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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

"When the 'Pillars of National Unity' Turned Into Totems" by Woeser

November 8, 2009

High Peaks Pure Earth
November 5, 2009

High Peaks Pure Earth has translated an article
written by Woeser for Radio Free Asia on
September 30, 2009 and posted on her blog on October 12, 2009.

This article refers to the celebrations of the
60th anniversary of the founding of the People's
Republic of China on October 1st in Beijing,
where 56 pillars representing ethnic unity were
erected. In the western media, the pillars
received scant blog attention, however, Xinhua
news agency gave wide coverage to the pillars and published several photos.

* * * * * *
"When the 'Pillars of National Unity' Turned Into Totems" by Woeser

In the history of China’s national celebrations
since 1949, there has never been such a cutting
edge festival manifested in 56 massive and
brightly-coloured "pillars of national unity” as
recently erected on Tiananmen Square. The reason
for the creation of these 56 "pillars of national
unity" symbolising the equality, unity and
harmony amongst the 56 nationalities is directly
related to the "Tibet Incident" of last year and
the "Xinjiang Incident" of this year. Tibetans
and Uyghurs have become the most unstable
elements within the 56 nationalities; the
eruption of gradually accumulated resentment and
the deterioration of relations between ethnic
groups have provoked those in power, from the
central level to the local level, into a great
flurry. On the one hand, they have adopted cruel
and authoritarian methods in the minority regions
where problems appeared, resulting in many places
being under constant military control for a long
period of time; on the other hand, they have been
changing their behaviour as swiftly as "an actor
who changes his faces constantly on stage." When
they perform for the outside world, they try
their best to portray an image of “dazzling
fireworks and lanterns lighting up the night sky
with minority brothers and sisters flirtatiously dancing in harmony”.

These 56 dazzling "pillars of national unity"
represent Mao Zedong’s lines about the great
unity of all minorities. Xinhua News Agency
especially released an article giving them a
particular meaning, calling them “pristine totem
symbols belonging to every single citizen of the
People’s Republic," "This kind of pillar
transformed the innermost hopes of the minority
people into a totem with sacred power. Our heart
which has taken its root in our great undertaking
of promoting national prosperity corresponds to
the profound history and great mind given to us
by the totem. Yet, it is believed that the
original meaning of this so-called “totem” is
related to the convictions and superstitions of
ancient society and early human beings.
Worshipping "totems" is thought to be some sort
of ritual or religious phenomenon of primal
tribes. But for the Chinese Communists, who
pursue agnosticism and claim to be the
representatives of a modern and progressive
culture, this should be regarded as useless and
swept onto the rubbish heap of history and not
used to cultivate the superstitious beliefs of
the masses. Of course, if we look at the core of
the problem, we notice that although the
Communists fly high the anti-religious flag, in
actual fact, they precisely do this only to
enable their own new religion to unify the world.
Ever since the Mao era, they have slowly created
a "spiritual atomic bomb" conquering people’s
hearts and minds. Today’s "pillars of national
unity" are nothing but such "spiritual atomic
bombs," whose aim it is, as Hannah Arendt puts
it, "to emotionally lure people in and while in
terms of depths and scope appearing to go beyond
the limits of nationalism, they in fact generate
a new kind of nationalist sentiment."

However, no matter how gigantic or stunning these
"pillars of national unity" are, which have been
set up in light of the frequently occurring
minority problems, they can by no means cover up
the authorities’ wish to obstruct reality,
instead they further highlight a real crisis.
Going too far is always as bad as not going far
enough; the more one tries to hide, the more one
is always exposed; and if one tries to be clever,
one only ends up with a blunder. What the large
and small group incidences and ethnic conflicts,
which happened last year and this year, in Tibet
and in Xinjiang and even in other minority
regions, exposed is not the plot by scheming
people with ulterior motives. Unless those in
power genuinely believe in and comply with the
good intentions of "equality, unity and harmony"
and reconsider, amend, and actually resolve
problems, otherwise when we hear about those 56
reality-hampering "pillars of national unity"
from government media propaganda or when we see
them on Tiananmen Square looking like a theatre
stage setting, what we received is the education
which see through the intrinsic nature of this country.

For instance, an international Sinologist said
that these 56 scarlet red pillars are in fact an
imitation of the imposing bearings of the Roman
Empire and through their shape are seeking to
conquer everything, portraying nothing but
imperialistic power. A rural Chinese person
thought that those 56 bright red pillars looked
like 56 golden cudgels (weapon used by the Monkey
King in the novel Pilgrimage to the West) with
every single one of those cudgels attacking one
minority. A Chinese intellectual recalls the time
when he went to the Great Hall of the People to
watch a performance where he saw "a large group
of people all dressed in minority garments
festively singing and dancing and chanting the
paean of praise in unison." He criticises: "isn’t
this a modern version of the central empire
pompously displaying how all states ceremonially
make obeisances? Nowadays, which country would
still painstakingly select a group of performers
to represent each minority and make them wear
dresses and ornaments, which they would not
normally wear, or which have long been made
obsolete, and then also make them blissfully sing
and dance in the capital city? The only country I
can think of is the powerful and prosperous
Empire of the Soviet Union, which in the past
would make all minorities one by one appear on
stage and eagerly pay their compliments and
praise to the "father of all minorities," Josef
Stalin; yet the Empire of the Soviet Union has already collapsed.

Beijing, September 30, 2009
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