Liu Xiaobo’s Generation and Mine
By Nancy Yun Tang '14
One of the most discussed topics in China over the last few years has been when China would witness its first Nobel Laureate (a citizen of course, since there have been Chinese laureates who hold other citizenships). Liu Xiaobo’s recent Nobel Peace Prize win put the Chinese officials in an interestingly awkward situation: this prize apparently cannot be recognized, yet this means that the Chinese cannot take credit, either. Furthermore, the government could have a difficult time explaining to its aspiring Nobel Prize-winners why Liu is a “political criminal” and “people’s enemy.”

I’m no politics expert, but heads up to the Norwegian award committee — if this is a gesture intended to pressure Chinese government, then … well played, well played.

Liu, born in 1955, represents the Chinese intellectual. I see in him my parents’ generation. Both my parents, like Liu, passed the College Entrance Exam in 1977, the first year when the exam was resumed. My mom was a student at Peking University in 1989 and participated in the student movement. Now, my parents are both scholars. My dad even does research on the Cultural Revolution (which is still a somewhat taboo topic, so he publishes his research in Hong Kong). I find it interesting how my generation differs from theirs.

Liu’s (and my parents’) generation grew up in conflict. They spent their teens in the Cultural Revolution and were educated not to talk about politics. Yet, when they were in college in the early 1980s, China had just opened up to the world. They were moved deeply by concepts of freedom (which could be as simple as saying what one wanted to say), democracy and citizens’ involvement in politics. Their upbringings and surroundings contrasted dramatically with these concepts. Their pride was hurt, yet they were determined to change the China they lived in — they were idealists who loved their country out of instinct.

They initiated the student movement in 1989 and failed. They agonized over the future of China and shifted back and forth from keeping silence to calling out. I see in my parents the conflict: they are so happy now that life is comfortable, yet they are still hesitant to talk about things. Liu serves as an example of speaking up.

My generation, growing up in the 1990s, was influenced by information technology more than any previous Chinese generation. We were supposed to be the “lucky” ones, since we never suffered from the lack of material wealth or information. My dad’s story about how he and his seven friends had to share and finish one novel in one night (because books were rare and inaccessible) amazes me. I think of theft as intolerable, so it was hard for me to understand why my grandfather had to steal fish in the 1960s to feed my mom and her four siblings — I almost forget, my generation is one of only children. We are assumed to be selfish and egotistical. We seem to only care about material wealth and ourselves. None of us seem to care about China’s future. But is that actually the case?

I cannot deny that my peers and I are more individualistic compared to our parents. They grew up forced to adhere to unity; we just throw any standards out of the window — each of us is somewhat desperate to be different. I think it is impossible for us to organize any movements remotely similar to that of 1989.

I think China’s education on citizens’ political involvement is fundamentally futile (or maybe intended to be so). Throughout high school, nobody ever paid attention in the so-called politics class. Economic welfare and upward movement in social status are encouraged by parents, family members and society. Yet, it doesn’t tell the true story. I was talking to my friends who study in Peking University about Liu and they didn’t have an informed opinion. When I emailed my friends the actual 08 Charter, Liu’s work, they were in awe. They also argued about the practicality. I believe they will — we will — speak up and actually come up with constructive ideas on Chinese democracy in the near future. For those who look at China with a hostile eye, they will never understand why it is simply absurd to impose any other systems upon China. China is unique — I believe the Chinese need to create their own kind of democracy. My generation is on the way to becoming a voice of China which speaks to the world, unafraid of being special and unique.

When I read Voltaire’s “Candide,” I found “we must cultivate our own garden” a fascinating philosophy — this sounds like a manifesto of my generation. Liu’s generation has wandered through the chaotic age and made great contributions to China. While we admire them as parents and pioneers, we have a different approach to tackling problems. We are not big fans of argumentation and philosophizing — we contribute while we pursue our own interests. Revolution and sacrifice might be considered indispensible by Liu’s generation. We are more pragmatic. We cultivate our own garden. And beyond our diverse versions of gardens lies a dream named China.

Issue 06, Submitted 2010-10-20 01:36:11