Sunday, June 19, 2011

Emily blogs about Tiananmen Square

In a strictly material sense, Tiananmen Square is not much different than a large parking lot – a vast, open paved plaza. What differentiates this place, then, from where you park your car when going to the grocery store every week are the layers of supra-sensible historical implications, the sense that the space could serve as a synecdoche for the governing strategies of China in the last five hundred-odd years. During the Ming and Qing dynasties (the last two dynasties in Chinese history and the time during which the Forbidden City functioned as the center of government) the area, which is now Tiananmen Square, was packed with the offices of various governmental employees – essentially forming an insurmountable wall of bureaucracy between the governed and the government. This metaphoric wall and the physical office structures were both razed when the People’s Republic of China was declared in October of 1949. With the construction of Tiananmen Square as an open plaza, the spatial meaning of the area was transformed to suggest the revolutionary notion of the government being totally permeable and self-identical with the governed. However, the ultimate fallacy of this notion was made clear when the governed were forcibly driven out of the space during the Tiananmen Square Massacre of 1989. Currently, Tiananmen Square houses everything from a monument to the People’s Hero (commemorating those who died during the revolution) and Mao Zedong’s mausoleum, to massive video screens advertising the beauty of China and entrepreneurs hawking photographs and other souvenirs. And so, the space becomes a material manifestation of the idea of China-as-paradox that has frequently been expressed to us in the last three weeks of conversations with residents. In Tiananmen Square we see a reflection of a government simultaneously attempting to pursue capitalist strategies of growth and wealth amassment, and a program of Revolution and Maoist fetishism designed to maintain domestic stability. How long can a government built on such seeming contradictions persist? It’s hard to say, but one just might be able to read some clues in Tiananmen Square.

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