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The Global Times writes about June 4

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The English version of The Global Times (环球时报) newspaper yesterday published an opinion piece titled "Evolution of Chinese intellectuals' thought over two decades".

The lead is buried, but the story has broken state-owned Chinese media's silence on what they call 'June 4 incident':

People were less confident about China’s future in the 1980s, explained Zhang Yiwu, a Peking University literature professor.

Irritated by China’s pathetic economy and the ultra-left thinking left over from the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), many Chinese intellectuals shared a common pursuit of freedom and democracy in the 1980s, “an era of enlightenment on democracy for intellectuals”, Xiao Gongqin, a major spokesman for cultural nationalism and a history professor at Shanghai Normal University, wrote in his Chinese book Thoughts Differentiation among Modern Chinese Intellectuals and Its Political Influence.

“The youth in universities were all drinking in a variety of knowledge and reading various books,” Zhang Liping, researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences told the Global Times.

At that time, information on different societies and lectures on new concepts filled every corner of campus noticeboards. Books and debates circulated among students. Especially popular were arguments over “isms” including existentialism, humanitarianism, liberalism, capitalism and Marxism.

“Uncertainty was the most obvious characteristic of that period,” said Zhang Yiwu. He noted that the intellectuals at that time chose Western thoughts “at random”.

“It [the ’80s] was the age of enlightenment and almost a turning point for China’s political transition,” said Chen Zhigang, former Washington bureau chief of Hong Kong-based Sing Tao Daily.

June 4 Incident broke out in 1989 and after that intellectuals in China “switched to silence”, according to Zhang Liping.

“Intellectuals no longer discussed ‘isms’ publicly, and shifted their focus to academic issues,” she said. “Some people worried that China might slip backward.”

Such worries were dispelled three years later in 1992 by Deng Xiaoping’s visit to South China.

“Deng’s speech reignited people’s hope and restored their confidence,” said Zhang Liping. In his speech, Deng emphasized the importance of economic reform and open-mindedness...

...“People are more mature now,” said Zhang Yiwu. “They no longer think Western thoughts are China’s ultimate goal.”

Several times during her interview, Zhang Liping emphasized that “radical reform or revolution is extremely insecure and does not work in China.”

Meantime, the British magazine Standpoint has published a piece by Jonathan Mirsky, a journalist who is fond of mentioning that he is persona non grata in China. The article includes the following paragraph:

To this day, if the word Tiananmen appears on the Chinese internet, whoever has used or accessed it can expect a knock on the door and may join the dozens of Tiananmen activists still in China's jails and labour camps.

This ridiculous exaggeration can be disproved by anyone by searching for the word "Tiananmen" or the word "天安门" on Baidu.com or Google.cn, and it shows how deeply out of touch China specialists can get when they never visit China:

Mirsky's assumption that "Tiananmen" itself refers to the incident inside China is a notion unique to the Western media. In the Mainland, the word refers to a central location in Beijing that has many, many associations beyond the 1989 events. For many Chinese people, the first association of the the word is the patriotic song "I love Beijing, Tiananmen" (我热爱北京天安门).

However, there has been some good writing on the 20 year anniversary published in the Western media; see the links below.

Links and Sources
There are currently 54 Comments for The Global Times writes about June 4.

Comments on The Global Times writes about June 4

"radical reform or revolution is extremely insecure"
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while copy-pasting democracy might not be a good idea, copy-pasting capitalism has been proven to be even worse. if China wants a healthy capitalism, unlike the current one, she must have rule of law and a government that can maintain it.

efficiency comes AFTER equality, not the other way around.

"efficiency comes AFTER equality..."

That's false. No society has ever developed in that order.

Rule of Law doesn't guarantee shit. india has all the amenities of western democracy, free pass, rule of law etc. But they're still rated more corrupt then china on transparency international and the corruption index.

well, so far the only effect of June 4th on Chinese government has been the purges that followed the protect and ousting of Zhao. In many ways, it has done a lot more harm than good for political reform in China. Considering that political reform was well on the government agenda as late of may of 1989, one has wonder what would have happened if April 27th meeting was able to reach an agreement. As for the West, it seem the more recent articles and documentary talk very little about what actually transpired from April 15th to June 5th, and so far the only documentary deal with that gate of heavenly peace filmed 1996. Why did the Western Media back off from careful analysis and present and went into mindless assertion like that of Jonathan Mirsky.

"Rule of Law doesn't guarantee shit."

yes it does, and india does NOT have rule of law, that's why its democracy cannot help its economy. looking at major east asian nations that have democracy but fail at economic development, you will find one common factor, which is the lack of rule of law. but there are also other historical and racial issues that have shaped what they are today, I wouldn't go into details here.

besides, what else do you think are able to sustain law and order on which democracy can flourish?? don't tell me "enough middle class" and craps, because as we have come to understand, chinese middle class do not do better than their peasants counterpart.


"That's false. No society has ever developed in that order."

I am simply stating an ideal situation, if we give up everything just because uncertainty, then we will not get anywhere.

You trust a rule of law prescribed and enforced by bunches of people who trample and muffle the opposition, who gobble every possible RMB ordinary people are putting away, and who now degenerate into pedophiles and rapists, your trust never counts. A trust of law is alwasy built on a system of independent enforcement with checks and balances.

If there was a day when people woundn't have to worry about being retaliated pursuing due justice they deserve, if there was a platform someday for people to get their voices heard either by those who are in the saddle or the humble public, there might be a rule of law they can trust.

Democracy is over-rated. What democracy truly means is majority rule over minority--and that don't sound right to me. What is needed is a guarantee of rights, and that's it. Everything else is b.s. As long as what one is doing does not harm anyone else, then the State should stay the F out of people's business. Governments should exert coercion only in so-far to provide this basic framework for rights, and anything over this small role is tyranny--and it is an absolute determinate/metric for being over-thrown, if they ever cross this simple line.

Sadly, the world is all f'ed right now and we're all just slaves to the true elites--the real rulers (I know, I sound like a broken record. I AM a broken record).


@leet

Absolutely agreed, great minds think alike.

Democracy in its purist form is just tyranny of majority, and rights are to keep it from happening. Equality, tolerance and laws are what makes a society energetic and sustainable, democracy can stay down the list.

> Mirsky's assumption that "Tiananmen" itself refers to the incident inside China is a notion unique to the Western media.

