Where Were You?

All China hands of a certain age recall with perfect clarity where they were on June 4, 1989, especially as we approach the 20th anniversary of those events.  The following is my brief anecdote on this subject:

I spent the period July 1988 to July 1989 on a State Department professional development program on loan to GE, based at the company’s (then) Asia headquarters in HK.  One of my projects was the planning and implementation of a weeklong trip to China for a group of young, “fast-track” GE execs.  The group was participating in a three-month training program at GE’s management school aimed at giving them an understanding of global business.  The China part of the program I had put together kicked off on June 1, 1989 with a couple of days of briefings in HK.

On June 4th I was with the group in Guangzhou, our first stop on the mainland before our planned travel to Beijing.  We had a lunch hosted by local officials and business people in a private dining room at a hotel, as previously planned.  The hosts had a TV brought into the room.  They kept it on through the meal, thoughtfully switching back and forth between the Chinese and English language HK TV stations (which were accessible in Guangzhou) so they and our group could follow the continuing unfolding of the unbelievable events up north.  It was a surreal experience to say the least.

Sitting at that meal we were able to get the fresh and uncensored reactions of our Chinese hosts.  They left a deep impression.  Their attitude is best summarized as: “ALL those people in Beijing – officials and students – are crazy.  We just hope they leave us alone so we can continue to make money down here”.

I would guess that as the days and weeks went by our Chinese hosts formed more developed views on the righteousness or stupidity of the student and the government actions.  And I’d guess that more than a few had friends, colleagues, or relatives in Beijing whose experiences brought the events home to them in a very personal way.  However, I was struck at the time by the way our hosts local identity (Guangdong, southern China) trumped their national identity and how clear they were about their priorities (commercial activity).

Some things never change.

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Explore posts in the same categories: China, Economy, Human Rights

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