China in Focus #17: Serving the People

October 10, 2014
Gregory Kulacki
China Project Manager

People’s Park rests within a maze of tall buildings in central Shanghai. At the tale end of a week-long national holiday, whose only U.S. equivalent might be Christmas, a human sea shopped along the banks of Nanjing Road, which was all dressed up in red regalia to celebrate the 65th anniversary of the People’s Republic. In a quiet corner of the park, seeking relief from the crowds, I stumbled on a statue of Zhang Side. He was one of Mao’s guards and his untimely death at the age of 29 precipitated the Chairman’s famous speech on serving the people.

The establishment of the new Chinese government on 1 October 1949 was due in no small measure to the selflessness of inspired young men and women who believed their personal sacrifices would lead to a better life for themselves and for future generations. The “Golden Week” of holiday spending that now celebrates their accomplishment is punctuated by reminders of historic suffering on the nightly news. China’s new Chairman, Xi Jinping, preaches the old-school Maoist catechism, but the Chinese dream has irrevocably shifted from promoting global revolution to delivering a decent standard of living at home.

It is difficult to reconcile the memory of what they were and the reality of what they’ve become with the vitriol the Chinese Communist Party is directing at the young people of Hong Kong. They’re demonstrating, just like their predecessors, for an opportunity to create a better future for themselves. Hopefully the ire of the Party and its supporters in the ruling class of Hong Kong will lead to nothing worse than what happened to the young Americans who took their hopes to Zuccotti Park in Wall Street. Better to remember past Chinese martyrs with an ice cream cone and a stroll through the Apple store than to make more of them.

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Posted in: China

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Gregory Kulacki is an expert on cross-cultural communication between the United States and China. Since joining UCS in 2002, he has promoted dialogue between experts from both countries on nuclear arms control and space security.