That’s certainly true. Also I doubt many Vietnamese consider their country’s name synonymous with the American military involvement in the war of 1959-75.

Many westerners do, however. Just do a Google search for “Anti-Vietnam songs”.

"efficiency comes AFTER equality..."

I agree.

To PeterYang: "Democracy in its purist form is just tyranny of majority" - over-simplification, of centuries of Western thoughts and practices. The notion and institution of Western democracies have evolved tremendously---albeit far from linearly---since the day of the Athenian experiment (although even in that case it's doubtful if it's really a "majority) of the population). Related readings: Karl Popper. Hannah Arendt. Isaiah Berlin. Tocqueville. Federalist Papers. Among tomes of others.

Hey, what I wrote won't work, too simple. There is no way you can have a perfectly efficient system like what I described. When you put people into it, it messes up everything. It's like the communism model (totally fake system thought-up by the elites for control :) ). I mean, eventually, the check and balance will break down, because *some* other dominating forces will eventually overtake everything. Thus leading to the exact situation we are in today--we are that evolved system (from the caves mans all way to obama/kim-jong).

Where is this thing going? Eventual separation of the true elites from the rest. Or maybe destruction of earth. Perhaps we shall over-come it all. Some religious rapture? Is it all planned by some master-evil-mind?

I know, I'm completely out of touch with reality.


@Orpheus

I mean democracy in its "most original shape". and yes I know how western nations have got to where they are today, but I still strongly believe that democracy cannot sustain on fragile law and order.

Good heavens!! My apologies to Richard of Peking Duck and his dream team of copyeditor colleagues (a.k.a., the brightest group of expats in Beijing) at the Global Times for ever doubting them. He was right after all: change IS in the air! And at the English edition of the Global Times, no less. Go figure. Kudos to him and his fellow t-crossers and i-dotters. Keep up the great work. Pushing the envelope, indeed.

Seriously though, who cares? The English edition of the Global Times finally admits that there is no such thing as "time with Chinese characteristics" - i.e., there wasn't some sort of reverse leap year thing going on in 1989 whereby the calendar skipped from June 3 to June 5. Big deal. So they now agree that the sun rose on June 4 and there was an "incident." Fantastic. A great victory for all freedom loving people.

Jeremy: “Mirsky's assumption that ‘Tiananmen’ itself refers to the incident inside China is a notion unique to the Western media.”
Give Jonathan Mirsky a break, why don’t you. I’ve read his essay (http://www.standpointmag.co.uk/node/1203/full), and he says no such thing. Mr. Mirsky writes for an western, English speaking readership for whom “Tiananmen” is shorthand for 6/4/1989. At no time does he ever suggest, explicitly or implicitly, that the phrase means the same thing to a Chinese audience. And while I agree with you that he’s overstated the danger of making a simple Chinese internet search for details of the “incident,” much else that he says is spot on. In fact, at more than 2,000 words (the passage that you quote is all of 40 words), his essay is both long and useful to those of us who are interested in the events in question. Besides, Mr. Mirsky is correct when he reminds us that thousands were interrogated and imprisoned for their involvement in the protests. Likewise, it’s also true that during the past 20 years, many people (e.g., bloggers, newspaper editors, television producers, former soldiers) have found themselves in a pretty tight spot after publicly mentioning 6/4. Finally, a quick Google.cn search for both “Tiananmen” and “天安门” (which I’ve just done from my home in Cambridge) produces nothing about 1989. As you well know, a similar search on U.S., French, and German editions of Google produces much different results. To focus on Mr. Mirsky’s hyperbole at the expense of his larger argument is disingenuous.

Jeremy: “[Mirsky’s claim] shows how deeply out of touch China specialists can get when they never visit China.”

Right. Expat bloggers are now the go-to guys for good info on China. This makes perfect sense. I suppose the average expat’s combination of mediocre (if not worse) Chinese and lack of professional training explains his particular insight. Tell me, Jeremy, how much time must your so-called “China specialist” spend in China in order to remain up to speed? You ever criticize the U.S.? How much time have you spent here in recent years? Not much. Are YOU out of touch?

Agree that you should lay off Mirsky--you might not agree with his "CCP is evil" mentality, but he has a track record of solid reporting on China dating back to the pre-reform era. If you aren't a regular reader of the NY Review of Books (where Mirsky's work can be found alongside Sinological legends like Jonathan Spence and Simon Leys), you probably should be.

Here is what Tiananmen "democrats" are doing right now: they are sueing the team that produces the documentary "Tiananmen" for frivolous reasons. See

http://tsquare.tv/

"Right. Expat bloggers are now the go-to guys for good info on China. This makes perfect sense."

heh...true most expat blogs about china just regurgitate mainstream media news adding their own anecdote and the more popular blog trend is to translate from chinese blogs and news sources, probably why danwei, eswn and chinasmack are so popular.

Stinky:

Good writers care about the exact meaning of their words. Writers seeking to speak truth to power should speak truth.

Mr Mirsky's sentence "To this day, if the word Tiananmen appears on the Chinese internet, whoever has used or accessed it can expect a knock on the door" is patent nonsense.

"Merely mentioning them (June 4, 1989) can lead to arrest and detention."
- Hello? Exaggeration alert, anyone?

"...one cannot exaggerate the importance of Tiananmen. Nor were the "events" confined to Beijing alone. There were hundreds of uprisings, from Mongolia, in the north-west, to the deep south."
- "Uprisings"? Did I just sleep through that summer of 1989, or does Dr. Mirsky live in a different space-time warp?

"To this day, if the word Tiananmen appears on the Chinese internet, whoever has used or accessed it can expect a knock on the door and may join the dozens of Tiananmen activists still in China's jails and labour camps."
- To Dr. Mirsky's defenders above: he said "the word Tiananmen", not "Tiananmen Incident" or "Liu Si" ("June 4th, which is the way most Chinese refer to it, here and abroad).
Now, since the beginning of this post, how many people at Danwei and among its readership have got that "knock on the door"?

