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Tiananmen at 20

Gone, and in many cases, forgotten

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tiananmensquare_v.jpg

Monument to the People's Heroes, Tiananmen Square, Beijing. Photos by FOKU and Nathan Nelson on Flickr

Editor’s Note: If events are stones thrown into the collective pool, then history is the ripples.

Two decades after Chinese troops rolled into Tiananmen Square to crush a seven-week protest urging democracy and transparency, leaving hundreds if not thousands of dead and wounded, history’s ripples have assumed strange patterns.

In China, as Anne Donohue, a College of Communication associate professor of journalism, who taught last year in Beijing on a Fulbright, reports below, the Tiananmen Square anniversary is not widely acknowledged; events at the time considered the strongest challenge to Chinese government rule since Mao’s uprising in 1949 are regarded as unworthy of commemoration.

But as National Book Award winner Ha Jin (GRS’94), a College of Arts & Sciences professor of creative writing, writes in the May 31 New York Times, patterns left by historic events are personal as well as societal, changing a life even if they don’t always change a culture. Read Jin’s article here.

And so we have two different perspectives from within the University community on one moment, 20 years old today.

•••

I was naïve. Twenty years after the Chinese government brutally put down a student democracy movement in Tiananmen Square, I thought some vestige would still be found in China. But after spending six months in Beijing teaching journalism students at Renmin University, where several of the 1989 prodemocracy activists were students, I found very few young people interested in carrying the torch of Lady Liberty.

Too many of my Boston University journalism students take for granted their right to speak freely, to vote, to write about, record, and photograph any topic. Before I left for China, I underappreciated these gifts. But for the vast majority of the world, most notably in China, these are rights that some people are, or at least were, willing to die for.

The students who transfixed the world 20 years ago are largely forgotten. Their message of democracy — the right to vote and freedom of the press — has been buried by the economic juggernaut of modern China. Most of my students knew, at least cryptically, what happened in Tiananmen Square 20 years ago, but a handful of students remained blissfully ignorant. When I asked if they knew how many students were killed in 1989, one young girl from northeastern China answered, “None.”

“Why would the government kill innocent students? This can’t be true,” she assured me.

The more worldly wise students had seen videos of the Tiananmen massacre online. They knew what the government had done and accepted it as a necessary step in moving the country forward. Rather than feeling horror about the crackdown, they were troubled by the chaos and social upheaval those students might have unleashed. Stability and economic security reign supreme; civil liberties might be nice some day.

My students were largely a product of the “new China.” They have seen sustained progress in the form of economic prosperity unimaginable to their parents and grandparents, and for that we should all be grateful. No one wants to turn back the clock to darker days of war, revolution, famine, and fanaticism. But my fear for this new generation is that they have become complacent, or worse. It is too simplistic to conclude that they have been bought off; you can have your Gucci bag, but don’t ask for justice. More disconcerting is the lack of critical thinking, and at times, the blind faith that China is on a roll, so don’t rock the boat. Healthy criticism becomes unpatriotic.

In a weird role reversal, the young students were urging me, the older teacher, to be patient. They told me that China is a developing country, and that economic development might one day lead to some of the reforms I was encouraging. But when I reminded them that many developing countries, India for example, have democracy and economic development, they were unconvinced. One student boasted that China was going to build a high-speed rail between Shanghai and Beijing, dislocating millions in its path. In India, he lamented, this couldn’t get done, because people would stop it. To him, and many young Chinese, democracy is too slow and messy.

And my Chinese students were quick to remind me that America was not without flaws. From Kent State to Abu Ghraib, Watergate and Guantanamo, they were well versed in our failings.

One young Chinese man argued that China has too many illiterate peasants who couldn’t understand how to vote. Democracy could not work here, he insisted. Our American forefathers had similar concerns, but somehow they found a way to entrust the whole American enterprise to a bunch of illiterate farmers — albeit white and male.

I left China discouraged. I wanted for my students what my American students take as a given: a chance to speak freely, vote, work as journalists unfettered by the government. But when I asked my Chinese students if in an ideal world, they would want the government out of their lives, the unanimous response was no. As for press freedom, these journalism students like the guiding hand of a government shaping the message fed to 1.3 billion Chinese.

