The good of the whole

February 16, 2011

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Recently I overheard an expat’s comment that the Tiananmen Square Massacre was justified because killing a few was “for the good of the whole”. I have to say I was gobsmacked by this comment. The good of the whole? My mind keeps coming back to the PLA image I saw at Ma Jian’s presentation last year of an individual after he had been run over by a tank. He was obviously not part of “the whole”. Nor his family, friends, or acquaintances. Nor the hundreds of thousands of other students and workers that took part in protests, nor the supporters in 400 other cities throughout the country at the time. And what about the tank driver? Was it for his benefit? Or his senior officer? Or the individuals ordered to clean up afterwards? Estimates of total deaths for the period vary dramatically from between hundreds to tens of thousands but surely the irony of an uprising of the people for political reform cannot have been lost on the communist old guard. More than 20 years on, the shock waves of this incident reverberate throughout the country, every year the date noted but shied away from. The literal and emotional crushing of a people was “for the good of the whole”? This justification of the massacre is as terrifying as the incident itself.

A few weeks ago I stood in Tiananmen Square. What did I feel? Nothing. A void. A vast empty space that sucks everything into it, an emotional black hole. It is the largest public square in the world, and, in the good tradition of socialist architecture, makes you feel as powerless and insignificant as a mere ant—wasn’t the revolution’s catch cry “power to the people”? I can’t help feeling that if a government is governing well, then it shouldn’t need to slaughter its own citizens.

Perhaps it is churlish to compare but it is hard not to when a similar situation has recently occurred in Egypt. How did they deal with it? Did they run over people with tanks? No. I’m sure that Egypt still has a long way to go as far as political stability and re-establishing peace for Egyptian people, and there will no doubt be rough times ahead, but surely the government’s actions come much closer to the notion of “for the good of the whole” than those of the PRC in 1989.

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One Response to “The good of the whole”

  1. An appalling remark by that person, and very relevant ones by you in this post. Best hopes for the situation in Egypt, although it certainly doesn’t look promising for a truly democratic future when women who went out to protest alongside the men were assaulted by the latter. (This was reported by BBC and CNN at the time.)

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