"Some Tiananmen events remain easy to recall even 20 years later. In late April, I accompanied thousands of students marching miles from their campuses to Tiananmen Square....... We reached a roadblock formed by army trucks and lines of soldiers. I noticed the soldiers taking off their belts, with buckles bearing the characters "Eighth Route Army", after Mao's legendary forces during the civil war, and wrapping them around their fists, always a sign of impending violence. "
- "Some Tiananmen events" are obviously not as easy to recall as Dr. Mirsky claims, if he ever got it right. Martial Law was introduced only in the evening of May 19. There were no army roadblocks in late April. There had been no reported incident of military violence hinted at here even after the Martial Law, which was at most perfunctorily "enforced" (which in a way emboldened students and civillians), until the shock of brutal massacre on June 3-4.
And then, "Eighth Route Army" on the buckle. First of all, those 2 Chinese numerals stacking vertically mean "August 1", the date PLA was founded in 1927. To anyone with even the most basic Chinese knowledge, the simple characters could not have been read as "Ba-Lu-Jun", or "Eighth Route Army".
Secondly, "Eighth Route Army" was NOT "Mao's legendary forces during the civil war", but the communist-led forces during WWII after the reconcilliation of the Nationalists and Communists to build a united front against the Japanese invasion.
Of course this historical fact would not have been as convenient to Dr. Mirsky's agenda as "Mao's legendary forces", which implied a feudal allegiance that jives with the later "Deng Xiaoping is my baba" anecdote.

"On another night, I went with three journalist friends to the east of Beijing where we had heard a column of tanks had been stalled by villagers. There we saw the village men urinating on the tanks' treads and the women offering tea to the crews through the forward hatches. I clambered on to a tank and knocked on the hatch. When the astounded commander, wearing a Snoopy-like leather helmet appeared, I asked him where he was going. "I'm going to Beijing to save the Central Committee," he answered. When I said I thought the army were the fathers and mothers of the people, he replied, "But Deng Xiaoping is my baba [dad]." "
- This is perhaps not among the most plausible reportage I have ever read. Let's see a show of hands: how many of you, westerners and Chinese alike, would believe a soldier would actually say things like "But Deng Xiaoping is my baba"?
And besides, dear Dr. Mirsky, in the revolutionary cliche, the army are the "sons and brothers" (Zi-Di-Bing) of the people, not their freaking parents. Where did you learn your Chinese vernacular?

"Last October, David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, suddenly proclaimed that Tibet had always been a part of China. Most Western authorities on Tibetan history dispute this. Beijing's response was contemptuous. It was obvious, scoffed the official press, that Britain was after China's money."
- Where does this "contemptuous Beijing response" come from, or is this again one of Dr. Mirsky's self projections?

And, then, this gem from the same author:
Don't bet on the Games giving China democracy
Jonathan Mirsky, 07.08.08

"The young Chinese woman at my local pool this week summed it all up for me. We had greeted each other politely as usual, in Chinese, when she asked me if I was going to Beijing for the Olympics. I said I would like to but have been banned from China since I was ejected in 2001. I'm a journalist, I explained.
Quick as a flash, she said, "Then you were telling lies, lies, lies. Like the BBC, you hate 'Wo Zhongguo', my China." "

- The article that follows is tiresome and predictable, so I will just make two notes of trivia here:
1. Note that famliar fondness "of mentioning that he is persona non grata in China". The occasion hardly calls for Dr. Mirsky to volunteer that piece of information. Its (boastful?) introduction almost sounds, well, phallic: look at the actors and location of the incident (or a fig of Dr. Mirsky's fantasy): "young Chinese woman", swimming pool, flash of feline passion, etc, etc.
2. 'Wo Zhongguo'? Another example of Dr. Mirsky's questionable grasp of Chinese language. A Chinese would have said "Wo men Zhong guo", or our China. A small deviation, but not one often perpetuated by people who speak competent Mandarin.

@Stinky:

If you find Dr. Mirsky's essay "both long and useful" to you, good for you.

I find the same essay neither "long" nor "useful". But that's perhaps because, unlike George W., I am used to reading longer pieces, and I am very much engaged with China and Chinese history, therefore less likely to be impressed by the information content.

RE the "useful"-ness: where Dr. Mirsky is right, he is not original; where he is original, he is wrong.

Your time will be better spent reading Goldkorn.

Jeremy Goldkorn: "Good writers care about the exact meaning of their words. Writers seeking to speak truth to power should speak truth."

Prof. Mirsky wrote this: "To this day, if the word Tiananmen appears on the Chinese internet, whoever has used or accessed it can expect a knock on the door."

In response, Jeremy Goldkorn wrote that "Mirsky’s assumption that 'Tiananmen' itself refers to the incident inside China is a notion unique to the Western media," while in point of fact his essay says nothing of the sort. If you're going to lecture Professor Mirsky on the importance of “speaking truth,” shouldn't you be willing to do the same? Hmm?

While I agree with you that Mirsky resorts to a bit of exaggeration with respect to the present risks associated with a simple Google.cn search for info on 6/4, he doesn't exaggerate what happened in 1989 itself. Just as important, neither does he exaggerate the nature of the regime or the very real consequences that many in China have faced during the years since 1989 simply for speaking or writing of the event. As I say in my first post, a number of former participants, newspaper editors, television producers and scholars have found themselves out of work in recent years for daring to speak of 1989. True, most haven't been imprisoned. Even so, imprisonment continues to be an option that the regime holds over the heads of those who would speak freely about events of the past - and not just 1989.

Your complaint about Prof. Mirsky’s relatively minor exaggeration notwithstanding, you miss one essential irony - namely, in the twenty years since hundreds of Chinese citizens were killed by their nation’s own military (ironically named the PEOPLE’S LIBERATION ARMY), not one essay of comparable honesty has been published in the P.R.C. As such, your criticism takes on an unpleasant stink. A respected lifelong journalist and scholar of China, you dismiss Prof. Mirsky as if he were some hack blogger. Shame on you. Instead of snidely casting aspersions, perhaps you should thank him for his substantial body of work and politely correct him.

Orpheus: "[U]nlike George W., I am used to reading longer pieces, and I am very much engaged with China and Chinese history, therefore less likely to be impressed by the information content."

Suggesting that you're better informed than the former U.S. president is like saying that you smell better than a pig that's been rolling around in its own excrement. Perhaps you should raise your standards. As for your being "very much engaged with China and Chinese history," please allow me to offer my congratulations. Best of luck to the three of you.

As for my defense of Prof. Mirsky, I take offense at Jeremy's casual dismisal of a man who's done more in service of China studies here in the West than Jeremy and Danwei could ever hope to do.

For that matter, your own criticism (i.e., that Prof. Mirsky's essay is unoriginal) is beside the point. In other words, like so many other essays that have appeared in recent weeks, it was written to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of an event that the CCP will not allow the Chinese themselves to commemorate.

