China Report

Chinese Communist Party Membership is voluntary

There are 80 million of them

Beijing female 25-year-old translator is not interested

50-year-old man, a proud member, waves his cell phone

'This our democracy. There are no secrets in China now.'

Media reports by visitors to China are too often filled with bombast. Here we offer a Canadian non-journalist's quiet, modest report that leads to the heart and soul of an awakened giant trying to find its place in a troubled world. Travel with Gabriel Endicott Keresztesi of Sudbury, Ontario. Gabriel is the great-grandson of United Church Minister James Gareth Endicott, a missionary in China before, during, and after World War ll. Reverend Endicott became involved in the hot conflict between China and Japan, and then between the Nationalists and the Communists until 1949 when the Communists drove the Nationalists off the mainland. Gabriel explains why he was given an invitation to attend a special ceremony in Beijing, what it was like to be in the company of the world's most powerful leaders, and reveals telling insights gleaned from on-the-ground conversations.

'Much of this century will hang on the resolution of the political forces within China.'GJEK. Be sure to read the summary toward the end of the article. (More)

By Gabriel Endicott Keresztesi

In September 2015, China celebrated the 70th anniversary of the victory of the World Anti Fascist War (the Second World War), and the People’s War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression. I attended the event as a member of the Endicott family, which had been invited to send a representative. I went as a guest of the Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries.

The invitation was extended in recognition of the small but important role my great grandfather played in this titanic struggle for liberation. James Gareth Endicott and my great grandmother, Mary Austin, were United Church missionaries in China during parts of the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s. They taught English during peace time, and my great grandfather, in particular, helped organise medical and humanitarian relief during the Japanese bombings in Sichuan province. (My great grandmother was also raising and home-schooling their four children, as well as teaching three Chinese boys at the request of their parents.) Thanks to my great grandfather’s fluent Mandarin (he was born in China) and well-regarded ethical values, he became a trusted figure among both Nationalists and Communists in China and helped the warring sides establish peace to form a United Front to fight the Japanese fascists.

Unfortunately, the United Front was not strong. There were many betrayals by the Nationalists, and, by the time the Japanese surrendered and civil war again erupted in China, James Endicott had become a partisan of the Communists. He subverted Nationalist censors at some risk to himself in order to try to win Western support for the Chinese Communists.

For his brave efforts in the cause of Chinese national liberation, James Endicott has been honoured in China for the past 70 years; because of his efforts to develop understanding between the Chinese Communists and the West, our family's name will be remembered for a very long time in China. It was an honour to attend on behalf of my family.                                    

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This is my report of my trip to Beijing. While in China and then preparing to write this memoir, I kept in mind this question: what should progressive people think about China today? However, my report is by no means a learned piece of analysis, so any conclusions you draw about China based on it should be held very tentatively.

I’d been to China before, but this was my first time seeing Beijing. It is huge. The city is built on a scale unmatched by any urban environment I know of. It includes wide boulevards; a seemingly endless series of twisting highway ramps; buildings, and public squares the size of entire city blocks.

I had listened to lectures by China specialists in preparation for my trip. If there is one thing they all agree on it is that China is both vast and complex, like Beijing itself. There are a wide variety of political trends, experiments, local initiatives, and national objectives that, at times, work contrary to and, at times, in sync with, each other. Beijing's physical presence was, for me, a good metaphor for this.00

There are parts of the city that I found pleasant, mostly in the old neighbourhoods and in the parks where the city bustles quickly dies away. But, for the most part, and in contrast to other Chinese cities I visited, I felt no strong attraction to Beijing. Of course, as is the case with most world capitals, there are lots of good reasons to live there; they just don't have to do with air quality or a sense of serenity.

It turns out the city centre, where we were staying, was more serene than usual due to essentially being in lock-down mode in preparation for the gigantic upcoming commemoration ceremonies on September 3. Office buildings around Tienanmen Square and the Forbidden City had been closed for the duration of the week. Some businesses moved their entire operations to other cities. Museums and other public buildings were shut. Shops and restaurants were operating on a limited basis.

The relatively empty streets gave Beijing an eerie feeling, and heightened my curiosity about the official events that were to come. The most important event occurred on the morning of September 3, which had been declared a national holiday. I joined other foreign guests, plus 17 foreign heads of state, as well as several thousand Chinese, in the reviewing stands for a military parade on Tiananmen Square.

