Sentimental Reflections on the 60th Birthday of PRC

I see soldiers goose-stepping in a solemn parade. I see the populace watching the parade with ineffable zeal. I see an ex-leader of the state sighing behind the race. It is not Frederick the Great examining the Prussian army. It is not the glorious Rome celebrating the victory of a conquest. Because I see missiles pointing into the bluest sky and bombers flying across an ancient capital. It is the diamond anniversary of the People’s Republic of China. It is an age of economic progress and cultural decline. It is an age when many people seem to have high ambition and lower moral sensibility; it may very well be an age of reason. But it is not.

To many, China is arguably the Roman Empire that never collapsed. Yet if it is, it certainly lacks Rome’s love of knowledge and wisdom. Western imperialism, World War II, and the civil wars in the forties had given modern China a violent desire for domestic stability. And the apparent break with Confucian ethics has left it morally wanting. That China needs a practical moral doctrine to maintain social order is beyond doubt, and before social order is conveniently established, and economic growth stably on track, the pursuit of morally indifferent knowledge with little immediate utility is simply building a skyscraper on mud.

So we now witness the economic and military rise of my homeland without any sure sign of its cultural renaissance. I see literary talent silenced for the creation of wealth. I see business accounting preferred over classical literature. I see vulgar discourse of artificial morality preferred over a true embrace of humanity. I see an entire generation lost in the blind pursuit of economic advancement otherwise known as the spirit of the age. I hear the noise of the machines destroying the Ming-Dynasty city wall for another subway line.
It is doubtful whether all this would work. I don’t know if this conforming atmosphere that values naked wealth and superficial knowledge is what’s best for a nostalgic nation determined to regain its long lost past, in which she lived as a country of great erudition. Some people have told me that China lacks confidence, and each small goose step that a soldier demonstrates in front of Tiananmen Square is a small step towards the redemption of an entire culture from the abyss of diffidence. Maybe it’s precisely this psychological insecurity that’s haunting this nation, which spends all her energy on economy and politics and forgets her once flourishing culture. But are missiles, tanks, and bombers the best instruments for the rebuilding of confidence? 

They sometimes seem to engender a blind patriotism that distorts proper confidence and renders it dangerous. But I do not intend to answer this difficult question. What I do know is that, before anything changes, Shanghai’s beautiful Bund will continue to sing a Gospel of Wealth, tempting all lost Chinese souls to sign the sacred contract of material wellbeing, in exchange for their deepest cultural concerns.

- Submitted by T.J. Zhang (CAS '12)

Editor's Note: To watch the entire parade and evening celebrations of the 60th Birthday narrated in English on CCTV-9 (English International Channel), click here.


  1. I like your writing! But what literary talent is being silenced, exactly? I would have thought it was only those "human rights" champions who suffer the wrath of censors? China might not be doing anything to encourage culture, but they don't seem to be overtly discouraging it, either...

  2. I don't know about today, but I know that back in the heyday of Mao art that was not directly designed to promote the communist cause was considered degenerate and was not allowed. I know that has changed but I am not sure what the current policy is.


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