Chinese Materialism-a new dialect?

 “This is a society in which materialism reigns.  Young people go after enjoyment and so on.  You can understand why they don’t care as much about society’s advancement or democracy.”   Zhang Xianling    

 Zhang’s teenage son was shot during the 1989 protests. She is an “advocate for the dead”-one of the founders of Tiananmen Mothers, a group of Chinese activists pushing for a change in the government’s position over the suppression of the “counter revolutionary”  Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.

 The group wants the right to mourn peacefully in public, no more persecution or imprisonment of participants or their families and a full public investigation.

 A lot has happened in China in the last 20 years, but there has been little change to the government’s Tiananmen intransigence, apart from a surprising one-off government payout of  70,000 yuan in 2006 to one of the victim’s families.

 In 1998, less than a decade after the Tiananmen tank tragedy, slumbering and lumbering state owned enterprises were reformed, with millions being laid off.

 In 2002 the Chinese Communist Party opened its membership to private entrepreneurs-the secular equivalent of opening the membership of the Roman Curia to card-carrying atheists. 

The 2003 Chinese manned space flight and the 2008 Olympics were twin markers of China’s centre front arrival on the global stage.

In the last two years China has got up to grab a bronze in the GNP marathon in the Economic Olympics, becoming the world’s third largest economy by pushing Germany into fourth place.

 Compared with 20 years ago, China’s youth at home and abroad are more pro-Chinese government and anti-West and also more confident and proud of China’s new place in the sun. Being banker to the United States is quite satisfying, too, if a little nerve racking right now.

Like Marx and Madonna, the young are openly adamant about living in a material world, even if they are clinging on by their fingernails to the economic rollercoaster in the current downturn.

 Protest precautions last week on China’s monolithic mainland were on high alert. The Internet was interdicted, the Web watched  and live memorial ceremonies banned.

 But  in the cosmopolitan microcosm of Hong Kong,  150,000 people took part in the annual candlelight vigil to mark this year’s 20th anniversary of the crushing of the protest movement in Tiananmen Square and elsewhere.  They literally kept the flame of non-material aspirations burning as brightly as Blake’s Tiger.

 No revolution in the offing, even with the spectre of millions of unemployed graduates  let alone others, but the evolution of China is at another fascinating stage as it moves towards a new balance in the ever changing unity of opposites foreshadowed by the dialectical materialism of Karl Marx. 

We need to attune our ears to the new dialect. It will be more subtle than a pop song, but very material.


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