The Military Parade

The foreign leaders walked out from a gate in the Forbidden City on a red carpet to greet Xi Jinping, president of the People's Republic of China, and his wife, Peng Liyuan. They shook hands with other dignitaries and then posed for a photo. I recognized Ban Ki-moon, secretary general of UN, as well as South Korea’s president, Park Geun-hye (suspended as of time of writing). They both received a warm welcome. South Africa’s president, Jacob Zuma, was there, and my newly acquired friend from New Zealand recognised various leaders of the “stan” republics (of the former Soviet Union), one of whom he’d met in person. The undisputed star of the show was Russian president Vladimir Putin who, when he appeared, received a confusing array of cheers and boos.

It felt odd to be in such close proximity to such powerful individuals.

Xi Jinping made a speech from the rostrum above the famous portrait of Mao Zedong. He received applause on several occasions: when he thanked the veterans of the war, and China’s foreign friends; when he called for peace among nations and, finally, when he announced a reduction in the army of 300,000 personnel. I was glad to hear this, because a display of force the like of which we we were about to see could be interpreted in many ways, peace not being the first thing that would come to mind.

The military parade, like most military parades, was highly choreographed. The Chinese excel at this. The People's Liberation Army brass band played while a chorus of 1,000 men sang patriotic and revolutionary songs. China’s flag was raised and then came the highlight for me: a long series of open buses carrying the now elderly veterans of both the Nationalist and the Communist armies that fought the fascists.

After the buses, members of the People’s Liberation Army marched past us in perfect formation.

Next came the tanks, armoured vehicles, anti-aircraft guns, drones, missiles, nuclear warheads, and rockets. This was apparently a first-of-its-kind display of military hardware in the People's Republic's history.

The last Chinese group to pass was dominated by female members of the Norman Bethune (Canada) medical unit.

Another emotional moment for me came when ceremonial guards and troop units from a variety of other nations marched past.

I know nothing of military parades and their symbolism, but, after the display of Chinese might we had just seen, it felt good to see other nations’ troops marching on Chinese soil in a friendly, rather then aggressive, way. Knowing what I know of the occupation of China by foreign armies in the past, this was an especially poignant moment.

I was lucky enough to have, sitting on my right, two knowledgeable Americans. One was the granddaughter of Claire Lee Chennault, the general who led the American Flying Tigers unit during the Second World War. These pilots suffered terrible casualties, risking it all to fly supplies into the Chinese rear over the Himalayan “hump” route. His granddaughter keeps a museum at her home in northern Louisiana, related to her Cajun grandfather's exploits. Next to her sat James Whitehead Jr., a retired U.S. major general who currently serves as the head of the Flying Tigers Heritage Park in the city of Guilin, Louisiana. The two of them have been on several commemorative trips to China and they were both awed by the military display. The general was suitably impressed and so I decided I should be, too.

To my left sat another fellow foreigner, invited to honour his great aunt, a nurse who had smuggled medicine across the front to supply the Communists and Norman Bethune's hospital. He was my closest acquaintance during my visit and I believe I can call him a friend. He turned to me after the missiles had passed and said: “Well, I guess I won't be invading China any time soon.”

To wrap things up there was a series of flyovers by fighter jets, helicopters and bombers. They flew in tight formations and sometimes trailed colourful ribbons of exhaust. The program said the military parade would end at exactly 10:36 a.m. As that time approached, thousands of doves were released and filled the sky. Moments later, thousands of balloons floated up to the heavens, forming patterns of their own according to the whims of the breezes. A final flurry from the bandstand announced the end of the parade. It was exactly 10:36. The foreigners in my group were once again suitably impressed.

I was on the lookout for clues about how to characterise this military display, which, along with the celebrations in general, had been framed by the organizers as an ode to peace.

If, in simplistic terms, a lack of invasion is a significant aspect of peace, then perhaps just as a porcupine has defensive bristles, a nuclear missile can be a force for peace. I'm surprised I just wrote that, but, in an effort to put myself in Chinese shoes, I believe this is how you can hold the values of a strong military and pacifism at the same time.

It also seemed to me that combining a show of might while announcing a reduction of force was symbolic of something. But what? Some of the descendants of foreign friends and veterans agreed that the announcement of troop cutbacks was a matter of saving money during an economic slowdown rather then an indication of a Chinese desire for peace. I am prepared to be more generous.