To be fair, I had to remind myself how far China had come in a generation, from Mao suits and Cultural Revolution brutality to capitalist boomtown, at least in the big cities. Given all this turmoil, it is hard to criticize a society finally getting its shot at peace and prosperity. Is it too much to ask for democracy as well?

In my lighter moments I thought of Stephen Colbert, and how effective “truthiness” has been in China: you get some version of facts, just not any that might be controversial. In my darker moments I ranted like Jack Nicholson in the film A Few Good Men, privately screaming, “You can’t handle the truth!” Mostly, I felt sympathy and admiration for these bright, well-intentioned kids growing up in a country that they want to be proud of, even if their government often wants to keep them in the dark. As one American diplomat repeatedly reminded me, “They don’t know what they don’t know.”

So did I find the keepers of the flame of the 1989 prodemocracy movement? Hardly. Many do not even know it existed. And those who do are too afraid of getting burned to carry it.

This article, in slightly different form, first appeared in the Christian Science Monitor on May 12, 2009.

25 Comments

25 Comments on Tiananmen at 20

  • Lori Dougherty on 06.04.2009 at 8:25 am

    Thank you, BU Today, for making Anne Donohue’s thoughtful, first-hand observations available to us.

  • Anonymous on 06.04.2009 at 9:38 am

    Transistion

    The attitude of the Chinese people, as you mentioned, is that of trust, not of fear. I am an American, whatever that means, but I was raised my entire life in China. The question that not many people do ask is what would have happened if the students did succeed? My family was here in China during the event, and know the fragile state the country was in. It had just begun toying with the idea of a free market. The students wanted it to go all the way, they wanted the country to instantly become what they thought America was. We all know that Russia is still recovering from the overnight change from Communism to whatever it is now, the change brought chaos and anarchy to the country. The Chinese do not want that for themselves, they are taking things slowly, observing the world and changing accordingly. Personally I admire that about the Chinese government. Many Americans have the tendency of thinking that their way of life is the best for everyone. However I for one do not want my children to grow up in a society where yes then can vote, but it is most of the time for the lesser of the two evils, while in the meantime they are drowning in debt because they are brainwashed into buying so many useless things. Now i am beginning to see this in China and it is scaring me. I think China is going in the right direction, just give it some time.

  • Robin on 06.04.2009 at 10:22 am

    Are you sure you can find completely justice in America? What about racism here? Have you already fixed it? Can you say that you have totally freedom to do what you want and say what you want?

    I think the answer is no. Then why do you so eager to change a country that is not related to you at all, a country you haven’t live there at all, a country’s history you haven’t learned at all? So if you cannot manage own business, please, let the others do their job by themselves. Why do you think people in China don’t care about democracy? We DO care! And we Do work on that. Please don’t make a judgment that quick. Is it fair to say America is a country with bias and racism at 1950s?

  • Anish Kattukaran on 06.04.2009 at 10:27 am

    Illiteracy and poverty are not an excuse

    The comment about illiteracy is largely invalid. Just a few weeks ago, in India, 500 million voters, most of them illiterate, came out in the biggest and most fascinating exercise of democracy the world has known and voted wisely. ‘The Indian electorate is one of the world’s poorest and least educated, and yet it voted with remarkable intelligence.’ – Zakaria.
    They chose economic reform over fear, unity over hate and education over propaganda. Illiteracy is not an excuse for non-democratic rule that could result in an atrocity such as the events of June 4th. Rest in peach my brave chinese brethren. My thoughts and prayers are with your families.

  • Pat on 06.04.2009 at 10:56 am

    Yes. I totally agree with what Transition said. At that time China was having a hard time and the government knew what they were doing: they didn’t want China to be shattered like Russia and the history shows that Chinese government made the right decision though it’s tough. Democracy needs time. China is moving towards democracy and gives people more freedom. The thing is one needs to make the conclusion based on the local political,economical, educational and environmental context comprehensively or the conclusion will be biased.

  • Don Mo on 06.04.2009 at 11:29 am

    On "“They don’t know what they don’t know.”

    I suspect these young students from China have more sense in their head than Ms. Anne Donohue does. They could have asked, “Did American government not kill people?”

