Tiananmen Square. Beijing. 1989. It feels like yesterday. It feels like a lifetime ago. From 1989 to 2019, the far away, remote country of China as we used to know it has become more and more “Italian”. Here is a brief recap of the past and present of a long history.
1989: on the most popular national news, for some minutes, Italy’s TV screens showed the figure of a man – slightly shaking and very skinny – completely alone as he faced an intimidating row of tanks.
The scene, as the reporter explained, was going on in the remote Beijing.
At that time, in fact, China was still pretty far away from Italy’s land and coasts.
Last month, though, Xi Jinping landed in Rome to meet President Sergio Mattarella in order to launch a set of agreements commonly referred to as the “two-way Silk Road”.
And next year, along with the 50th anniversary of the two countries’ diplomatic relations, China and Italy will be celebrating respectively the Year of Italian Culture and Tourism and that of Chinese Culture and Tourism.
We’ve come a long way since 1989. We could definitely say it.
We could also think that, at this point, a short history recap is needed.
Xi Jinping, age 65, is the President of People’s Republic of China since March 2019.
During his very recent visit to Italy, he took the liberty of quoting no less than a sentence by Umberto Eco inspired by Cicero’s famous motto “Historia Magistra Vitae”:
“These words remind me of an ancient Chinese proverb: from history you learn about the present”.
Here we are: history.
Here we go again: dates.
It’s been 30 years since the student protests for a democratic turn in their government, with people flooding the streets of Beijing and several other Chinese cities; a protest that ended in the bloody armed confrontation we all remember around Tiananmen Square, on June 3, 1989.
It’s been 60 years since Tibet’s failed riot, with Dalai Lama leaving the country on March 17, 1959.
It’s been 70 years since the foundation of the Republic of China by Mao Zedong.
It’s been 100 years since the patriotic student protests of the May Fourth Movement, 1919, and the demonstrations that marked the birth of Chinese Nationalism.
In the meantime, the cities of Italy saw the rise and growth of a number of flourishing China Towns.
In the meantime, China has invaded the world.
Yet something still doesn’t add up, in in this never-ending Chinese spring.
If it’s true – and it is – that these recent years gave us the lucky chance to observe the work of many Chinese artists, including a number of notable photographers, and made Factory 798 first into an art laboratory, then a set for fashion shows and shootings… On the other hand, we can’t just overlook a bunch of stories like that of Ai Weiwei, the organizer of the first contemporary art exhibition ever in a Chinese museum (1980), who was arrested and detained for 81 days due to his firm opposition to the regime. And denied expatriation until no sooner than 2015.
Not even the latest media leaks from PRC can have us breathe a sigh of relief. Xi Jinping in person, on a recent summit of the national Communist Party, asked for a crackdown on the Chinese Internet, already largely subject to all sorts of censorship. Concurrently, he expressed the hope that the young generations would proudly take in the founding values of real Socialism. All because, in his opinion, the Party at this very moment in history is facing the risk of indulging in idleness, incompetence and – even worse – estranging itself from their people.