Wednesday, June 3, 2009

My Biggest Philosophical Struggle as a Libertarian - 六四

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. When I was in 4th grade (1992) we were assigned a project in which we were to make a travel brochure for a particular country. I chose China. This was pre-internet days, so research consisted of encyclopedias and parents' memories. I was young and my memory is hazy, but I do remember encountering some strange story about the famous Tian An Men Square; something about violence and protests. In my brochure, I remember reporting that Tiananmen translated to 'Gate of Heavenly Peace'. I remember sharing that it was the largest public space in the world. I remember being so young that my parents thought it was not necessary to include anything about the violence that had taken place a few years earlier. Children shouldn't be burdened with those realities of the world.

The consequences of that night have lingered for the last 20 years. At some time shortly following the demonstrations, the Chinese leadership made a commitment to One-Party Rule and suppression of civil liberties, while freeing up economic activity and fueling the greatest exodus from poverty that has happened in the history of mankind. In essence, the government said, "We will not give you democracy, but we will make you rich". And, as a libertarian, this is the concept with which I struggle most. China's growth has been imperfect, but it has been overwhelming. "让一部分人先富起来". Let some people get rich first. That's what Deng Xiaoping said. The rising tide of prosperity will lift all boats. And it's true. The poorest of China's poor are unbelievably poor. But they are still significantly better off than 20 years ago. I read an interesting book comparing the paths of Russia versus China in their exit from communism. Russia pursued a path of democracy first, economic freedoms second. Russia's democracy today is in shambles and so is their economy. China pursued a path of economic freedom first, democracy later. And while democracy is nonexistent, their economy is written about fawningly daily. So while I wish China were a free country (and I know that someday it will be), I almost have to respect the contradiction it presents to my personal philosophies.

Since Blogger is blocked in China right now, none of my friends there can access this post. For some, it's part of the sacrifice you make when you move to an authoritarian country. But not all of my friends moved to China; some were born there. For them, they are denied access to the flavors of life by the Great Chinese Firewall. They are denied access to differing opinions, certain movies, art and music. And conversely, they are not allowed to share their unique flavor with the world either. Those of us outside of China are denied exposure to a vast array of amazing peoples because the government decides so. And I find that unfortunate.

I'm not even close to being done hashing out this philosophical struggle. This post hasn't clearly shaped either side of my conflict, but nonetheless, I wanted to express some thoughts on today's significance. The rest of the day will be filled with links to words, videos and sounds surrounding 6/4. There are ugly sides to everyone's history. This is one of China's. Hopefully they can grow up and deal with it someday soon.

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