    After 20 years the China experts in the West still have intense paroxysmal excitement over the bloody brutal incident in the Square of Tiananmen. That is so because the Tiananmen incident is such a good excuse for the westerners to stick it to the dictatorial or authoritarian government in China – “you are not democratic; you are oppressive and brutal.”

    So long as China doesn’t go American styled democracy, one can expect this moaning go on forever annually.

    It’s not necessary wrong that the good hearted westerners like Ms. Donohue bring up this issue every year, but like these young Chinese students, she is too a victim of propaganda of their own government. That’s right: “They don’t know what they don’t know.”

    The right way for Americans to handle the incident of Tiananmen Square is to drop it and treat it as a historic event in the path of a country to prosperity. Because when it comes to the history of government massacring of its own people, we are not “holier than thou.”

    China and the U.S.A. today are the two major political and economic powers in the world, both due to the unjustified historic killings of its own people years or hundred years ago. But that is life, and history.

  • Anonymous on 06.04.2009 at 12:17 pm

    yes, I agreee. Just give China a little bit more time.
    I am a control man, I know what stability means to a system or a society. What chinese people feared is not government but what’s next if we turn over the government? We have had enough bad memory for the past.

    Remember stability and progress slowly.
    Bless China and Chinese people.

  • Anonymous on 06.04.2009 at 12:57 pm

    Re: Illiteracy and poverty are not an excuse

    Oh, yes, Indians can vote. But they start to eat two meals per day and threaten the world food security: by some westerner governor.

  • Anonymous on 06.04.2009 at 2:12 pm

    Kudos for "Transition" and "On they don't know..

    Why do Americans think it’s “their way” or no way?
    We have so much lo learn from China and Chinese. I hope they don’t get infected with democratization, and I hope the world doesn’t become a big Epcot Center, maybe it’s already too late for that.

  • Yes, I agree on 06.04.2009 at 2:13 pm

    Yes, I agree. Progress only can be made based on stability. China’s history is full of wars which put the ordinary people in great misery. The masses always suffer the most. Though U.S has a long history of democracy, that doesn’t necessarily mean that U.S. knows everything about democracy for every country in this world. Russia is a great example. One of my American friends helped Russia establish democracy in 1993 using media after the U.S model, and it failed and Russia has been in chaos for more than a decade. Now Russia is striving to explore its own democratic model. As for China, we need to look at it in progressive view. One step at a time. Give China more time. In addition, China and the U.S need to work together to make this world a better place.

  • Anonymous on 06.04.2009 at 2:44 pm

    I should speak up.

    I am a Chinese, and I’m greatly offended by the “misuse” of words and by the thinking of what this article may mislead those who don’t know much about these issues.

    I have lots of American friends, they are smart, well educated, and reasonable people. By talking with them, what has been shocking to me is, what seems to be a “democratic and transparent” environment of media in here, not only exaggerate, manipulate the facts, but obviously hold a bi-standard for the so called “truth”. This article doubts” how effective “truthiness” has been in China”, and boasts of its own “Journalists unfettered by the government”, did any one think the question should just be the opposite?

    Are American media “unfettered by the government”? Yes! As long as they stand on the same basis, stand for the mainstream stereotype, when it comes to the issues of one of U.S’s “greatest enemy”–China, despite of the truth people “care about”.

    “People don’t know what they don’t know”, this couldn’t be more true in America. Due all respect, but if you don’t read in Chinese, then you lost almost all say in any issue related to China. I do, and I read in other languages as well. You have no idea, that how your thoughts, views, even the “truth” you are proud of, might have been manipulated by the things you are familiar with and “unfettered by the government”. I just feel sorry from the bottom of my heart for the words “democracy”! “freedom”!”hum rights”!, they have become a lovely coat for some other purposes in a way.

    There are issues, and ugly sides of Chinese government, just as like the government of U.S.A. However,as already mentioned by a gentlemen, don’t judge China’s issues from point of view of Americans, if they were so easy, they could have been fixed already. I have every right to say, as I am one of them, Chinese people have been fighting for those changes to happen, in many ways. Feel free to criticize our government, but don’t involve the Chinese people, or any Chinese that doesn’t represent the majority.