I am more familiar with the history of Canadian and American governments ramping up military spending in response to “terrorism,” even while our countries experience deep recessions. This reduction in armed forces by the Chinese seemed to me to be an indication of markedly different thinking. Or, at least, it was the kind of international gesture that I have rarely, if ever, noticed being made in the West.

There was a scene at the beginning of the parade which served to remind me that the dominant Canadian and Chinese aesthetics are very different, something to keep in mind when assessing all things related to China.

President Xi Jinping got into a car, stood up through its sunroof, and then was driven down the main boulevard past the assembled troops. He saluted every unit, and as he approached he would shout “Hello Soldiers.” They would reply with something that I did not get translated. Then he would salute the next unit with “Serve the People.” And again they would reply. It was all very drawn out and the president appeared very awkward. I don't think a Canadian official would have thought this was good optics, but it was considered important here in China.

The call and response from troops to Party leaders reminded me of the accounts I have read of how the revolution was fought, which strived for an egalitarian ethos. It was fought in an army setting, but where the inevitable hierarchy of command did not translate to a hierarchy of wealth and privilege. And so, to me, the ceremony, which might appear farcical to some Western eyes, was very moving.

The Banquet

After the parade, buses arrived to take a few hundred special guests, myself included, to a banquet at the Great Hall of the People. There, President Xi Jinping made another speech that repeated much of what he had said earlier. Certainly, the theme of celebrating a great military victory over foreign aggression, leading to a golden era of peace, could not have been more explicit. Xi decribed the brutality suffered by the Chinese people, and the great sacrifices they had made in order to cast out their oppressors.

He was also keen to point out the important role China played in the Second World War (the World Anti-Fascist War). He noted that one million Japanese troops and huge amounts of their armaments had been tied up in a 14-year occupation and war in China, and how these hostile troops and armaments might otherwise have been used to help the Germans overrun the West.

Western ears are not used to the Chinese rhetorical style, and the speech caused chuckles among some of the foreign guests at my table. Having lived in Mexico with my parents for a few years, I think I may have been more familiar than others with this style, since Mexicans make this kind of speeches fairly often in commemoration of their wars of independence and revolution. Again I, for one, was quite moved at parts of the speech.

Xi ended on a note that I think would be of key interest to people in the West. He said, in translation: “With a painful memory of the past, the Chinese people have persistently committed themselves to a path of peaceful development and a win-win strategy of opening up, working hard to foster friendship and cooperation with all countries. . . . A stronger and more developed China will mean a stronger force for world peace.”

Indeed, I think much of the world’s future depends on whether China will be able to live up to this bold pronouncement.

One gets the sense, while being here, of huge optimism and the feeling that in China there is an attitude of “anything is possible.” Indeed, if Xi Jinping can be believed, and if there is enough support within the Communist Party for similar ways of thinking, then China may be able to provide an alternative to American power that could constitute a more peaceful and prosperous sphere of influence. Much of this century will hang in the balance of the political forces within China. Of that, I have no doubt.

The final official event was a theatrical performance in the auditorium where China's parliament meets. It was an historical review of the war against Japanese aggression. Song and dance, fancy lighting and a text projection in English and Russian of a Chinese narration told the story of an old veteran looking back on the joys and sorrows of the war. It was a cultural display par excellence, and we were thoughtfully provided with a package of tissues that I used more than once to dry my eyes.

The Interview

Soon after I arrived in Beijing, I was interviewed under hot TV lights by the organisation that hosted us. They wanted me to explain who my great grandfather was and what I understood his role to be in the anti-fascist war. I replied that Popeye (the nickname my grandfather went by in our family) was a missionary and had grown up in China so spoke the language well. He organised humanitarian relief to bombed areas and acted as a political liaison between the Nationalists and Communists.

He valued the Christian moral code of justice, humility, care for the poor, good character, and so on. He was a close advisor of the Nationalists, and later, when he realised the Communists acted in closer accord with the Christian code than did the Nationalists, (whose leaders actually were Christians), he came to support the Commmunists.

The next question I was asked was about how I was enjoying my visit and what I thought about the upcoming celebrations. And finally I was asked to give a message to the Chinese people. My message was that James Endicott believed that the Communists had a strong moral character and had the energy and competence to uphold their ideals, which he believed were worthy. He became enthusiastic about the New China because the people were striving to share the wealth and live in peace. He believed, above all else, that war creates massive destruction and it should be avoided at all cost. All the material gains that China has made since the war ended could be wiped out if war returns, and so peace must be a priority.