Yes, Mirsky's exaggeration may be relatively minor judged by column inches, but it appears early enough in the piece to cast a shadow over the rest of his essay. Regardless of how worthy the present article and his other scholarship may be, leading off with something that is not only sensational but demonstrably false harms the credibility of what comes after. Mirsky's account of his experiences of the events of 1989 can stand on their own and don't need a sensationalistic lead-in.

Doing so undermines the weight of his testimony and scholarship because people on the other side are able to point to the inaccurate sensationalism and thereby discount everything else he says. I wouldn't do that myself, but it frustrates me that he leaves that opportunity open to those that would downplay or whitewash the events.

The assumption may be unstated, but the only way that Mirsky's "bit of exaggeration" has any meaning at all is if one assumes that "Tiananmen" is identified with "6-4." Look at the article: Mirsky's using "Tiananmen" as a shorthand for the killings and arrests, even the ones outside of Beijing, a use of the word that isn't all that common in Chinese, which further undermines his claim about the Internet.

@Stinky:
As to be expected of someone who is impressed with the length, among other things, of a 2000-word essay, your reading comprehension perhaps doesn't allow you to catch sarcasm easily. You will be among the lucky few who could not, or would not, see that my statement put YOU in the league of George W.. The expression "wallowing in one's happy ignorance" comes to mind, but hey, you seem to like pig analogies.

"I take offense at Jeremy's casual dismisal of a man who's done more in service of China studies here in the West than Jeremy and Danwei could ever hope to do."
- Once again, Dr. Mirsky's "relatively minor exaggeration(s)" are not really that "minor" (see my other posts), unless you feel the difference between the complex reality of China today and the fictional (albeit enlightening) construct of "1984" is minor. Well, I see, being a true ideologue, you may actually be willing to go that far.
Speaking of "1984", so what if we find Dr. Mirsky's exaggerations untrue and objectionable? We should just keep quiet out of deference to the Man? Is self-censorship being suggested here?

Again, Mirsky writes, "To this day, if the word Tiananmen appears on the Chinese internet, whoever has used or accessed it can expect a knock on the door and may join the dozens of Tiananmen activists still in China's jails and labour camps."

At no time, however, does Mirsky claim that the phrase "Tiananmen" (天安门) means the same thing to the Chinese as it does to the average American or European, which is what Jeremey Goldkorn asserts when he writes, "Mirsky's assumption that 'Tiananmen' itself refers to the incident INSIDE CHINA [caps mine] is a notion unique to the Western media." That is, Mirsky NEVER suggests that the average Chinese equates the phrase "Tiananmen" with the events of 6/4/1989. How could he? I'm quite certain that Mirsky is himself perfectly aware that an entire generation of Chinese knows nothing of the events of 6/4/1989.

Mirsky's exaggeration is less a mistake than Jermemy's. In fact, when one considers that the threat of imprionment is indeed real, such overstatement appears relatively minor. Do I wish that Mirsky had refrained from exaggeration? Sure. But his mistake, if we agree to call it that, should not detract from his larger message. Likewise, his mistake does not undermine my claim that Mirsky's piece, however imperfect, is far more honest than anything that's been published in the last 20 years in the P.R.C. This being the case, your objection to Mirsky's act of exaggeration reminds me of the Anti-CNN crowd's objection to a very few mislabled photographs of last year's unrest in Tibet. In other words, the truth of the larger message is obsured by a few minor untruths. Can't see the forest for the trees, and all that.

Finally, the phrase "Tiananmen" is universally synonymous with the events of 6/4 in the West. Mirsky's use of the word is consistent with the manner in which the word is used by scholars, students, journalists, and broadcasters here in the U.S. and in Europe. Even so, at no point in Mirsky's essay does he claim that the phrase means the same thing to the average Chinese, who - as Jeremy Goldkorn correctly points out - are raised on a steady diet of revolutionary songs and May Fourth pseudo-history. In fact, I would argue that this disparity between Chinese and Western understanding of the phrase is sufficient proof of the success of CCP efforts to stifle discussion of 1989.

"As for your being 'very much engaged with China and Chinese history,' please allow me to offer my congratulations."

- Thank you, Stinky. I am an American of Chinese origin, and I actually participated in the June-Fourth Movement (yes, that's the way Chinese refer to it, not "Tiananmen"). I was there in the Square in the evening of 5/19 when a volunteer bicycle messenger approached our group and alerted us of the military trucks coming, and how I though how she's like a woman Paul Revere that I read in history books. I was there in front of the trucks facing the sentinel behind the hood, alarmed at the fact that his helmet was pulled so low that I couldn't see his eyes. I was also there, ashamed by the arrogant hubris of some of my fellow students, when an old lady patiently stepped forward to sweep the shreds of broken beer bottles that's littered everywhere in the Square, thinking what would my own granny would have said to me.
That's why I stay engaged in Chinese history, taking offense at any distortion of it, in any way, out of any motivation, as an unforgivable sacrilege to the dead and to those who actually made a sacrifice.
That seems the right thing to do. I therefore accept your congratulation.

At no time, however, does Mirsky claim that the phrase "Tiananmen" (天安门) means the same thing to the Chinese as it does to the average American or European

By suggesting that the barest mention of Tiananmen will bring police to your door, Mirsky is equating "Tiananmen" to 6-4. But the term "Tiananmen" has a much broader range of meaning on the Chinese Internet, and if anything, 6-4 (in Chinese) is the more sensitive term.

the truth of the larger message is obsured by a few minor untruths

This I entirely agree with, but here the minor untruths are so baldly sensationalistic and so clearly wrong that it detracts from the piece as a whole.

I object to mislabeled photographs because I hope for good, careful journalism, and also because I don't want to give the Anti-CNN crowd any more ammunition.

I dislike the presence of this paragraph in Mirsky's piece because I don't want to give the whitewashers any more ammunition. The facts are convincing enough on their own. They don't need to be sexed up with scenes of police beating on the doors because of an Internet search.

Well, some of us participated the movement and came to US in early 90s; could we perhaps be better qualified to bridge "this disparity between Chinese and Western understanding of the phrase" in sipte of "the success of CCP efforts to stifle discussion of 1989"?