    And I don’t doubt there are well educated, unprejudiced Americans, who truly care about truth and want to defend for it, in this case, go to China, and this time, stay long, being exposed to all classes and bring a good translator if you don’t speak Chinese.

  • Scott on 06.04.2009 at 3:26 pm

    Milton Friedman = EPIC FAIL

    “In China in 1989, it was the shock of the Tiananmen Square massacre and the subsequent arrest of tens of thousands that freed the hand of the Communist party to convert much of the country into a sprawling export zone, staffed with workers too terrified to demand their rights. In the three years immediately following the bloodbath, China was cracked open for foreign investment, with special export zones constructed throughout the country.” – Naomi Klein

    Why continue to call the Tiananmen protests a pro-democracy movement when it clearly wasn’t? The protests were triggered by economic reasons when inflation reached 30% in major cities after state owned enterprises laid of millions of workers. People were frustrated that only officials were gaining from the move into capitalism while corruption and cronyism was rampant so they came out in droves to protest the situation calling for change and greater liberlization. To be sure pro-democracy protesters joined in calling for change but the bulk of the million plus protesters weren’t calling for democracy. By labeling Tiananman solely as a pro-democracy movement it distorts the reasons of what was really happening. It seems counter productive to call for press freedom and freedom if you can’t even accurately portray one of the most pivotal events of the 20th century.

    “According to a 2006 study, 90% of China’s billionaires (in yuan) are the children of Communist party officials. Roughly 2900 of these party scions – known as the “princelings” – control $260 billion. It is a mirror of the corporatist state first pioneered in Chile under PinochetL a revolving door b/w corporate and political elites who combine their power to eliminate workers as an organized political force. Today, this collaborative arrangement can be seen in the way that foreign multinational media and tech companies help the Chinese state to spy on its citizens and to make sure that searching for “Tiananman Square Massacre” or “democracy” reveals no results.”

    “One of the trusts revealed by Tiananman was the stark similarity b/w the tactics of authoritarian Communism and Chicago School capitalist – a shared willingness to disappear opponents, to blank the slate of all resistance and begin anew.” – Naomi Klein

  • Scott on 06.04.2009 at 4:32 pm

    Why continue to call the Tiananmen protests a pro-democracy movement when it clearly wasn’t? The protests were triggered by economic reasons when inflation reached 30% in major cities after state owned enterprises laid off millions of workers. People were frustrated that only officials were gaining from the move into capitalism while corruption and cronyism was rampant so they came out in droves to protest the situation calling for change and greater liberlization. To be sure pro-democracy protesters joined in calling for change but the bulk of the million plus protesters weren’t calling for democracy. By labeling Tiananman solely as a pro-democracy movement it distorts the reasons of what was really happening. It seems counter productive to call for press freedom and freedom if you can’t even accurately portray one of the most pivotal events of the 20th century.

    “In China in 1989, it was the shock of the Tiananmen Square massacre and the subsequent arrest of tens of thousands that freed the hand of the Communist party to convert much of the country into a sprawling export zone, staffed with workers too terrified to demand their rights. In the three years immediately following the bloodbath, China was cracked open for foreign investment, with special export zones constructed throughout the country.”

    “According to a 2006 study, 90% of China’s billionaires (in yuan) are the children of Communist party officials. Roughly 2900 of these party scions – known as the “princelings” – control $260 billion. It is a mirror of the corporatist state first pioneered in Chile under PinochetL a revolving door b/w corporate and political elites who combine their power to eliminate workers as an organized political force. Today, this collaborative arrangement can be seen in the way that foreign multinational media and tech companies help the Chinese state to spy on its citizens and to make sure that searching for “Tiananman Square Massacre” or “democracy” reveals no results.”

    “One of the connections revealed by Tiananman was the stark similarity b/w the tactics of authoritarian Communism and Chicago School capitalist – a shared willingness to disappear opponents, to blank the slate of all resistance and begin anew.” – Naomi Klein

  • Anonymous on 06.04.2009 at 11:41 pm

    Thank you, Prof. Donohue.

