"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Songs of the Pioneers song from TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon's old-fashioned newspaper column, cross-breeding metaphors and journalism and art, for readers in 150 countries.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

China--flags of conflicts and centuries

The Hong Kong Flag
How do you write about  thousands of years of conflicts and civilizations and the flags that represent them?
Perhaps one person at a time.
So my procrastination about writing about readers of this blog from the People's Republic of China and The Republic of China ended today, when I had a reader from Hong Kong.
If there's one thing I'm sure of, it's that we Americans don't really understand cultures older than ours, and world histories, so I'm reticent to write about them. Trying to be a journalist and be even-handed, that means keeping an American perspective out of world events, and it's not really possible. But I try.
I grew up when "Red China" was one of the evil empires threatening the U.S., and bent on destroying freedom. The Republic of China on Formosa was the democracy and Hong Kong was a British colony. There's no doubt in my mind that the current People's Republic of China is still a threat of the U.S., now primarily economically, and it is a foe of freedom of expression. But I've also learned that money and capitalism between countries, called "markets," overrules ideology most of the time, and that affects the three of the flags in this post. And that I wasn't told the whole story of Hong Kong and Formosa.
China's population--the largest in the world-- and economic potential dwarfs ours in many ways, but nothing compared to its history. Here it is in a shallow nutshell. China is old, very old. For years it was ruled by dynasties as an empire, until 1912, when a republic was formed. By this time western nations had seized parts of the country, including the British at HongKong to protect the opium trade which China was trying to suppress.
In the 1920s with the rise of Chiang Kai-Shek the nationalist party couldn't negotiate with the communist party and a civil war started. A truce was declared when the Japanese invaded and slaughtered hundreds of thousands. (America's Flying Tigers operated with the Kuomintang, the nationalist party, against the Japanese).
After WWII, the civil war resumed and Mao Zedong and the communists won in 1950, driving Chiang's forces t 50 miles off the coast to the island of Formosa--now called Taiwan. The U.S., involved in Korea and at the start of the Red Scare, sided with Chiang, even though he was no less a dictator than Mao. The US has come close to war in this Chinese rivalry, including in the Kennedy years over a couple of non-descript little islands, Quemoy and Matsu. During this time Red China also "annexed" Tibet, a dispute still going on. The two Chinese countries continue to claim all of China, but the fact is after all these years, it's pretty much status quo--which means there's no economic reason to alter it.
Flag of the People's Republic of China
Then in 1999, Britain gave up its colony of Hong Kong and it reverted to Chinese control,but with a difference. Socialist China realized the capitalistic powerhouse of Hong Kong, and allows it to so operate. If this summary offends you, then so be it, but money talks. And Americans should certianly be in favor of ending colonialism, shouldn't we?
Hong Kong operates under the saying, "one country, two systems." Its regional flag shows that. It carries the festive red of Chinese people. The Bauhinia flower, discovered in Hong Kong, is the main symbol, but it has five petals and stars to coincide the stars of the flag of the People's Republic of China.
The flag of China carries five golden stars, one  large and four smaller ones. The red is for the Communist revolution, the large star is for the Communist party and the others for the four classes, proletarian workers, agricultural peasants, bourgeoisie, and capitalists.
Across the straight of Formosa another Chinese flag flies, this one also red, but with the blue and white symbol of the Chinese Republic before WWII.
I have had students from both Chinese countries, and in sort of a wake up  to me, when I was working on my doctorate at OSU many years ago, one of my fellow students was from "Red" China. Her father had flown Migs in the Korean War.
With the death of Mao and of Chiang, both countries have changed. The Republic of China is now truly democratic and an economic dynamo, and The People's Republic of China, while still communist, is adjusting to the practical constraints of a world economic power. That includes allowing Hong Kong to be capitalist.
I find it fascinating, that the communist state, with control of so much media, and in the news for hacking US computers, has citizens who read this blog.  The world is small.
China is complicated, and will be a force in America for a long time, including most recently, in putting pressure on its not-so subservient North Korean rogue state.

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