No, because we were still "raised on a steady diet of revolutionary songs and May Fourth pseudo-history. "

It doesn't need pointing out, I hope, that it was the generation with that diet in their belly that proved capable of the initiative of 1989, while some pseudo-intellectuals were relishing their long-held prejudices and false assumptions in the safety of western liberal democracies. Lucky you.

Recommended reading: Lionel Trilling, "Sincerity and Autehnticity".
If that essay proves too long to you, reflect merely on the title.

Orpheus -

I remarked on the length of Mirsky's essay in order to shed some light on the relative brevity of the offending passage and to suggest that what comes after might be worth reading. No, I'm not advocating anything as dramatic as self-censorship. That's only for Chinese writers. As I wrote earlier, where Mirsky's exaggerations are concerned, I'm suggesting that Jeremy might have corrected him without resorting to condescension and mistakes of his own. Unlike you and Jeremy, I believe that "the Man" deserves our respect.

Concerning your recent comments regarding my poor reading comprehension (gasp!) and failure to recognize myself in your too-clever-for-me-to-get reference to "George W." (double gasp!), I have no intelligent comment to offer you. (Perhaps due to my poor reading skills and W.-like poverty of intellect.) Likewise your assertions regarding my alleged ideology and the novel confound me. (Or is it that they bore me? After all, you're not the first at Danwei.org to accuse me of kneejerk anti-CCPism, and I am fond of Orwell.)

Yes, by all means - more pig analogies. Shouldn't be too hard for someone with your impressive credentials - i.e. Popper, Arendt, Berlin, etc. (I nearly shat myself when I realized how smart you must be.)

Joel: "By suggesting that the barest mention of Tiananmen will bring police to your door, Mirsky is equating 'Tiananmen' to 6-4. But the term 'Tiananmen' has a much broader range of meaning on the Chinese Internet, and if anything, 6-4 (in Chinese) is the more sensitive term."

If Jeremy had simply taken offense at Mirsky's exaggeration, I never would have commented. Jeremy, however, goes on to claim that Mirsky argues that "Tiananmen" (or 天安门) holds the same mental associations for the average Chinese that it does for the average American or European. This, Joel, Mirsky does NOT do. Furthermore, Jeremy makes this claim using patently condescending language (Jeremy: “It shows how deeply out of touch China specialists can get when they never visit China.”). It’s one thing to take exception to Mirsky’s exaggeration; it’s quite another to mischaracterize his exaggeration.

I don’t understand the objection to Mirsky’s use of the phrase “Tiananmen” as shorthand for the events of 1989. In fact, as I’ve said before, this is consistent with the manner in which the phrase is used by everyone in the West. If Mirsky were writing in Chinese for a Chinese audience, he would write instead of 6/4 or 六四事件, but he’s not. Conversely, if he were to write of 6/4 or六四事件 when addressing a Western audience, no one would understand him. In other words, when Mirsky writes, “If the word Tiananmen appears on the Chinese internet, whoever has used or accessed it can expect a knock on the door,” what an English-speaking American hears is, “If a Chinese person searches the Chinese internet for info on 6/4…” An American gets this, because “Tiananmen” refers to 6/4. At no point in his essay does Mirsky argue that the average Chinese sees the phrase 天安门 and thinks of 1989. Mirsky never assumes, as Jeremy writes, that “‘Tiananmen’ itself refers to the incident inside China.” Jeremy was wrong to say so.

I agree that Mirsky exaggerates. I also agree that his essay is less convincing (though not unconvincing) because he exaggerates. I do not agree, however, that Mirsky does what Jeremy says he does. In addition, I believe that Jeremy’s comment regarding China specialists is buffoonish. In response to my first comment, Jeremy wrote, “Writers seeking to speak truth to power should speak truth” - this in spite of the fact that Jeremy himself resorts to false accusation.

Joel: "That's the assumption inherent in Mirsky's piece, one without which his Internet reference falls apart completely."

In this instance, it's a perfectly reasonable assumption for Mirsky to make. The Western association of "Tiananmen" with the events of 1989 is solid enough that his argument doesn’t suffer. His claim regarding the consequences of a Chinese internet search for 6/4 info, however, doesn’t bear up as well.

I can imagine an English-speaking Chinese reading Mirsky's piece and being confused at the use of "Tiananmen," in no small part because s/he may have heard little about 6/4. The vast majority of Americans, however, understand that "Tiananmen" refers first to the massacre, not the public square or the entrance to the imperial palace.

Consider, for example, someone who grew up never hearing of the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. To this person, the phrase "Pearl Harbor" might simply call to mind the military base. To most Americans, however, it refers unambiguously to the Japanese attack in 1941. The same thing goes for "Nanjing." The average Chinese hears or reads 南京 and thinks of the city, not the massacre (大屠杀). The average well-informed American, however, hears "Nanjing" and immediately thinks of the "Rape of Nanjing." Indeed, the "Rape" is the average American's only point of reference with respect to Nanjing. In fact, my guess is that the West's association of the phrase "Tiananmen" with the events of 1989 is even less subject to competing interpretations.

My comment got lost in the aether, but that's a decent response. Thanks.

Joel -

One last point. If you doubt that Americans identify the phrase "Tiananmen" with 6/4, do a Google search next time you're in the U.S. As of this morning, the entire first page of results offers nothing but references to 1989 (Wikipedia's entry being first). In addition, the first page of a Google image search returns 17 images related to the massacre (the remaining 3 images concern the public square).

I don't doubt it at all. And that's sort of the point - if instead of writing "if the word Tiananmen appears on the Chinese internet," Mirsky had written something like "if Tiananmen is referred to on the Chinese internet" in that paragraph, I'd only fault him for sensationalism.

Mirsky's assertion is not an exaggeration. It's utterly false. And it's still utterly false even if he means June 4. It's the sort of claptrap I'd expect to see from a schoolboy who has never been to China, not from someone with decades of reporting and writing on the country.

Referring to June 4 in Chinese is a good way to get deleted or blocked on the Internet. Continued campaigning on the issue is a good way to get yourself locked up or under house arrest. But I think Lian Yue, Wang Xiaoshan and Wang Xiaofeng would have been astonished if they had received a "knock on the door" last June. So would all their readers.

