China’s national calendar is packed with annual festivals and commemorations. Highlights include International Nurse Day, Teachers’ Day, Journalists’ Day — that’s for journalists who haven’t been imprisoned for championing free speech — and, this year, the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic, for which the government has issued a new logo to be used at celebratory events.
A profoundly significant day in China’s history that is not memorialised is June 4, 1989, when an unknown number — estimates range from a few hundred to more than 10,000 — of pro-democracy protestors were murdered in and around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square by the People’s Liberation Army.
China’s Ministry of Truth has never ceased in its efforts to keep the massacre out of the pages of history. When Beijing university students are shown the famous — or infamous — photograph of a lone man carrying only shopping bags standing in the path of an advancing army tank, a mere handful recognised it.
The country’s rulers do talk about the Tiananmen murders, but only when they are abroad and always without a scintilla of remorse. “That incident,” said a defence minister at a seminar in Singapore, “was political turbulence. The government’s measures to stop that turbulence were correct. China has enjoyed stable development.”
As, indeed, it has. The hope for reform was crushed in Tiananmen Square, leaving the country’s dictators free to nationalise and glorify capitalism without the nuisances that come with democracy and free speech.
Those are among the themes explored in Channel 4’s adaptation of the 2013 play Chimerica, which examines Donald Trump’s contribution to democracy, the potency of images such as that Tank Man picture, political protest and, most disturbingly, the difficulty the West manifestly has in weighing China’s fervent embrace of the capitalist economy against its intractable totalitarianism. Chimerica will not be screened in China any time soon.