A Picture Worth a Thousand Words?

On October 2, 2009, in China, by Mark Norris

On the front page, above the fold, of today’s China News Daily is President Hu Jintao reviewing the troops during yesterday’s 60th Anniversary Parade which I attended. The headline: “Day of Glory – New China shows its pride to the world.”

After several days of meetings with various officials and tour guides during which we heard repeatedly about the “New China,” yesterday’s 60th Anniversary celebration was an attempt to drive home the point that, like the Buick ads of yore, “this is not your father’s China.”

(Although my father served in World War II, my father-in-law served during the Korean War. He is curious to learn what, if anything, has changed inside the land of North Korea’s ally).

I’m not so sure. If this is the New China, why the decidedly Cold War spin in the aftermath of yesterday’s celebration? (For you bloggers, this — like many others in my posts — is what is known as a “rhetorical question”).

In the minds of many of us in Tennessee, this photograph is, indeed, not only the image, but the reality, of Communist China.

I am now onboard our flight to Shanghai, and what is being shown overhead is a replay, not of yesterday’s parade, but the same parade in 1949 when Mao stood in Tien’Anmen Square at the same podium as yesterday’s Hu, to declare this the People’s Republic of China. The military parade, right down to the goose-stepping troops and overflight of military aircraft, was identical.

There were, of course, some notable differences. Like the nuclear ICBMs rolling by and photo footage of mushroom clouds broadcast over giant television screens.

Today’s New York Times reports that China remains “wordless” about the atrocities committed by Mao during one of the sieges that led to his triumphant entry into Tiananmen Square 60 years ago. Starvation was Mao’s weapon of mass destruction. More than 150,000 Chinese civilians were starved to death in one city.

Those who survived this Asian holocaust ask why was there no acknowledgment yesterday of this aspect of China’s past? Why not even a symbolic 60 seconds of silence?

Is it because the past, here, too, is prologue? Or because it is not the past at all but an ongoing reality?

Whichever, we are faced with a challenging dichotomy between the need to embrace new economies on one hand and old realities on the other.

One thing is certain: the New China’s economic might and a new generation within what is now the United States’ largest creditor which prospers as a result of it. If they make no apologies for this aspect of their past, one wonders how much they really know about it. After all, no one in power dwells upon it.

But the photograph in today’s newspaper of China’s President, standing atop his Chinese Red Flag limousine, rolling past thousands of troops and weapons, speaks volumes.

With apologies to Rod Stewart, “every picture tells a story — don’t it?”

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