@Stinky: I read your posts with diminishing annoyance and increasing boredom. I have noticed that you avoided all points of argument that can actually be proven true or false (yeah, that's Popper; now wipe yourself clean), and instead resort to pure rhetorics and faux-self-deprecating snide remarks. I see no point-to-point counter-argument to any specific correction that I among others have filed against Dr. Mirsky's essay. Are facts less interesting to you, or do you simply realize they're not exactly your forte?
That like-minded ideological contempt for facts aside, I take back my prior accusation of "ideologue"; that would have been an insult to authentic ideologues.

Orpheus, if you're bored, then you're welcome to leave the thread. If you stay, please refrain from making the discussion about the personalities involved rather than the issues.

"......his mistake does not undermine my claim that Mirsky's piece, however imperfect, is far more honest than anything that's been published in the last 20 years in the P.R.C. "
- That seems to be a very bold, sweeping claim, but it isn't: Stinky carefully limited the scope of comparison to "P.R.C.". The fact that Mirsky's own criticism was not published in P.R.C., which would make the comparison meaningless, obviously seems beside the point to Stinky. As everyone here is fully aware, the "June 4" discussion has been strictly censored in China. Even apart from the many exaggerations and errors of Mirsky's writing, I wouldn't find his "honesty" so commendable coming from someone writing in the safety of a Western liberal democracy. It requires little courage to be a China-basher in the West. If your claim implies some sort of moral superiority to Chinese commentators living in China, shame on you and Mirsky.

Check this from Bodeen: link

This tends to support Mirsky's (admittedly hyperbolic) argument that 20 years later the gov't still goes nuts when it comes to 1989. As for what he says about the internets, cut the guy some slack, he's nearly 80 years old.

Dammit Jeremy, "However, there has been some good writing on the 20 year anniversary published in the Western media; see the links below. " and then go on to link to the Global Times article (which is complete and utter CRAP)!?!? C'mon!

The Global Times is not part of the Western media Zuo Ai. The link is to the source of the quote used in the post.

Of course life goes (for those who could hang on to it) on and there is another day. But people do remember and have their own stories and interpretations about the event. But Global Times' article is crap - it mentions the name of the event but evades the issues that the paper is free or able to seriously discuss about. Such as who was the winner of J4? Neither the tank man (or Mr Mirsky) nor the tanks.

Orpheus: "Stinky carefully limited the scope of comparison to 'P.R.C.'. The fact that Mirsky's own criticism was not published in P.R.C., which would make the comparison meaningless, obviously seems beside the point to Stinky."

Indeed, I'm aware that the CCP has prevented discussion of 6/4. It may seem to you that I am stating the obvious when I say that this is my point. That is, Jeremy Goldkorn’s casual dismissal of Mirsky’s essay seems to miss the more important point – namely, as imperfect as it is, Mirsky’s piece is still better than anything that’s ever been published in the P.R.C. The irony of Jeremy’s criticism is underscored by his apparent excitement over the meager sterility of the Global Times’ own reference to 6/4. It’s perfectly reasonable to wish that Mirsky (or his editor) had exercised a bit of rhetorical restraint and/or bothered to fact-check his essay prior to publishing it. But to lay into Mirsky failings with such condescension and inaccuracy, while saying virtually nothing at all regarding the anemic Global Times piece, is unseemly – particularly when you consider that Mirsky, mistakes aside, is a far more substantial intellect than Jeremy Goldkorn. That said, what I am NOT doing is making a case in favor of the idea that Mirsky's essay is the best available source of info on 6/4. Nor am I particularly attached to a particular view of Mirsky as a scholar/journalist. (I wouldn’t, for example, include his essay on a reading list on 6/4.) When I describe his essay as "useful" in an earlier comment, I mean simply that it serves a particular purpose – i.e., like the hundreds of other essays that have appeared in the WESTERN press in recent weeks, it commemorates, albeit imperfectly, an act of extreme violence against the Chinese people that they themselves are prevented from commemorating. I wish there were more like it. Quibble about Mirsky’s lazy rhetoric and factual errors, if you must. (I’ve already agreed that his is not the best account of events.) For my part, I prefer to thank him – and every other writer - for doing his part to remind us about 1989. In the case of a journalistic piece such as this one, I expect very little. It’s sufficient that it was published and bears a resemblance to the truth. I’ll go elsewhere for good information. You write, “Where Mirsky is correct, he is unoriginal; where he is original, he is wrong.” As far as I’m concerned, in a journalistic piece about 6/4, minor factual errors and rhetorical indiscretions don’t distract me from the greater truth of his message. To borrow a baseball/cricket analogy, you and Jeremy have taken your eyes off the ball.

Orpheus: “I read your posts with diminishing annoyance and increasing boredom. I have noticed that you avoided all points of argument that can actually be proven true or false (yeah, that's Popper; now wipe yourself clean), and instead resort to pure rhetorics and faux-self-deprecating snide remarks.”

Snide remarks are my specialty (yours too, it seems). Go somewhere else (e.g. a graduate school seminar) for high-minded discourse. I responded to Jeremy’s post in order to express my lack of enthusiasm for the Global Times’ recent reference to 6/4 and to take exception with his 1) apparent condescension with respect to Mirsky, and 2) his mischaracterization of Mirsky’s error. You see, Jeremy doesn’t simply correct Mirsky’s unfortunate exaggeration regarding the dangers of doing a Google.cn search for info on 6/4, he resorts to calumny. Jeremy’s only response to my accusation has been to suggest that, “Those who seek to speak truth to power must themselves speak the truth.” One wishes that Jeremy had taken his own advice. As for your comments regarding Mirsky’s multiple factual errors, I’ve already said my piece. They’re unfortunate, sure. But they do not fatally compromise what I believe is the underlying truth of his essay, which is that the Chinese people are prevented from speaking about the killing of hundreds of their compatriots by a thuggish government that (economic progress aside) is as corrupt and brutal as it ever was to those who dare to even modestly challenge its monopoly on political speech. In other words, Mirsky may have overstated the danger of doing a Google.cn search; he did not, however, overstate the danger of engaging in unauthorized political discourse. THAT is the take home message of Mirsky’s piece. This being the case, the specific details of Mirsky’s various failures are not so interesting to me. Like you, I’m accustomed to encountering factual errors about China in the Western press, and for the most part they no longer upset me. In other words, I’m not here to bicker with you or anyone else about Mirsky. He is not what interests me.

