Two Ceremonial Acts, One Bad Omen

by Tienchi Martin-Liao    /  January 15, 2014  / No comments

As history looms large, tensions flare up between China and Japan.

Xi Jinping and Sinzo Abe

Xi Jinping (L), President of the People's Republic of China; and Sinzo Abe (R), Prime Minister of Japan. Photos:

There is a famous photograph from 1970 that depicts West German Chancellor Willy Brand kneeling in front of the Jewish memorial in Warsaw. Unfortunately, these days an event of that magnitude, with its weighty symbolism of reconciliation, will never be repeated in Asia. The virtues of confession and regret seem to be of Christian heritage; they are unknown in many other cultures, including China and Japan. To that effect, the events that transpired in the two neighboring countries on December 26th reveal a lack of historical sense and political ethics on both sides.

  1. Blind Chess, a column by Tienchi Martin-Liao
  2. During the Cultural Revolution, people were sentenced to death or outright murdered because of one wrong sentence. In China today writers do not lose their lives over their poems or articles; however, they are jailed for years. My friend Liu Xiaobo for example will stay in prison till 2020; even winning the Nobel Peace Prize could not help him. In prison those lucky enough not to be sentenced to hard labor play “blind chess” to kill time AND TO TRAIN THE BRAIN NOT TO RUST. Freedom of expression is still a luxury in China. The firewall is everywhere, yet words can fly above it and so can our thoughts. My column, like the blind chess played by prisoners, is an exercise to keep our brains from rusting and the situation in China from indifference.
  3. Tienchi Martin-Liao
  4. Tienchi Martin-Liao is the president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center. Previously she worked at the Institute for Asian Affairs in Hamburg, Germany, and lectured at the Ruhr-University Bochum from 1985 to 1991. She became head of the Richard-Wilhelm Research Center for Translation in 1991 until she took a job in 2001 as director of the Laogai Research Foundation (LRF) to work on human rights issues. She was at LRF until 2009. Martin-Liao has served as deputy director of the affiliated China Information Center and was responsible for updating the Laogai Handbook and working on the Black Series, autobiographies of Chinese political prisoners and other human rights books. She was elected president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center in October 2009 and has daily contact with online journalists in China.

In fact, it was a crazy match, an absurd political theater. China’s leaders and people were celebrating the 120th birthday of Mao Zedong, the founder of the CCP and People’s Republic of China; a tyrant who was responsible for millions of deaths in his country during the three decades of the new People’s Republic. On the same day, the Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe paid his respects to the dead at Yasukuni shrine, which houses Japanese soldiers, including the war criminals, murderers, and rapists who invaded other countries during World War II. On December 26 both Beijing and Tokyo competed in the categories of evil and ugliness, trampling on human dignity and conscience as they did so.

For Xi Jinping, the new ruler of China’s 13 billion citizens, Mao Zedong is the legacy of absolute power, even though both he and his father, Xi Zhongxun, were victims of the power struggle that occurred during the Cultural Revolution. Nevertheless, he will never give up this communist hallow and he is good at using it as a weapon. With it, he’s knocked down political opponents like Bo Xilai. In his speech on Mao’s birthday, Xi said: “We cannot deny that Comrade Mao Zedong made a detour to explore the road of socialist construction; especially in his later years he made serious mistakes in the Cultural Revolution.” Yet Xi still clings to the ideological joker: “Comrade Deng Xiaoping said, we must not lose the banner of Mao Zedong’s thoughts. Should we lose it, we deny the glorious history of our party. We cannot move from the principle of holding high the banner of Mao Zedong’s thoughts; with this banner we will march forward.”

Xi knows that his political future is tightly bound to Mao’s legacy. On one hand, he has worked to “tackle the corruption tiger,” such as the former member of the Standing Committee of the Politburo, Zhou Yongkang. On the other hand, he has grabbed all possible power, set up the National Security Council, and become its head.

Xi pledged to support the market economy, but politically he’s stuck to the old dogmatism. He and his successor will never abandon the lies and return to truth. From the mouthpiece of the “glorious party history” Mao is not the dictator and madman who sent people to death, but the savior of China and the world. He remains the plaything of politics; his cadaver will not be buried and find peace under the earth—no, it will be displayed as a zombie in a glass sarcophagus as long as China’s politicians find him useful.

As for Shinzo Abe’s ungraceful visit to Yasukuni shrine, one does not have to question the grandson of the “class A” war criminal Nobusuke Kishi about whether there is consanguinity of conscience and consciousness between the two generations. It is a well-known fact that the Japanese government has never officially apologized to the Chinese people for the killing and catastrophe brought upon them during the invasion from 1937 to 1945. As for the foolishness of Beijing’s aggressive policy on the Senkaku Islands and the recent establishment of an Air-Defense Identification Zone in the East China Sea, Abe reacted with the same degree of foolishness this past December. He actually abused the situation at the conservative site to soothe domestic pressure. The choice of Mao’s birthday for the ceremonial visit was deliberate and nasty.

As such, the historical animosity between the two countries has been stoked anew through these mutual acts of provocation. Confrontation and hostility are now increased. This is not a good omen for the new year.

About the Author

Tienchi Martin-Liao is the president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center. Previously she worked at the Institute for Asian Affairs in Hamburg, Germany, and lectured at the Ruhr-University Bochum from 1985 to 1991. She became head of the Richard-Wilhelm Research Center for Translation in 1991 until she took a job in 2001 as director of the Laogai Research Foundation (LRF) to work on human rights issues. She was at LRF until 2009. Martin-Liao has served as deputy director of the affiliated China Information Center and was responsible for updating the Laogai Handbook and working on the Black Series, autobiographies of Chinese political prisoners and other human rights books. She was elected president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center in October 2009 and has daily contact with online journalists in China.

View all articles by Tienchi Martin-Liao

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