Medals and my friend Mark

Of all the foreign friends I came to know, one deserves special mention. Mark Bethune, the great-grandson of Doctor Norman Bethune's cousin. He was definitely the star of the show as far as my little circle of friends was concerned. His presence was demanded at countless smaller and much more exclusive ceremonies of commemoration. Of these, the highest honour was when President Xi Jinping pinned a medal onto Mark's chest. Mark was also in constant demand by the press.

The Bethune family was not proud of their Communist doctor relative and so they have not held onto his history very closely. Mark is in the process of learning about it for himself. As a result, he is somewhat bemused by the Chinese love for this “great but troubled man.” Reminding the Chinese people that Bethune could be a pain in the ass on a personal level, Mark would conclude his interviews by saying that Bethune was able to “find redemption” in China.

I should mention that the other biggest celebrities among the foreign guests were the relatives of the Indian doctor Dwarkanath Kotnis, who was part of a group of brave young doctors sent to China by Nehru to help fight the imperialists. After Bethune died, Kotnis took over running Bethune's hospital, only to die several years later himself from some infection or disease.

Our family was given a medal in recognition of Popeye's contributions. It is the same medal given to all the living veterans of the war, and the descendants of the foreign friends. It is a beautiful golden medallion with a yellow ribbon. It is held in a fine wood box. I showed the medal to two old friends of Popeye's who came to meet me at my hotel lobby. They were very glad he had been honoured in this way. They told me that they had been university students in Shanghai during the war, and that their group of comrades had invited James Endicott to speak to them as much as possible. “He was very important to us,” they recalled.

My own explorations

I stayed in China for another five days after the ceremonies in order to do as much exploring as I could. I visited with some old family friends in Beijing and then travelled on my own to Yan'an and Xi'an. I chose these places to visit because of their relative proximity to Beijing and their historical importance during the Communist revolution. Yan'an had the added bonus of being relatively rural according to my Chinese hosts — and I wanted to get some sense of rural China. Xi'an had the added bonus of having the Terracotta Army, which I wanted to visit.

It turns out that Yan'an, though considered a small backwater, is, of course, a huge city, so I didn't see much of rural China after all. And it also turns out that the Terracotta Army is about 30 kilometres outside of Xi’an, and I hadn’t left enough time to get out to see it.

Without the language, it is very difficult to get a sense of, or feel for, moods, attitudes and opinions of people, so I was restricted to having discussions about modern China with people who spoke English. Luckily, our old family friends were able to tell me a lot, and I met some people on my travels with whom I was able to speak, if briefly.

One of our hosts was a young woman, and though she was mostly busy making various arrangements, we did find about 20 minutes for a chat. I explained to her that the June 4th events, or, as they are more commonly known in the West, the Tienanmen Square Massacre, is probably the one thing that Canadians know most about China and that they would be very critical of my attending a military parade where tanks rolled across that same square. My host said that people of her generation were barely alive at that time and so they don't know much about it. I said that surely she must have thought about the symbolism of the parade on Tienanmen square, and she said, "no we don't think about it that much."

She elaborated to the extent of saying that, of the foreign friends who visit, they ask most often about two things: the June 4th events and the One Child Policy. My host was much more happy to talk about the One Child Policy, which she felt was very reasonable in such a populated country with relatively little arable land. She also said that the policy always had exceptions and, in fact, if you really wanted a second child, there was only a financial penalty. Now, she says, the government has said that people can have two children. She is married and definitely wants one child but maybe not two, as two would be a big burden time-wise and financially. She also noted that many of her friends are choosing not to have any children, and she understands this is common in the West as well.

This young woman is not a member of the Communist Party and I asked if she wants to become one. She said she is not sure. At the moment, “no, she is not interested.” I asked what factors influence her decision to seek or not to seek membership in the party. She didn't seem to understand my question, though otherwise her English was quite good.

I asked what she thought were the greatest challenges facing China, and what improvements she thought were needed most urgently. She answered "health and education.” I tried to narrow down her answer: Are they poor quality? Is there poor access to these services? She explained that the main problem is access in remote areas. In the cities there is very good health and education and there are no significant barriers to entry, she said. But this is not true in the more remote or less populated parts of the countryside.

Another host we were somewhat close to was a middle-aged man. I asked him if he was a member of the Communist Party. He was proud to say that yes, he was one of 80 million other Communist Party members. I asked him why he had joined. "Because if you love your country you should join the Communist Party, that’s what we think. Of course it is voluntary you know, so you also have to believe in the ideals of Communism."

