Thursday, November 5, 2009

"When the 'Pillars of National Unity' Turned Into Totems" by Woeser



High Peaks Pure Earth has translated an article written by Woeser for Radio Free Asia on September 30, 2009 and posted on her blog on October 12, 2009.

This article refers to the celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on October 1st in Beijing, where 56 pillars representing ethnic unity were erected. In the western media, the pillars received scant blog attention, however, Xinhua news agency gave wide coverage to the pillars and published several photos.

"When the 'Pillars of National Unity' Turned Into Totems" by Woeser

In the history of China’s national celebrations since 1949, there has never been such a cutting edge festival manifested in 56 massive and brightly-coloured “pillars of national unity” as recently erected on Tiananmen Square. The reason for the creation of these 56 “pillars of national unity” symbolising the equality, unity and harmony amongst the 56 nationalities is directly related to the “Tibet Incident” of last year and the “Xinjiang Incident” of this year. Tibetans and Uyghurs have become the most unstable elements within the 56 nationalities; the eruption of gradually accumulated resentment and the deterioration of relations between ethnic groups have provoked those in power, from the central level to the local level, into a great flurry. On the one hand, they have adopted cruel and authoritarian methods in the minority regions where problems appeared, resulting in many places being under constant military control for a long period of time; on the other hand, they have been changing their behaviour as swiftly as “an actor who changes his faces constantly on stage”. When they perform for the outside world, they try their best to portray an image of “dazzling fireworks and lanterns lighting up the night sky with minority brothers and sisters flirtatiously dancing in harmony”.

These 56 dazzling “pillars of national unity” represent Mao Zedong’s lines about the great unity of all minorities. Xinhua News Agency especially released an article giving them a particular meaning, calling them “pristine totem symbols belonging to every single citizen of the People’s Republic”, “This kind of pillar transformed the innermost hopes of the minority people into a totem with sacred power. Our heart which has taken its root in our great undertaking of promoting national prosperity corresponds to the profound history and great mind given to us by the totem. Yet, it is believed that the original meaning of this so-called “totem” is related to the convictions and superstitions of ancient society and early human beings. Worshipping “totems” is thought to be some sort of ritual or religious phenomenon of primal tribes. But for the Chinese Communists, who pursue agnosticism and claim to be the representatives of a modern and progressive culture, this should be regarded as useless and swept onto the rubbish heap of history and not used to cultivate the superstitious beliefs of the masses. Of course, if we look at the core of the problem, we notice that although the Communists fly high the anti-religious flag, in actual fact, they precisely do this only to enable their own new religion to unify the world. Ever since the Mao era, they have slowly created a “spiritual atomic bomb” conquering people’s hearts and minds. Today’s “pillars of national unity” are nothing but such “spiritual atomic bombs”, whose aim it is, as Hannah Arendt puts it, “to emotionally lure people in and while in terms of depths and scope appearing to go beyond the limits of nationalism, they in fact generate a new kind of nationalist sentiment”.  

However, no matter how gigantic or stunning these “pillars of national unity” are, which have been set up in light of the frequently occurring minority problems, they can by no means cover up the authorities’ wish to obstruct reality, instead they further highlight a real crisis. Going too far is always as bad as not going far enough; the more one tries to hide, the more one is always exposed; and if one tries to be clever, one only ends up with a blunder. What the large and small group incidences and ethnic conflicts, which happened last year and this year, in Tibet and in Xinjiang and even in other minority regions, exposed is not the plot by scheming people with ulterior motives. Unless those in power genuinely believe in and comply with the good intentions of “equality, unity and harmony” and reconsider, amend, and actually resolve problems, otherwise when we hear about those 56 reality-hampering “pillars of national unity” from government media propaganda or when we see them on Tiananmen Square looking like a theatre stage setting, what we received is the education which see through the intrinsic nature of this country.

For instance, an international Sinologist said that these 56 scarlet red pillars are in fact an imitation of the imposing bearings of the Roman Empire and through their shape are seeking to conquer everything, portraying nothing but imperialistic power. A rural Chinese person thought that those 56 bright red pillars looked like 56 golden cudgels (weapon used by the Monkey King in the novel Pilgrimage to the West) with every single one of those cudgels attacking one minority. A Chinese intellectual recalls the time when he went to the Great Hall of the People to watch a performance where he saw “a large group of people all dressed in minority garments festively singing and dancing and chanting the paean of praise in unison”. He criticises: “isn’t this a modern version of the central empire pompously displaying how all states ceremonially make obeisances? Nowadays, which country would still painstakingly select a group of performers to represent each minority and make them wear dresses and ornaments, which they would not normally wear, or which have long been made obsolete, and then also make them blissfully sing and dance in the capital city? The only country I can think of is the powerful and prosperous Empire of the Soviet Union, which in the past would make all minorities one by one appear on stage and eagerly pay their compliments and praise to the “father of all minorities”, Josef Stalin; yet the Empire of the Soviet Union has already collapsed.

Beijing, September 30, 2009

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