Flash Points: Anniversaries in China to Watch in 2009

Feb 04, 2009
*Special to asia!
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March 10: Anniversary of the invasion of Tibet

This was the date of the Tibetan uprising against the Chinese which eventually saw the Dalai Lama being taken to India, for fear that he would be captured by the Chinese. He has remained there since, as well as the Tibetan government-in-exile, and found supporters among a group of diverse elements, the most famous of which include Hollywood actor Richard Gere. “Pro-Tibetan” and “anti-China” have become synonymous terms now.


There is a tight rein of control around Lhasa since last year when Tibetan demonstrations broke out in Chinese provinces like Sichuan as well where they reside. The state legislature of the Autonomous Region of Tibet this year has voted to make 28 March “Serf Emancipation Day”. After they crushed the Tibetan uprising in 1959, the Communist government implemented land reform which saw they come down hard on on landowners. Thus arises the idea that they emancipated the (Tibetan) serfs.


China's policy in Tibet is to win support by providing the landlocked mountainous region with infrastructure and schools, and the latest is the rail link with Qinghai province which now links Tibet with the rest of China.


May 4: 90th anniversary of the birth of Movement named after the organised student-led uprising against the weakness of their government in the negotiations of the Treaty of Versailles

That was the year the Chinese government ceded all influence to the European victors of World War One. Instead of returning Germany's concessions back to China after the European giant was defeated, they were instead turned over to an expanist Japan.


Official Chinese protests fell on deaf ears, in spite of the help they contributed to the Allied war effort.


In response to this perceived impotence, Chinese students drafted five resolutions:


  1. Opposition to the granting of Shandong to the Japanese.
    Shandong is home to the birthplace of Confucius, the man on whose teachings Chinese society is based. Ceding Shandong would be akin to the Christians losing Jerusalem. That was the allegory the Chinese government gave which fell on deaf European ears.


  1. Inform the Chinese public at large of the situation.
    China then, as it is now, was a rural society. This outcry was started by Chinese intellectuals in the capital, which felt obliged to spread the discontent and awareness.


  1. Call for a public demonstration in Beijing.


  1. Rally the students in the capital to organise themselves into a cohesive organisation.


  1. An immediate protest that afternoon.
Some 3,000 students marched onto Tiananmen Square on May 4 and when faced with police clampdown, intensified their opposition in the university campuses. Things came to a head on June 3, as strikes erupted in other cities as well.


Public pressure eventually forced the government sack those who represented China in the Treaty negotiations. Chinese historians credit this event as one that contributed significantly to the eventual rise of Mao Zedong and the Communist movement in China. And surely the significance of the event and its related dates were not lost on those that followed in their footsteps 70 years later in 1989.


May 12: A year on after the Sichuan Earthquake

There are five stages in the Kübler-Ross model of griefing: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.


It is hard to tell which stage the parents of the children who were killed in the earthquake are in, but there is anger among them right now. It has been revealed that the large number of child victims had resulted from the schools they were in being structurally unsound.


They are calling for the Chinese government to launch an inquiry and have been at it for months now. A group of them were recently in Beijing demanding for answers. Grieving parents have held marches and sit-ins and arrests had been made. But they are a problem that will not go away easily.

June 4: 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square student uprising

For a long time, this was the event that defined China for the outside world, its brutal crushing of the student protestors that called for greater freedom and democracy.


In April, mourning for the recently-deceased reformist party leader Hu Yaobang (no relation to Chinese President Hu Jintao) began among the students in the capital's various universities. This began to fester the discontent over the government's authoritarian ways. On the anniversary that year of the May 4th movement, some 100,000 intellectuals, students and workers alike came together on the square that fronts the imperial palace of China's last dynasty, calling for reforms as advocated by Hu.


They remained thus for weeks, despite the imposition of martial law. On June 3 the army moved in and firing began. Tanks rolled in and according to witnesses literally crushed the protesters.


Hundreds were killed though as expectedly the actual figures reported by the media and the Chinese government differ wildly.
The Chinese government proved itself a brutal regime that when forced into a corner, did not hesitate to shed blood at a peaceful demonstration, and it was an image that remained even till now.


Zhao Ziyang, the Communist Party General Secretary, was sacked for his sympathetic stance towards the students and advocacy against a clampdown. He remained in house arrest till his death in 2004, which went by with barely a word breathed by his Party.


Regardless he remains a figurehead for the reform-minded in China and is fondly remembered by many, not least for one of the most compassionate speeches ever uttered by a Chinese leader, as he visited the students who had embarked on a hunger strike in May.


October 1: 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China


The Communists captured Beijing from the Nationalist government in January and other cities began to fall as well.


On October 1, 1949, Mao Zedong stood on Tiananmen Square and proclaimed the People's Republic of China. By December the losing Nationalists had retreated to Taiwan under General Chiang Kai-Shek, where he declared the island independent of China, giving rise to a division that continues to this day.


In recent years though relations between China and Taiwan have shown signs of warming up after Ma Ying-Jeou took over as president and adopted a less-antagonistic stance compared to his pro-independence predecessor Chen Shui-bian.


Last December, barely half a year after air links were re-established for the first time in 60 years between China and Taiwan, cross-straits the flight frequency was upped to daily and around 100 connecting the island to various Chinese cities.


Related Story:

The year that will be 2009


dan-chyi chua

Dan-Chyi Chua was a broadcast journalist, before forsaking Goggle Box Glitz for the Open Road. A three-year foray led her through the Middle East, China, SE Asia, Latin America and Cuba, and she's now grounded herself as a writer for theasiamag.com, content with spending her days in Jerusalem.

Contact Dan-Chyi