According to him, the biggest challenge facing the country is the need for "rule of law." Currently, "there is too much corruption and the party is above the law. This needs to change." He believes that the divide between rural and urban incomes is a problem and was happy to tell me that the government is working on a plan to balance the economy so that there can be more jobs and better pay in the countryside.

After this conversation was interrupted he sought me out to continue. "You know, China is not used to democracy, we have always had emperors. A multiparty system would not work in China, it is too complicated and the people here are not educated enough yet." I replied, asking, “Isn't it the role of government to ensure the education system helps citizens to participate fully in their country's affairs?” “Yes,” he said, "but China is very big, and complex, you need some order.” Then he held up his cell phone (cell phones are more ubiquitous now in China than smoking and public spitting) and said, “This is our democracy, there are no secrets anymore.”

The kindness of strangers

It was strange to travel with such a dependency on the kindness and patience of others. Without a single word of the language I could easily have gotten hopelessly lost. Young women seemed to be the most eager to help. They were usually university students always ready to learn English and who clearly wanted a chance to practice. One such woman helped me navigate the subway system in Xi'an and on the way we had a bit of a talk.

She is studying business and English is part of her program. I wondered what kind of work she wanted to have when she graduated and she said she would like to work in business but this would mean she would not be able to live near her parents, who reside in a small county town. She has heard that “starting a hotel” is very good business. Her parents she says are officials and that they would like her to become an official, too. She is torn between business where she says she can make more money, and becoming an official because she likes to "serve the people." She explained that her desire to serve the people is mocked by her friends. “They think it is an old fashioned idea, for older people, but I think it is good.” I asked if university is very expensive in China and she said that the good universities are inexpensive and the bad universities are very expensive. I asked how her about her's and she said “in the middle.”

Tiananmen Square

The Canadian government is supporting the erection of a statue in Ottawa to remember “the victims of communism.” And there are no more famous victims than the people who were killed on 4 June 1989 in Tiananmen Square. I was certain that my friends would be wondering how I felt watching tanks roll on Tiananmen Square.

I had mixed emotions. I heard an interesting take on the question from a man whose parents were both long-time Communists. He told me how his parents were split on how to evaluate the 4 June events.

For his father, this was a watershed moment that seriously damaged the respect he had for his party. After 4 June he had, until he died, displayed over his desk the famous photograph of the man carrying shopping bags standing in front of a tank. “You are Communists,” he lamented, referring to the government, “how can you fire on students?”

His mother had a different perspective. Though I didn’t get the full story, my understanding is that she was worried about instability and felt the government had acted responsibly under the circumstances. I am guessing that she felt that a breakdown in central power may not have resulted in progressive social change, given the leadership of the opposition movements at the time.

Will China become imperialist?

According to another man I spoke with, the most important issue facing China, and the world, is whether China will be able to continue down the capitalist-development road without becoming an imperialist power. Given what I understood — that about 56% of China's GDP is derived from the private sector — would he conclude that China is at a tipping point? Are these the years that it could go either more capitalist or more socialist? He said no. The capitalist path was chosen by 1980 and there is no indication that pursuing the socialist path is in the cards.

This person is a business professor and knows China's economy and politics inside and out. He has noticed a rise in political repression, including the imprisoning of 200 journalists, and believes this is an indication of a government that lacks confidence. The source of the problem, he believes, is that China is experiencing a classic overproduction crisis.

He says there are two factions in the government, each proposing a different way of dealing with (1) too many products and not enough consumers, and (2) too much capital and not enough domestic investment opportunities.

One faction believes that a complete abandonment of state ownership and planning is required. A full transition to market mechanisms must be made. There will be massive disruptions to production and the resulting layoffs will cause dire strife. But the long-term benefits will be worth the pain in the short term, and China will come out stronger as a result. Where this leaves the Communist Party's stated goal of achieving a strong socialist nation by 2049 one can only guess.

The other faction, currently the dominant one, believes that the Communist Party must retain control of the key sectors of the economy. Heavy industry, telecommunications, transportation, and finance, and, with a monopoly in these sectors, direct the economy in a way that it will eventually balance out. Key to this balancing will be an expansion of external trade. China is exporting capital now. Will it use its investments in ways that cooperate with the host nation? Or will its investments be as self-serving as most imperialist adventures are thought to be?

