Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A Beijing conveniently forgetful

As I wrote in my article “A parade to end all parades,” published today in the Taipei Times, China is in a celebratory mood this year, what with the upcoming 50th anniversary of the “liberation” of Tibet next month and, in October, the 60th anniversary of the birth of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

Another key date that Beijing has been conspicuously silent about, however, is Feb. 17, 1979, which is when Chinese forces invaded Vietnam in response to the latter’s invasion of Cambodia to oust the Khmer Rouge regime.

Today in China, not a single state-run newspaper carried news of the 30th anniversary, while a Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman limited himself to comments to the effect that the past should be left alone and that “China and Vietnam had an unhappy period in history.”

Unhappy indeed, as the People’s Liberation Army invasion, which led to low-intensity warfare through most of the 1980s, resulted in tens of thousands of deaths on both side. To this day, study of the conflict is banned in Chinese schools.

This refusal to acknowledge the past may have something to do with the fact that there was no clear-cut outcome to the costly war, which for the PLA in effect became a smaller version of the US’ own debacle in Vietnam, or that of the Soviets in Afghanistan around the same time. Defeat simply has no room in PRC history books, especially in times of economic crisis when the state hopes to maintain the illusion of Communism’s great achievements. Through this filter, the invasion of Tibet is refashioned as a “liberation,” while the birth of the PRC, which came on the heels of the defeat of Nationalist forces, conveniently omits mentioning the years of devastating civil war that preceded it. Like everything else in China, negatives are twisted into positives, and when doing so is impossible, things are just ignored.

At a time when Beijing faces accusations, mostly from the West, that its massive, no-questions-asked investments abroad are propping up repressive and genocidal regimes (Sudan, Myanmar, Zimbabwe, North Korea, to name a few), CCP cadres would probably also want us to forget that 30 years ago, Beijing was an ally of the homicidal Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, who killed millions of his own people.

1 comment:

FOARP said...

It's not totally true to say that it is not discussed. There are a few government propaganda films made in the eighties about it, and these are shown in political classes in mainland universities. The 'People's War Museum' in Beijing has an exhibit given over to the so-called "Self-defence and Counter-attack Operations". However, no television programs are made about it at the moment (in contrast to the Korean war and the Anti-Japanese war, and even the Cultural Revolution - see 历史的天空), it is never discussed in the papers, and high-school textbooks barely mention it.