  • Anonymous on 06.05.2009 at 1:51 am

    It is totally illegal to talk about this in China.Many people have been arrested during the 20 anniversary.Many websites become unavailable in China.What can people do? Anything else than curse the CPC?

  • peter on 06.05.2009 at 2:19 am

    It’s China’ Internal Issue.

    As far as I heard from my dad, a lot of PLA men have been killed and burned.

    The goverment brought the protests food and clothes.

    Some bad man involved, and made the protest into violence.

    I, personally agree with the protesters, and do not support the goverment violent policy. But any choice, no!!! Peaceful discussion is the best way to both sides. 4th June is not an accident, but a democratic movement. If it did not ocur at that moment, it will happen some time later.

  • Truth? on 06.05.2009 at 1:13 pm

    I wonder who really knows the truth. What really happened there at that time? Why did that happen? From what angle do you look at this issue? Are you really neutral in this discussion? What do we want from this discussion? Attacking Chinese government and CPC or urging them to do a better job? If it’s the former, I suggest we stop it because I believe no government on this planet have ever recieved no attacks at all no matter what they do for their people. No government is perfect. And I believe no government wants to destroy their own people and their own country. Instead they try to do something. But they are human beings, too. Just like us. They make mistakes. If Chinese government is really that bad, I’m sure Chinese people would have overthrown it themselves. The South Korean president commited suicide because of the pressure. He wanted to be a good president, too. If it’s the latter, then give China more time to grow, to improve itself.
    I clearly know that this world is cruel, and sometimes we don’t have the opportunity to show the world that we can do a better job and we can be a better person, but isn’t it wonderful that we stop attacking and start to have more confidence in others and in ourselves as well? We just need to be a little bit more patient.

  • Anonymous on 06.06.2009 at 10:26 pm

    Great article, maybe one day they will have our freedoms.

  • Anonymous on 08.19.2009 at 3:09 pm

    When Chinese students do not agree with Ms. Donohue and question her viewpoints, she clealy got frustrated. Instead of trying to do a little bit of self-reflection, trying to understand Chinese history, culture, development in the past 3 decades, reasons behind young Chinese viewpoints towards the West, Ms. Donohue simply put labels such as “brainwashed” and “lack of critical thinking skills” on Chinese students. Is it possible that it is Ms. Donohue herself who lacks critical thinking skills and who has been well brainwashed by her own media through all her education? Chinese students’ questioning Ms. Donohue is a clear sign that today’s Chinese students HAVE critical thinking skills and they don’t just accept Ms. Donohue’s viewpoint without thinking or questioning.

  • Who needs to improve critical thinking skill? on 09.04.2009 at 9:19 am

    It’s very interesting. When Chinese students questioned Ann Donohue’s viewpoints, when Chinese students expressed their own different opinions instead of blindly 100% accepting this visiting professor’s viewpoints, do all these approve that thay actually HAVE critical thinking skills? This article is saying that only Chinese students agree with this professor’s viewpoints (just because she is an American?), they are considered to possess critical thinking skills.

    How can you expect Chinese students to still hold the same viewpoints 20 years later? The country has greatly changed, much much open than it was 20 years ago, the world has also drastically changed, it is very natural that Chinese students have more realistic, wiser and very different viewpoints to its own country and to the ouside world. The tone of this article only displays arrogance and ignorance. To me, professor Donohue herself needs to improve her own critical thinking skills, trying to get away from the life-long media brainwashing and biased education about Chinese that she has received and participated.

  • U.S. needs true, real China expert! on 09.04.2009 at 10:50 am

    It has been decades that majority of so-called “China experts” in U.S. (and a few west nations) don’t know Chinese language very well (some don’t know it at all, some know very little). If you even don’t have the good knowledge of Chinese language, how can you know that country and its people, its history (over 5000 years with numerous different dynasties) and extremely rich culture? If someone wants to be a “China expert” , then he/she definately needs a much much higer language level and at least know to look at things from Chinese perspectives! Ms. Donohue’s short perios Fulbright experience on a Chinese college campus and the shallow conclusion that she has reached have approved this! Her mentality represent most American journalists’ mentality in mainstream media.