Thanks, Orpheus, for recommending Trilling and Arendt. In fact, along with Orwell, they are two of my favorite writers. While I’ve read a bit of Popper, Stuart Mill, and de Tocqueville, I’m afraid that I’m no match for you – more a listener than a purveyor of opinions where they are concerned. As for Berlin, I prefer Irving to Isaiah (jazz fan and all that). Same goes for the Federalist Papers – I prefer FedEx. Suffice to say that after 11 years of graduate school (3 in Beijing), my wife and I have amassed quite a few books. I’d recommend of few of my own to you, but I’m afraid that would make me look like a pretentious prick. Wouldn’t want that. I’d much rather be friends.

Finally, like you, Orpheus, I am also a Chinese-American, though unlike you, I didn’t observe the events in Beijing in 1989 first-hand. Instead, I experienced them from the relative safety of my middle school classroom in Hong Kong. The most traumatic thing that happened there was that a couple of my teachers cursed the CCP and broke down in tears when discussing the killings. Even so, 1989 marks the awakening of my political consciousness. My own experience is no less valid than yours. Take the stick out of your rear end.

Stinky:

"The irony of Jeremy’s criticism is underscored by his apparent excitement over the meager sterility of the Global Times’ own reference to 6/4."

You are the only one who appears to be excited. My words were:

The lead is buried, but the story has broken state-owned Chinese media's silence on what they call 'June 4 incident'

This is a fact.

Jonathan Mirsky wrote:

To this day, if the word Tiananmen appears on the Chinese internet, whoever has used or accessed it can expect a knock on the door and may join the dozens of Tiananmen activists still in China's jails and labour camps.

That is not a fact.

Jeremy -

Two responses from you and you still have not addressed the fact that you were wrong about Mirsky assuming that, in your words, "'Tiananmen' itself refers to the incident inside China..." Mirsky never said this, and you have not admitted that you were wrong. Mirsky NEVER suggested that the phrase "Tiananmen" (or 天安门) means the same thing to the average Chinese that it does to members of Mirsky's English-speaking audience.

I've said repeatedly (in my first comment, no less) that Mirsky exaggerated about doing a Google.cn search. That he exaggerated is not in question. That you, Jeremy Goldkorn, put words into Mirsky's mouth - THAT is my point.

Finally, that you felt strongly enough about the Global Times' mention of 6/4 to post it here at Danwei is implicit evidence of your excitement. If you hadn't been excited, you would not have done so.

Yes, Mirsky did not say that, but as you yourself acknowledge up-thread, that particular paragraph in his article relies on the (non-Chinese) reader's assumption that "Tiananmen"="6/4". "Mirsky's assumption" in this case refers to "the assumption underlying Mirsky's article." You could make an argument that the post as it stands is ambiguous, but it's not a case of putting words into Mirsky's mouth.

Joel: "[Mirsky's] article relies on the (non-Chinese) reader's assumption that 'Tiananmen' = '6/4'."

Good night! Not more of this. Yes, Mirsky does make the assumption. But he does so because this is how most English-speaking people here in the U.S. refer to the events of June 1989. As such, it's not only reasonable, it's proper. If I ask you, "How do you feel about Abu Ghraib," would you respond by answering, "Are you referring to the quality of its construction, its history of use during Saddam Hussein's tenure as Iraq's president, or the recent acts of prisoner abuse by U.S. military personnel that took place there?" To the average American, the phrase "Abu Ghraib" (a place name like "Tiananmen") is synonymous with the U.S. military's abuse of prisoners. Such is the case with the phrase "Tiananmen" - i.e., the average English-speaker (perhaps not a China person like yourself) thinks of the Tank Man and the killings. Mirsky was correct to refer to 6/4 as "Tiananmen" when addressing a large, English-speaking audience. On the other hand, Jeremy was wrong to suggest that Mirsky claims that it means the same to the Chinese for whom 6/4 is a big mystery and for whom the phrase 天安门 has multiple associations. Again, Jeremy was correct in claiming that Mirsky exaggerates the danger of doing a Google.cn search for 天安门; he was completely wrong otherwise.

Now we're talking past each other. My point is that "Mirsky's assumption" in the post above is intended to be read as "the assumption underlying Mirsky's article," which is that people in the west associate Tiananmen with the events of 6/4, while that's not the same in China. You write that, I agree with it. You can't then turn around and say that that identity is not an assumption underlying the article.

Joel –
I never said that identity was unimportant. Clearly, how one understands the phrase “Tiananmen” (or 天安门) depends on one’s identity. I would never argue otherwise.

1. Mirsky refers to the events of June 1989 using the phrase "Tiananmen."

2. Mirsky's use of the phrase "Tiananmen" is consistent with its use by other American (i.e., English-speaking) journalists, scholars, media people, and lay persons familiar with said events. In fact, Jeremy Goldkorn himself appears to agree with this when he suggests that, “Mirsky's assumption…is a notion unique to the Western media.” Indeed it is. This is what makes Mirsky’s usage proper.

3. Chinese people, if they refer to the events of June 1989 at all, do not refer to them using the phrase "Tiananmen" (or 天安门).

4. Mirsky never claims in his recent essay in the British journal Standpoint that Chinese people refer to the events of June 1989 using the phrase "Tiananmen" (or 天安门).

5. Jeremy Goldkorn wrongly accuses Mirsky of claiming that the Chinese refer to the events of June 1989 using the phrase "Tiananmen" (or 天安门). As I say in No. 4, Mirsky does no such thing.

6. Americans and Chinese refer to the events of June 1989 differently. There are many reasons for this. To the average (i.e., non-China person) American, there is typically just one mental association connected to the phrase "Tiananmen." To the average Chinese, however, the phrase "Tiananmen" calls to mind a number of mental associations, most of which have nothing to do with the events of June 1989.

7. When you consider that many Chinese (e.g., the so-called 八十后 generation) know nothing about the events of 1989, it would be foolish to assert that the phrase "Tiananmen" (or 天安门) means the same thing to the average Chinese that it does to the average American. Conversely, when you consider that the average American knows very little about China, much less about the history of Tiananmen Square or the gate to the imperial palace that lends it its name, it would be equally foolish to assert that the average American must choose between many competing associations when confronted with the phrase "Tiananmen." In short, ambiguity exists for the average Chinese; it does not for the average American.

8. Identity, politics, and the media each plays an important role in determining the meaning(s) that one associates with the phrase “Tiananmen” (or 天安门). A person who is born and raised in Beijing, for example, is unlikely to associate the phrase “Tiananmen” (or 天安门) with the events of June 1989. The typical American, however, is unlikely to associate the phrase “Tiananmen” with anything but the events of June 1989.