This analyst acknowledged the unprecedented economic growth that is so evident in China's urban areas. There can be no doubt that, unlike so many other places in the world, China's industrialization has produced unheard of prosperity among unheard of millions. However, its method of industrialization in the past thirty years has allowed for (and some would say was facilitated by) growing income inequality. The analyst I was speaking with feels that the latter has hopelessly discredited the Party. But could this be a part of building up the material prosperity upon which to rest a more socialist future? “No,” he exclaimed. “Socialism is supposed to be about democracy — workers having control over production. That's what the Cultural Revolution was all about!” He went on, saying: “Would the Party be servants of the people, or would the people be the servants of the Party?”

He concluded our conversation with his belief that by 1980, China had laid the groundwork — physical and intellectual infrastructure — to achieve even greater growth than it has during the period of the past 30 years down the capitalist road. He cited examples in aerospace and information technology, where Chinese enterprises had developed functional if not premium consumer products. During the 1980s they sought foreign partnerships with leading firms to help them develop their technology. The result was that they lost control and direction and simply became manufacturing wings, dependent on foreign engineering, potentially at the whim of political influence from the West.

This is so clearly at the heart of everything China does. Will the Chinese people build a nation-state that can insulate them from American influence (political, cultural, financial), or will they come under American influence the way that most of the rest of the world has? While the Middle East is in some ways fighting the same battle to assert their independence from American dominance, I think China is doing so in a much more progressive, if still imperfect, way.

An old family friend, someone of the generation of the revolutionaries, said that she believes that the Chinese revolution is ongoing, but is, as it always has been, in flux. She says that there are theories and practices that struggle for dominance and there are lively discussions in China about how to build socialism. Sometimes one group is up, later another strategy is on the ascendance. She advises to hold a long view — marvel at the progress, and criticize the setbacks.

I think I’ll stick to her view.


Through different eyes

It was interesting to see how the foreign friends (mostly their descendants) divided into what I would call three camps. The easiest to define consisted largely of the Americans who were mostly military related in some way to the Flying Tigers. They were the largest contingent of foreign friends, and I would say that they were most at ease during the commemoration ceremonies. For them, a strong military capability and ethos is an unquestioned good, not only reasonably to be expected but also important and valuable. The military parade was an exercise in power projection that they are very familiar with and they fit in as naturally as they would at an American celebration of its veterans.

The other two groups consisted of the left-wingers. Of these there were some Americans, Australians, New Zealanders, Canadians, British, Swedes (descendants of Poles) and Germans. These were the ones with whom I could speak English. There was also a fairly large contingent of Red Army veterans from the former Soviet Union. They could not speak English, nor I Russian/Ukrainian, so I have no idea of where they stood on the spectrum.

Of the left-wingers, I would say one group (about 15) felt that China's move towards capitalist modes of production, combined with a fairly constrained menu of civil rights, completely discredits the country's leadership. They felt very uncomfortable with the tone of the commemoration events.

This group was suspicious of our hosts. And the fact that the central part of the city seemed to be on lock-down and that we were strongly encouraged not to leave the hotel seemed ominous. What is the government trying to hide? The clear blue skies  we experienced on the 2nd and 3rd of September (in otherwise hazy Beijing) were clear evidence that the government was controlling every last detail of the event, analogous to its authoritarianism in the life of the nation. The fact that we were provided ponchos at our seats on Tiananmen Square in case of rain was proof of the diabolical nature of a government that both controls the weather, and then leaves red-herring rain coats to make you think it doesn't.

They were very critical of the “propaganda” that we were exposed to during the speeches and cultural spectacle, and they generally rejected any notion that the military parade could in any way be combined with a message of peace. They were, however, quick to point out that they were truly moved by how China remembers its friends, and were understanding of China's grievance that Japan has not apologized properly nor has the West sufficiently recognized China's role in defeating fascism in the Second World War.

I belonged to a smaller group of left-wingers (numbering perhaps 10) who were obviously looking at things with a critical eye (that’s the easy part) but also trying to understand both the intentions of the organisers of the commemoration events, and also the path taken by the Chinese Communist Party. There is obviously a fine line between “understanding” matters that I would be critical of if they took place in Canada, and being an apologist for them.

As many point out, China is a complex place, and what is true in one part of the country or at one level of government may not be true of another. I don't want to fall into the trap of sitting on the fence because “I don’t know enough,” therefore I choose to be “critical but understanding” of much of what is happening in China today. GJEK

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