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) 29 users marked this as a favorite
Soviet emigres probably felt similarly conflicted I imagine.
posted by pharm at 4:59 AM on October 8, 2019

I'm really glad I read that.
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 6:12 AM on October 8, 2019 [4 favorites]

Beautiful and heartbreaking. Thanks for sharing this.
posted by kimberussell at 6:31 AM on October 8, 2019

Thank you for allowing me to read this.
posted by PMdixon at 6:55 AM on October 8, 2019

What a talented writer she is. Thank you for posting this.
posted by mkuhnell at 7:14 AM on October 8, 2019

I learned.
posted by hypnogogue at 7:46 AM on October 8, 2019

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, 2019

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, 2019

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, 2019 [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, 2019

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