June 04, 2009
This picture is worth thousands and thousands of words.
Must liberty be curtailed in order to preserve the nation, or is the nation better understood as an expression of its freedoms? No it is better understood as an expression of its character. Once the National Character is diminished or forsaken then so are their freedoms, and Liberty then becomes only a memory.
Twenty years ago, on this day I arrived in China for the first time as a visiting student. While many "foreigners" were rushing for country exit, our little group came from the US to learn about Asia business (pre MBA, Org. Behr), so we decided to stay and to explore. We landed in Southern China uncertain when we could continue to Beijing. We were sent to a "diplomat resort". For eight hours we played pool and tried to understand what this Shanghainese in exile was trying to tell us. We continued on to HK. There the unfolding event in Beijing was acknowledged only by a simple black shroud at a public square which gave testimony in support of the movement – in retrospect it was a bold statement. While in HK, we were invited to visit refugee kids and encouraged to give them crayons – yet when we got there, it was a (NGO) detention camp for Vietnamese refugees.These were great lessons to me about what it means to be free and to live in a democracy, and the people I met taught me something about the responsibility it bears. In fact, one had challenged me to it (he's free now).
Back to China, I didn't see the picture of the man in front of the tank until I returned home. While awkward, this picture and others such as a make shift paper-mache image of the statute of liberty deeply inspired me and changed my life in many ways.
What I thought back then and still believe today is that China is still struggling with an authentic form of self expression, although it is steadily emerging.
What I would like to share is that many of China's CEO's, business and other leaders and entrepreneurs were at Tiananmen. Many lost 2nd university degrees because they were absent from their universities during China's "special time" and many simply have removed such facts from their resumes. That guy/girl doing your IT systems may have been trained as a doctor.
From my exposures, I would say that older leadership are scholars, deep thinkers, capitalists who like their younger generation counterparts were also part of a "special period" and as such reformed in labor camps or sent to farm in the countryside. That guy/girl may be running a hedge fund.
In my opinion, what is missing in China's leadership are acceptable forms of self expression, perpetuating disbelieved beliefs and a deep and conforming isolation as well as a lack of spiritual faith.
It's said that faith and values are taught and to teach we must communicate. Therefore, we in free society and in the spirit of our American founders should seek appropriate opportunities to labor the work of democracy toward the development of acceptable pathways.
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