9. Mirsky is wrong to suggest that a simple Google.cn search for “Tiananmen” (or 天安门) will land the average Chinese person in prison. The fact that there continue to be severe consequences for some forms of political speech in China does not make Mirsky’s assertion true. In point of fact, a simple (e.g., no proxy) Google.cn search for the phrase “Tiananmen” (or 天安门) is not dangerous – it returns information on the public square or the gate leading into the imperial palace and nothing about the events of June 1989. Likewise, a simple Google.cn search for the phrases 6/4, 六四, or 六四事件is most unlikely to lead to the kinds of consequences that Mirsky describes. Rather, such a search is likely to result in no search returns at all, a warning from the “net nanny,” and (perhaps) loss of internet service. For the average Chinese to experience the kinds of sanctions that Mirsky describes, s/he would need to engage in a much more public form of political discourse.

10. Mirsky exaggerated and got a few facts wrong. Jeremy Goldkorn, unimpressed with Mirsky’s apparent ignorance or affinity for overstatement, took offense and criticized him in patently dismissive and condescending terms. Moreover, Jeremy Goldkorn also engaged in fabrication with respect to Mirsky’s claims regarding use of the phrase “Tiananmen” (or 天安门).

11. Jeremy Goldkorn has not admitted that he was wrong.

Thanks for the point-by-point. In reply to #10 and #11, I'll repeat for a third time, "Mirsky's assumption" in the post above is intended to be read as "the assumption underlying Mirsky's article." The sentence you take issue with may be ambigious but it is not intended to put words into Mirksy's mouth, only to highlight the assumption underlying his essay, an assumption you take no issue with.

Consider:

1. "...if the events of June Fourth are mentioned on the Chinese Internet, whoever has used or accessed it can expect a knock on the door..." -- a great exaggeration, but not one that ignores the other meanings of Tiananmen in Chinese society.

2. "...if the word Tiananmen appears on the Chinese internet, whoever has used or accessed it can expect a knock on the door..." -- a great exaggeration, and one that relies on the underlying assumption mentioned above in order to make any sense at all.

That's all that "Mirsky's assumption" -- the assumption underlying that paragraph -- means.

god, they did?

Joel -

Jeremy Goldkorn calls out Mirsky for his exaggeration. This I get, even if I fail to share Jeremy’s chagrin. As I wrote in an earlier comment, if Jeremy had stopped there, with a polite correction regarding the dangers of a Google.cn search for info on 6/4, I never would have commented.

Jeremy goes on, however, to put words in Mirsky's mouth, and to do so with apparent contempt. Call it pique. Call it a poor choice of words. Call it the monthlies. Call it a mistake. Whatever you call it, Jeremy was wrong to suggest that Mirsky asserted in his essay that "Tiananmen" means the same thing to the Chinese that it means to Americans. I've been accused in this thread of poor reading comprehension, but this isn't an example of that. Jeremy's sentence, "Mirsky's assumption that 'Tiananmen' itself refers to the incident inside China is a notion unique to the Western media. In the Mainland, the word refers to a central location in Beijing that has many, many associations beyond the 1989 events," is superfluous at best - deliberately false at worst. Mirsky makes no such assumption. It may be true that some members of Mirsky's audience (e.g., English-speaking Chinese and Jeremy Goldkorn) confuse his use of the phrase "Tiananmen" to mean something other than the events of 6/4. However, I can assure you that most Americans do not. In the end, it's Jeremy's assumption, not Mirsky's, that's in question here. My guess is that Jeremy is less familiar with use of the phrase "Tiananmen" here in the U.S. than Mirsky and I am. As I wrote earlier, a Google search for "Tiananmen" here returns almost nothing but info on 6/4 – sufficient proof that “Tiananmen” refers to 6/4 here. If Mirsky suspected that much of his readership was Chinese, he might have done better to briefly explain that the phrase "Tiananmen" is used in the West to refer to the events of June 1989 in Beijing but that the Chinese use various other phrases such as “6/4.” This, however, isn't absolutely necessary as context and common usage make it perfectly clear what he's writing about. Jeremy's claim assumes that 1) Mirsky's readership doesn't refer to 6/4 using the phrase "Tiananmen" and is confused by his idiosyncratic diction, 2) Mirsky himself is confused about said usage, and 3) that the greater part of his audience sees the phrase "Tiananmen" and thinks of the square or the gate or the children’s song. In short, Jeremy’s assumption is that "Tiananmen" leads to multiple associations in the minds of average Americans. It doesn’t. Each and every time Mirsky uses the phrase “Tiananmen” (unless, of course, it is followed by the word “square”), it refers to 6/4. There is no ambiguity. His minor exaggeration aside, if Mirsky is guilty of anything it is in assuming that everyone who reads his essay is either a native English-speaking Brit or American. Why should he assume otherwise. Don’t Chinese authors generally assume a Chinese readership?

Finally, as Neema Tsao suggests in an earlier comment, Mirsky is nearly 80 years old. While it’s appropriate to correct his errors, to dismiss him by writing, “[Mirsky’s] ridiculous exaggeration… shows how deeply out of touch China specialists can get when they never visit China.” This is most ungenerous of Jeremy. Is he suggesting that the elderly Mirsky continue to visit to China? How often? Does the fact that he’s nearly 80 and banned from traveling to China count for anything? And where Mirsky’s exaggeration is concerned, does the fact that police have swarmed the square in recent days, obstructed members of the foreign media, detained a number of human rights activists and former “troublemakers,” and shutdown Hotmail and several other websites not mitigate against such a contemptuous dismissal? When considering Mirsky’s indiscretions, should one not keep in mind that underlying the former scholar-journalist’s flawed essay is the idea that political speech in China can still be very, very dangerous? Is it inappropriate to expect Jeremy Goldkorn to treat an elderly China-hand who lets fly with a few misremembered facts and exaggerations a bit more gently? Is it really necessary for him to so clearly demonstrate his lack of magnanimity? After all, if he is fortunate enough to live as long as Mirsky has, will the body of work he leaves behind be as substantial? For that matter, will Jeremy’s memory at 80 be any better than Mirsky’s? Only if he’s lucky.

It appears that the NY Times is as excited as Jeremy Goldkorn about the Global Times' recent mention of 6/4. link

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