You were born from the ruins of empire. You are so young, and so old.
October 8, 2019 1:22 AM   Subscribe

On the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China. "I am writing to you from a foreign land in a foreign tongue, with a body that used to be inside yours." A birthday letter and poetic consideration of how the personal gets entangled with the nation-state, written by physicist Yangyang Cheng.

Cheng describes the centripetal and centrifugal forces of Chinese national sentiment in the context of American protests:
Will you be coming to greet President Hu with us?” A Chinese schoolmate asked me a few days before Hu’s arrival. They would be standing by the streets downtown to welcome the motorcade. January in the Windy City was a harsh time to be spent outside. Sensing my hesitation, the friend added, “Many of us will be there. We need to outnumber the pro-Tibet and Falun Gong protesters.”

I said I would think about it. I did not know any Tibetans or Falun Gong practitioners, and I had not grasped the complexity of their causes. To oppose something I did not understand felt dishonest. Had it been another head of state, I might have ventured out for the spectacle, though perhaps not in freezing weather. With you, I did not have the option of being a neutral observer, nor could I simply be expressing love for my homeland.
posted by spamandkimchi (11 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Soviet emigres probably felt similarly conflicted I imagine.
posted by pharm at 4:59 AM on October 8

I'm really glad I read that.
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 6:12 AM on October 8 [4 favorites]

Beautiful and heartbreaking. Thanks for sharing this.
posted by kimberussell at 6:31 AM on October 8

Thank you for allowing me to read this.
posted by PMdixon at 6:55 AM on October 8

What a talented writer she is. Thank you for posting this.
posted by mkuhnell at 7:14 AM on October 8

I learned.
posted by hypnogogue at 7:46 AM on October 8

What a complex personal history to contend with, I am no stranger to complicated feelings towards one's birth nation, but I am sheltered and privileged. The 2008 Olympics section hit me, very intriguing to see it through her perspective, I still remember those songs from time to time. The people of China deserve better.
posted by GoblinHoney at 8:33 AM on October 8

This was so illuminating and so heartbreaking. As an American living abroad I feel so many of the same things she writes about, so much so that I wept reading it. At the same time, as someone with very little experience with China so much of it I’m sure I will never understand.

These days too many people are coming up against the hard reality that “nationality is not a feeling” whatever we might have been promised, and that our personhood depends on the acknowledgement of a fickle and sometimes vicious force. I hope for better in the future.
posted by Concordia at 10:57 AM on October 8

That was long, but well worth the time.

There's just so much for an outsider to learn about China. And never going back to the place you grew up is a hard, hard fact to carry inside you.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:39 PM on October 8 [2 favorites]

Thank you for sharing this article, and anem0ne too. They're heartwrenching and important.
posted by Glier's Goetta at 2:09 AM on October 9

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