— Yan Lianke, “Serve the People!”
I’m moving to Beijing in August, and Haoxin is planning to join me there. He’ll try to find work as a graphic designer. He’s talented, and I feel guilty for being so pessimistic, but with a degree from a teachers college and a rural hukou— are you even allowed to hope? Isn’t there some kind of regulation that says that if you weren’t born a lucky kitten — if your collar is not white or black — then you should just give up?
We come from completely different worlds, and what is even more painful than that is the fact that we want exactly the same things in life. Maybe I should be more worried about myself, but there just seems to be such a huge difference between being a nobody in the U.S. and being a nobody in China. I hope Haoxin finds a way to escape Gatsby’s fate.
This is far too complicated and personal a matter to rant about on a blog, and I blame Evan Osnos’s wonderful, wonderful piece for redirecting my thoughts away from my statistics exam…
“An anonymous essay that circulated widely in China not long ago drew some recognizable archetypes, including the member of the new young Chinese white-collar class, the men and women who
…sip cappuccino, date online, have a DINK family, take subways and taxis, fly economy, stay in nice hotels, go to pubs, make long phone calls, listen to blues, work overtime, go out at night, celebrate Christmas, have one-night-stands … . “The Great Gatsby” and “Pride and Prejudice” are on their nightstands. They are drawn, above all, by love, manners, culture, art, and experience.
The essay went on to compare that class to the newly termed black-collar class of corrupt officials and their business associations: “Their clothes are black. Their cars are black. Their income is hidden. Their life is hidden. Their work is hidden. Everything about them is hidden—like a man wearing black standing in the dark.”
In China these days, it can sometimes feel as if the direction of the country hinges in part on which of those classes prevails. And, in a sense, they are the two worlds that Gatsby inhabited. He tried to unify them and he failed. And that may be the part of the novel that is the most difficult for Chinese strivers to accept.”
- Evan Osnos
Today is May 4, but tonight is all about June 4.
Yes, I should be studying for finals, and I really should be committing to memory my three-sentence definition of the “May 4 Movement” for tomorrow evening’s test. But I can’t put down Liu Xiaobo’s “No Enemies, No Hatred.” His essay on the Tiananmen Mothers and his poems to those who gave their lives — those he feels were braver than him — really put things into perspective:
“How was it that university students and high-level intellectuals led the 1989 movement, but when the dust settled all the people who were massacred, went out to rescue the wounded, or received heavy sentences were common people? Why is it that we scarcely hear the voices of the people who paid the heaviest prices, while the luminaries who survived the massacre can hardly stop talking? Why is it that, in the wake of the massacre, the blood of ordinary people has gone to nourish the reputations of opportunists large and small, people who run around presenting themselves as the leaders of a “people’s movement?”” (Listen Carefully to the Voices of the Tiananmen Mothers”, pg. 10)
“Ten years ago this day
soldiers stand at attention
poses dignified and correct, trained
to uphold a hideous lie
dawn is a crimson flag
fluttering in the half-light
people crane and stand on tiptoe
curious, awed, earnest
a young mother
lifts her baby’s hand
to salute that sky-eclipsing lie”
(“Standing Amid the Execrations of Time: Ten Years after Tiananmen”, pg. 17)