    China has changed, the world has changed, but it seems that the cold-war mentality and attitude of many American journalists are still the same. No wonder Chinese often joke: “Can mainstream west media come up with some new l and more creative abels when they report on China?” Most these journalists seem to still live in a world of 20 years ago while Chinese people have moved on and achieved amazing success in all aspects of their lives. These journalists really need to update their information on China and the world, learn Chinese, conduct real thorough self-reflection, give up that “Though I don’t know your language, don’t know your history and culture well, don’t live in your country, but I’s still smarter than you and I still now to manage your country better than you, just because I’m American.”

    It’s very sad that Ms. Donohue doesn’t realize that she herself has been brainwahsed through her education. Today’s young generation in China is much smarter, better informed than most American students, have better foreign language skills, know modern technology, have wonderful historic perspectives, have great confidence in their country and themselves, and enjoy their “human rights” to love their country. The word “nationalism” that is often used to demonize Chinese by u.s. media is a very racially and culturelly biased word. The hidden tone is: only certain countries are worthy of loving and only people in certain countries have the rights to love their countries. China is not worthy of citizens’ loving, and Chinese youths do not have their human rights to love their country.

    I wish Prof. Dononue’s students truly realize how important critical thinking skill is!

  • Anonymous on 09.04.2009 at 11:29 am

    Maybe Prof. Donohue’s American students can learn critical thinking skills that those Chinese college students have. It appears that journalism as a profession in U.S. needs to do some self-reflection. Old rhetorics, cold war attitude, cultural bias and blind arrogance should give way to better knowledge about and more respect to people who are “different” and “strange”.

  • Anonymous on 09.04.2009 at 1:18 pm

    Very shallow views, does not worthy of reading in terms of understanding China and its young generation. Hope students who take her class have enough critical thinking skills to not to be misinformed and misled.

  • Anonymous on 09.11.2009 at 12:12 am

    The Chinese government made the right choice; the results pretty much speak for themselves.

    Contrast this with the Philippines, where democracy simply resulted in incredible corruption, really stupid election results (including the election of a high school dropout to the presidency), and mass poverty. Who cares if you can vote when you can’t eat?

  • Need different opinions on 11.04.2009 at 8:55 am

    An article anylizes Ms. Donohue's attitude and viewpoints

    Below is an article in Chinese, published in a Singapore newspaper. The article comments on Ms. Donohue’s viewpoints and analyzes Ms. Donohuets’ attitude. I hope Ms. donohue and her students will be able to read this article and listen to different opinions that are almost completely lackin in mainstream U.S. media when they report anything about China and Chinese people. The title of the article is “When An American Professor Meet Her Chinese Students”.

    当美国教授面对中国学生

    美国波士顿大学新闻学教授多诺休(Anne Donohue)在中国人民大学执教半年后,发现学生们对1989年天安门事件的看法竟然和政府如出一辙,对“自由女神”火炬也没有任何兴趣。她为此感到不解,遂于5月12日在《基督教科学箴言报》发表了一番颇为有趣的议论。   

    多诺休教授在文章中说,她的大多数学生都知道1989年发生了什么事情,但和西方人不同的是,学生们更关心社会稳定和经济发展,认为政府当时采取的行动是必要的。至于她在课堂上提出的民主选举课题,学生们反而告诉教授要有耐心,因为中国还是发展中国家,经济的发展迟早会带来政治的变革。中国不需要印度那样的民主,否则社会就会混乱,发展就会迟缓。   

    对于学生们的这些看法,多诺休感到很失望,并且批评说,中国大学生缺乏批判性思维,喜欢听政府的话,盲目相信国家的发展进程,“我希望他们能和美国学生一样,也有机会自由表达、投票、在没有政府干预的新闻领域工作”。可是,“他们不知道的事情永远也不会知道”。而他们对国家的自豪感、对政府的拥护,正使他们危险地滑向民族主义。“我同情和钦佩这些真诚、聪明和善良的孩子,即使他们的国家想蒙骗他们,他们依然为自己所生长的国家感到骄傲”。 新一代大学生的自信   

