Even at 14, I knew about the cliché of China taking over the world. I took Mandarin in ninth grade, to prepare for the so-called inevitable takeover. China also seemed intriguing, mystical and odd. Leading up to my junior year, my education had not focused on the Orient, but recently I took the initiative to learn more, enrolling in a 20th century Chinese history course. In the class we read Out of Mao’s Shadow by Philip Pan. The book examined the lingering corruption of China’s government after the Chairman’s death; as a result, I started questioning Chinese policy, and most of all, I became even more curious.
Last year I visited China as part of my Mandarin III course. In Shanghai, I spent many days living with a Chinese student named Ken and his family. Influenced by Pan’s book, I became interested in hearing Ken’s views on American life, how he felt about realities like soldiers with automatic wapons on street corners, and what he thought about Chinese overall. I was surprised that unlike older generations, his views and aspirations were similar to mine. I concluded that much of Ken’s generation is inching towards the light, struggling to pry itself from the fetters of oppression and out of Mao’s waning shadow.
At the same time, it appeared there was a division between those who want Western freedoms and those who still follow the party. I saw this schism vividly while waiting in line to enter Mao’s tomb, at the Gate of Heavenly Peace, known here as Tiananmen Square. As we waited, two young girls stood celebrating a song of optimism and unity called 朋友, which literally translated means, “Friend.” Here I saw the strife between the past – those who continue to pay tribute to a man who slaughtered forty million of his own citizens – and the future, those who desperately desire liberation.
As the student leader of my school’s Amnesty International group, I am naturally concerned for the well-being of the Chinese people. I constantly wonder where their country is headed. Do the people realize that they’re at a crossroads? Will the government continue to rule with an iron fist, or consider a path of non-contention? 老子, Lao Tzu, realized that “ruling a country is like cooking a small fish …”; society will fall apart if handled too roughly, but what will Hu Jintao do? In the words of Philip Pan: “Too much has happened. Too much has changed. Too many refuse to forget.” I, for one, will never forget. Out of Mao’s Shadow has broadened my perspective regarding the challenges and responsibilities of being a global citizen, and inspire he to encourage others to help create a more balanced, humanistic world for those to come.