October 1, 2009 marks the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. For many Chinese around the world, this day is without a doubt a joyous occasion, as they celebrate how far the Mother Ship has come in the last 60 years, from a fragmented political state torn apart by colonialism and civil war in the years leading up to the PRC’s founding, to the mighty powerhouse it is today, boasting the world’s third largest and fastest-growing economy. It’s virtually impossible, in fact, to talk about China’s many achievements in the year 2009 without invoking the words “biggest” and “best.” (How about them Olympics last year?!)
But forgive me if I don’t bust out the party–or should I say “Party” as in Communist Party?–noisemakers. Because 2009 also marks the 60th anniversary of my family’s forced exodus from China. Somewhere in Guangdong Province, in my father’s ancestral village, there’s a book with 20+ generations of Wangs recorded in it, and, for my particular branch of the family, it ends with my father and his siblings. So today doesn’t feel like a birthday so much as a death day, the end of my bloodline as it existed in one place and one place only, for centuries.
For other people who feel ambivalent about the PRC’s 60th birthday, like the Tibetan protesters gathered outside the Empire State Building Wednesday night who objected to it being lit up red and yellow, or the Chinese dissidents silenced in mental hospitals and jails, or the student leaders of the Tiananmen Square protests (which also had an anniversary this year, its 20th), their grievances against the PRC are much more immediate. Let’s not forget, the Chinese government still has a lousy human-rights record. Against its own people. You know, the People to whom the Republic of China allegedly belongs?
I’m not going to totally piss on the PRC’s birthday though. Because the thing is, if my family hadn’t ended up on the losing end of a civil war and been forced to flee so that the People’s Republic of China could come into being, I probably wouldn’t be here writing this. And even if I had still somehow found my way into this world but been born and raised in China like all of my ancestors, I know I couldn’t be writing this.
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