Rising from the ashes of the ‘Century of Humiliation’

China was brought to its knees by the imperial powers more than a century ago. But slowly, it has restored and restructured social order, reconstructed and rebuilt infrastructure, reinvigorated and redirected the national spirit to achieve swift and unprecedented growth and development.
Thus, China has great reasons to celebrate, and it did. On Oct. 1, on its 70th anniversary as a nation, China showed the world it has transformed from the “sick man of Asia” to global power, from a weak government browbeaten by power brokers to a strong government able to broker and project power.
The people rise
China’s national anthem captures the spirit and spunk of its people. Its opening stanza enjoins the people to “arise! Chinese people who refuse to be slaves (起來!不願做奴隸的人們)!”
The second stanza reinforces this clarion call: “When the greatest danger threatens…the Chinese people rise (中華民族到了最危險的時候…起來)!”
True to the spirit of the anthem, this 70th-anniversary celebration was China’s opportunity to proclaim to the world that it is the Chinese people who count the most. President Xi Jinping minced no words in declaring so in his Oct. 1 remarks at Tiananmen Square: “China’s strength lies in the hundreds of millions of people behind it.”
Beyond the grandiosity and extravaganza of the celebrations, what impressed me most was how the Chinese people rally behind their nation.
The footage of the morning parade and evening cultural presentation showed the precise formation, perfect timing, exuberance and enthusiasm of the 100,000 performers. I heard it took six months of intense practice for them to achieve such precision.
Attendees to the morning and evening events walked more than a kilometer to reach the venue where seats were designated for everyone. On each seat was a bag with bottled water and wet wipes.
Enroute to Tiananmen Square, I talked to some young volunteers who assured me they were not being forced to help. They had to apply early on; not all were chosen. Once selected, they underwent briefings and meetings before the big day. They knew the difficult tasks that lay ahead, including standing at their positions before daybreak. Playing a part in making the celebration a success was an honor in itself. “It is an experience I will always treasure. It is a privilege given only to those chosen,” an 18-year-old female volunteer told me.
Even more impressive was the crowd who came in droves to attend. Some families traveled from afar. On the eve of the celebration, I walked around our hotel and saw a group of old men chatting and planning the time and place they would meet and head out together to the plaza. I asked them if they were ready to walk that far.
As guests, we were bused to the vicinity but still needed to walk nearly an hour to reach our designated gallery. Those without the required identification walked more than two hours, thrice the distance. Tiananmen Square was a restricted zone for three days and nights, except for vehicles with designated permits.
On Oct. 1 itself, even the subways stopped operating until the parade was over. But no one complained. Likewise, the shops that closed that day understood that the move was necessary.
The welcome banquet I attended drew 3,800 guests, nearly 2,000 of them overseas Chinese, 1,000 from Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan, and 800 were dignitaries, government officials and other invited guests. The awesome organization and logistics of registering participants, assigning hotels, buses, seating and timing the trips were a feat in themselves. For example, all guests were met at the airport in batches half an hour apart. They were billeted in five hotels and assigned specific buses. The organizers relied on incredible technology for smooth and efficient coordination.
As President Xi said further in his remarks, “No force can ever shake the status of China or stop the Chinese people and nation from marching forward.”
I cried inside as I recalled our centennial celebrations of the 1896 revolution and 1898 declaration of independence. People were just happy it was a holiday. There was little coming together in the magnitude of what I witnessed on Oct. 1.
The tragedy that is Hong Kong
It’s saddening that the joy overturning 70 as a nation was marred by the tragedy in Hong Kong, which the Chinese government has been trying to avert when the trouble erupted four months ago. Hong Kong policemen had so far dealt with the protests with patience and restraint, on orders from above who have learned from the 1989 Tiananmen Square fiasco.
Until Oct. 1, one soldier, in self defense, fired live bullets into the crowd, critically wounding one youngster.
The policemen were apparently frustrated. They were limited to rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons to disperse the crowd even as the extremely few masked violent mobsters were throwing gasoline bombs, corrosive fluid, stones and metal pipes at them.
As the Beijing festivities showed, however, China won’t compromise – its status, its territory, its authority – knowing that its billion people are behind it. However, a dialogue with the legitimate Hong Kong protesters is in order and is never too late. There were many derailed attempts and failed dialogues due to the intransigence of the contending factions. But the euphoria of the just-finished festivities may soften the hard positions.
By “legitimate Hong Kong protesters,” I refer to those who have legitimate demands for some form of autonomy, especially in the transparency, openness and greater inclusivity in the management of the territory. The multitude of rallyists joined not for the money or propaganda but because they sincerely yearn for reforms.
Their spontaneous presence shows they want their voices and grievances heard. But the handful of terrorists and violent mobsters, by sowing chaos and violence, have hogged the limelight and threaten to ruin the chance of the majority to be heard.
There are disturbing police intelligence reports that some accepted money to join the rallies. They were said to have been mobilized by a number of self-serving big taipans who had escaped prosecution from China for economic sabotage and illegal deals and scams.
These taipans made it rich in Hong Kong and continue their illegal activities; hence, it is in their interest to whip up a frenzy against the extradition treaty by manipulating the innocent youth to project their position.
What is sad is that like many Filipinos, majority of the Hong Kongers prefer to be bystanders, just letting the incidents play out and refusing to even condemn the violence now destroying Hong Kong. Their media, meanwhile, highlight the troubles and chaos at the expense of the real issues buried in the rhetoric.
Unless the protesters watch out, they may lose even much more than what they have now. Many businesses have shuttered. Hotel occupancy is at an all-time low.
The protesters should realize by now that Hong Kong needs China more than the other way around.
The shooting of the youngster may be the tipping point that will bring the various factions together to work a way out of the impasse.

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