guardian Online, I found myself being hopeful. That thoughtful, progressive, compassionate people can be strong, too. Very strong. Far more so than those who choose violence. Isn't that corny?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

good stuff as always, Dar. -Sandra