    笔者在上文中之所以说多诺休教授的议论很有趣,是因为她在痛快地批评中国学生的时候,竟然忘了自己也容易被别人抓住小辫。在文中,作者对当代中国社会的成见、看待中国的单一角度以及肤浅的结论,还有居高临下的高傲语气,不仅“非常美国”,而且更与美国政客和媒体多年来所发表的论调如出一辙。年幼的中国学生没有批判性思维,多少是可以理解的;但堂堂的教授缺乏独立观察和思考的能力,一味重复别人的论调,却是不应该的。   

    中国现在的大学生都出生于80年代末或90年代初,与二十年前的大学生确实很不相同。除了在性格和处事方式上有差异之外,两者还有一个很大的差别,就是他们容易被归类为爱国的“愤青”,而不再是头脑发热、充满理想主义的学运分子。这究竟是一种积极的转变,还是多诺休教授所感慨的悲哀?   

    二十年前的中国大学生,生于政治动乱时期,成长于西方各种学说和思潮纷至沓来的开放之初。他们的社会担当意识异常强烈,同时也因为国门初启和眼界初开之故,在言行上显得过于天真和理想化,包括急于拥抱被视为“先进的”一切外来之物。笔者当年听欧美教师授课,感觉一切都很新鲜和正确,不假思索地接受,从不怀疑,更没有所谓挑战权威的“批判性思维”。   

    二十年后的中国大学生为何变得如此不同?一是因为当年的大学生已是现在学生的师辈父辈,社会在进步,两代人不可能停步于同一个脚印之上。其二,也是最重要的原因是,当下大学生的成长环境,是新中国成立以来政治和社会最平稳的时期,更是经济增长最快速的时期。他们的记忆里没有革命、斗争和动乱,思维模式里也没有传统的反叛与抗争冲动。   

    而这些学生的成长过程,正好遇到国力大幅提升、民族自信心空前增强。虽然他们不可避免地也会盲目或轻信,但却不大可能像中国开放初期那样,对任何外来的东西都是集体地盲目、集体地轻信、集体地拥抱。 中国和西方关系的缩影   

    在网络时代长大的新一代大学生,更不可能像多诺休教授所说的那样,如此容易地被政府或其他人所蒙骗和说服。中国传统媒体无疑还有太多有待开放的空间,但网络媒体的信息自由与言论多元化状态,应该远远超出外界的想象。人民大学的学生们对“自由女神”火炬不感兴趣,原因并非是他们听从了政府的教导,而是因为他们对美国及其外部世界增加了解之后,不再认为“自由女神”还有什么神秘的吸引力。   

    不可否认,中国新一代大学生对外部世界的看法,在相当程度上塑造于国民教育和媒体影响,这在任何国家都是一样。但是,他们之所以和二十年前的大学生不同,是因为拥有属于自己这一代人的记忆。二十年前的大学生,碰上了中美关系的蜜月时代,因而对西方世界有着相当积极的看法和期待。而对当前这一代人而言,从90年代末至今发生的一些国内外重大事件,例如中美军机相撞、台海动荡与美台军售、九一一事件、伊拉克战争、拉萨骚乱、奥运会火炬风波、四川大地震以及中美舰船对峙等等,都是塑造他们对自己国家、对外部世界看法的关键记忆。   可是,在看待当代中国时,很多西方人依然生活在二十年前的陈旧记忆中,误以为青年学生对某些现状表达不满和愤怒,就是要和政府进行对抗、乃至与之势不两立。带着这种固定的思维模式去认识一个崭新的社会,结果必定会以沮丧和失望而归。   

    毫无疑问,民主与自由,依然是中国青年一代追求的理想目标。但这并非意味着西方的某个模式对他们有着不可抗拒的魅力;更不意味着中国人的民族自尊心和自豪感,可以被任何外来模式所征服。无论是在政府层面,还是在大学生当中,中国都不会接受西方人眼中的那个西方。   

    美国教授和中国学生之间的价值观冲突,实际上就是中国和西方国家关系的缩影。这位教授遇到不大听话、不太轻信、甚至敢于据理力争的中国学生,不正是西方社会所提倡和鼓励的“批判性思维”吗?但讽刺的是,当他们自己遇到这样的学生、无法说服他们的时候,却又感到很失望、很沮丧,甚至指责他们受到中国政府的蒙蔽。原来,所谓“批判性思维”,竟然也有虚伪性和双重标准。

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