Summer in Beijing

Greetings from Beijing!

I hope everyone is enjoying their summer wherever you are. I’m in Beijing for the next four weeks. I’m teaching 2 history classes at Beijing Normal University. This is my third summer teaching in China and my second year in Beijing. The flight over was pretty uneventful—just long—thirteen hours. I don’t sleep on planes, so it’s a time to read and watch a lot of movies. I get over jet-lag pretty quickly—so I’m just about adjusted here.  Beijing is a city on a scale that few people who live in the US can imagine. It boggles my mind that any group of humans of this size can co-exist in close proximity without chaos ensuing everyday.

I did want to share something with you today about China’s recent history. June 4th is the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests in which 300+ protesters were killed by government forces. The protest that occurred in 1989 reflected the increasing frustration  of a largely younger generation against the restrictions and controls of the PRC (Peoples Republic of China) and the Communist Party. Since the 1970s China and the US (due in part to the diplomacy of Richard Nixon and Zhou En Lai) enjoyed open relations that benefited both nations economically. Despite this modernization in China, the social and economic reforms expected for the Chinese people did not occur. This frustration against the CCP exploded in a series of public protests throughout China’s cities and culminated in the protests taking place in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. CNN live coverage reached new levels in international reporting. Images of people, signs, images of the Statue of Liberty made headlines around the world. But the most searing image was the footage of a young man standing up to an approaching tank, a force of human conviction facing off against the military power of the Chinese Communist Party.

In the aftermath of the protests, thousands were imprisoned. The government crackdown on dissidents was rapid and highly successful. Today 25 years later the students I teach have little to no knowledge about the event or its global significance. It remains a forbidden subject and those who keep the memory alive in their voices, writing, and art continue to face the threat of imprisonment. As the anniversary approaches here in Beijing, the military presence is highly visible in anticipation of any minor or major demonstrations. As I sit here at my desk at the university, just a short subway ride from the square, I wonder if I will even know what happens there in the coming hours due to suppression of any media coverage or freedom of information. I’ve decided not to ask students to remember or write about the event in class today. Partly because of concerns over my own welfare, but also because I do not want to place the students in a position in which they feel threatened. To speak about Tiananmen is against the law.

One thing to add . . . due to censorship I am unable to post this to the NAECC blog myself—I’ve asked Deb to do it on my behalf. My access to the NAECC travel blog is blocked by the Chinese Communist Party. You along with thousands and thousands of other websites, seem to be a threat to China’s national “security.” We, the citizens of the U.S., are a fortunate people under any circumstances. And with that comes a responsibility to do what we can to make the world a better place to live for everyone.

Take care and be in good health.


Dr. Dawn G. Marsh
Associate Professor
Department of History
Purdue University

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