An article written by Chinese blogger Li Chengpeng has been circulating over the last few days after it was translated into English by the NYT. In it Li describes how the Sichuan earthquake served to bring an end to his days as a fenqing, the angry nationalist youth of China. Worth reading in its entirety, but here’s some of the beginning:
News arrived slowly. Many people had died in the Dujiangyan area at the epicenter of the quake. Roads to Beichuan, a county close to the epicenter, were cut off. Blood supplies were running out.
“My country is calling me,” I thought to myself. “It’s time for us to build a New Great Wall with our flesh and blood.” Our national anthem resonated in my head. The next morning I set off to Beichuan with two friends.
I didn’t know it at the time, but those were my final days as a typical Chinese patriot.
I arrived in the town of Beichuan and was perplexed as I stood in front of the ruins of Beichuan No. 1 High School. I couldn’t understand why the rubble of a brand new five-story building covered half the area of a basketball court while nearby structures built decades ago were still standing. I couldn’t understand why new buildings seemed as fragile as crackers. I couldn’t understand why even the students on the ground floor of the school were apparently unable to make it to safety.
I was a typical patriot before 2008. I believed that “hostile foreign forces” were responsible for most of my peoples’ misfortunes. As a soccer commentator covering games between Japan and China, I wrote lines like, “Cut off the Japanese devils’ heads.” I saw Japanese soccer players as the descendants of the Japanese soldiers who brutally killed Chinese civilians in the 1937 massacre of Nanjing. I used to curse CNN for its anti-China commentaries. I was one of the protesters who stood in front of the U.S. consulate in Chengdu and raised my fist after the U.S. bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade in 1999.
But my patriotism began to come into question as I stood in front of the ruins of Beichuan High School. It became clear that the “imperialists” did not steal the reinforced-steel bars from the concrete used to make our schools. Our school children were not killed by foreign devils. Instead, they were killed by the filthy hands of my own people.
I still believe that we should “build a New Great Wall with our flesh and blood” but now I also believe the Great Wall should protect our flesh and blood.
The best reaction to the piece so far comes from The Peking Duck:
I love this article. I love its love for the Chinese people. I love its drawing a distinction between being pro-China and being pro-corruption, the folly of believing you can only be a patriot if you accept carte blanche all the propaganda and injustices brought by venal officials who abuse their power. I love its definitions of true patriotism as opposed to blind allegiance. I love its honesty and the author’s willingness to challenge his own principles.
Read it. Cut it out and paste it on the wall. Refer to it whenever any idiot tells you it’s impossible to be critical of the Chinese government without being “anti-China,” a “China basher.” Li has exposed them as lemmings incapable of thinking for themselves even in light of the strongest evidence. This blind acceptance of all the government’s crap isn’t patriotism at all, it’s self-delusion and the surrender of one’s critical faculties. We all know that. But it’s wonderful to hear it from a former true believer who came to see for himself what the truth actually is.