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Visiting Chinese Official Gets a Mixed Greeting
By Tim McDevitt
NEW YORK - Imagine you are visiting France, or Brazil, or some other distant foreign land. Now imagine that an announcement is made that Dennis Hastert, the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, will be making an official visit. You and all other US citizens within several hundred square miles are told to greet him on his arrival, standing for hours on the sidewalk waving American flags and singing patriotic songs.
That was the situation outside the Waldorf Astoria Hotel on Park Avenue last Wednesday afternoon, as some members of the greater New York Chinese community were there to greet Bangguo Wu, the chairman of the Standing Committee of the 10th National People's Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Wu was in New York to attend The Second World Conference of Speakers of Parliaments, held September 7th to the 9th in the General Assembly Hall of United Nations Headquarters in New York.
There were two very different groups of people there for the arrival of Wu. Why they were divided by a city block, a police barricade, a few dozen New York police officers might not have been immediately apparent.
The Official Greeters
The crowd on the corner of 50th street and Park Avenue appeared from a distance to be the very picture of a celebratory occasion. A large crowd of between 1500 and 2000 Chinese nationals, mostly senior citizens and students, waved hundreds of red flags. Loud patriotic-sounding music blared from speakers, and some were dressed in traditional Chinese costumes. Upon closer inspection, a picture may have been all it actually was.
That the Chinese Consulate regularly recruits local Chinese students to participate in these “cheerleading” events is commonly understood. The students are rumored to be paid to appear at such gatherings. Of those who were approached for this article, many seemed reluctant to answer any questions about why they were there. While a few responded with friendly, yet guarded, replies, most were wary of speaking to the press at all. Many did not know why they were on hand, or couldn’t speak clearly about the event. Some did not seem to know whom they were greeting. Most replied with stock answers of wanting to greet the visiting official, and supporting Sino/US relations.
On hand were students from Columbia, CUNY, NYU, Rockville University, and some from as far away as University of Connecticut. One student, when asked if he had received any compensation for his participation in the event replied, “I don’t know anything about that.”
Perhaps out of national pride they took time out of their busy Ph.D. programs in biophysics or neuroscience to come all the way down to New York City on a bus to cheer for their favorite speaker of parliament. Perhaps. Although every single student interviewed flatly refused to discuss politics at all, a peculiar response from a group so seemingly patriotic. Of course, the CCP has over the years cultivated in China’s citizens patriotic fervor while simultaneously avoiding the topic of politics.
One man, apparently an organizer of the event, aggressively halted a bystander from video taping the supporters. He angrily threatened to call a nearby policeman as he shoved the camera downward and shouted into the face of the would-be videographer. The woman with the camera did not appear to be a member of the press, or a member of any group, but a passerby with a video camera who may have found the proceedings interesting enough to record. What specifically he did not want video taped, or why he so abruptly put the filming to a halt, was not obvious. The man’s angry grimace turned into a forced and sheepish grin when he saw my press pass, and knew he could not halt my pen or my camera.
Two of the organizers of the group, Jun Xiong Hua, who shouted phrases in Chinese over a loudspeaker that were largely ignored by the crowd, and Guannjun Liang, are both named in a lawsuit for assault and battery for a violent attack on an innocent Falun Gong practitioner that took place on a street in Chinatown in June of 2003. The case is now being investigated.
The picture becomes clear. This is a group organized not by enthusiastic nationals, happy to see and greet a visiting official, but a conglomeration of old folks and students, being corralled by organizers known for their aggressiveness and their close ties to the CCP.
At one point in the afternoon, Mr. Jun Xiong Hua attempted to entice the group by offering that if they were lucky, Mr. Wu may soon pass by. When he did they should be very quiet, perhaps he would stop and speak to them. Only moments later a whirlwind of a motorcade sped past, showing no signs of slowing; a blur of black sedans and SUV’s made a direct entrance into the garage of the hotel. Afterwards, one Chinese man was seen simply to sit down on the curb and slump over, in sad acknowledgement of what appeared to be yet another instance of the “People’s Party” passing him by yet again.
So many of the small events of the rally seemed to signify bigger realities of the current government of China, and of being Chinese today. The senseless and empty cheerleading, whose participants were likely inspired more by personal gain than national pride, and the corrupt and hoodlum organizers who turn on the first perceived threat, are representations in miniature of a China ruled by the CCP. One wants the people of China to have the reality of rallying behind a government that they actually believe in, not one they either fear or simply comply with.
The Other Greeters—Hope for the Future
In stark contrast to this first group, a block away stood a much smaller, less orchestrated and quieter group of Chinese people. They held home-made banners that called for justice to be brought to several high level party officials known to have persecuted Falun Gong practitioners, and urged Chinese people to “quit the party”—to renounce their membership in the CCP.
Their faces did not sour, nor did their eyes narrow in suspicion as I approached them. Indeed they smiled with broad open faces and offered me their literature that promoted the idea of quitting the CCP.
They were calm in the midst of such a hostile environment; those that passed by were all greeted with a smile and treated with respect and kindness. One tall gentleman strolled into the street, proudly holding a sign above his head for all to see, the sign read, in Chinese characters “quit the CCP and you will be safe.”
In the look in their eyes and the tilt of their head, one seemed to see a glimmer of hope for a future in which China existed free of the Communist Party.
When asked why they were present on Park Avenue they did not appear confused or defensive nor did they reply in the rehearsed speech of those down the block. Ms. Yi Rong, an organizer of the “Quit The Party” group described why the group was in front of the Waldorf Hotel.
“We are here because Wu is one of the party leaders, we would like him to know that there are so many people that don’t like the Chinese government run by the CCP, and there are over 4 million Chinese that have renounced their membership in the party. This news can never be seen by Chinese people inside of China because of the information blockade. We also would like to urge Wu to quit his membership in the party to set an example for other parliament members.”
Ms. Rong went on to describe the present government of China “It’s called the People’s Congress. However they don’t represent the Chinese people, they are not elected by the Chinese people.”
Being Chinese Today
Being Chinese today is no simple affair. The entire world is watching China with rapt attention. On the one hand, multinational companies are pouring billions of dollars into a seemingly burgeoning Chinese economy hoping for big returns. On the other hand, politicians and human rights groups continue to point to the abysmal treatment of the Chinese people by the CCP.
To be Chinese and to want to support the Chinese nation may not be the same as supporting her current government. The divide between the two groups I saw pass each other on Park Ave. is the same as that which has separated and confused Chinese people for the last half century. The answer to this division is as simple as the request by the small group standing on the corner of 49th Street and Park Avenue; “Quit the Party.” Let the CCP make its exit from China, let it dwindle and die as millions abandon it, understanding it has always been the world’s largest terrorist organization. Only in the absence of the CCP will China grow and flower into a nation can make a positive contribution to the world.
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