Donald Trump and China: Read This before You Vote
In the late summer of 1989, I was a doctoral student in American studies. Strangely, there were often many people majoring in American studies from other countries. I had friends from all over the world – France, India, South Korea, Iceland, Austria…and China.
My Chinese friend, Q (not his real name), went home that summer.
I was in my office when he returned, watching the small black-and-white Goodwill-bought television (ask your parents, kids) I had brought in to make the place I spent most of my time more like the place I wanted to spend most of my time. The boxes I hauled up the four flights of stairs (no, we didn't have an elevator; it was an old building) also contained a 60-cup percolator, a refrigerator box we turned into a closet, a microwave oven, a hot pot (again, kids, ask your parents), and a pull-out cot. We kept family-size jars of peanut butter and jelly, loaves of bread, and Costco-sized boxes of Ramen noodles.
We spent a lot of time there. The people on our floor became very close.
Since it was summer, there were a lot of people I hadn't seen in a while, and Q was one of them.
I didn't even have a chance to say hello as he came through my door before he threw a stack of photos on my desk.
"Here," he said, tersely. "This is what they won't show you. This is what happened there."
I had been vaguely aware of recent unrest in China; I'd been busy working on a grant proposal I hoped would fund the rest of my dissertation work. The TV received three stations (sometimes), and I rarely made time for news.
I looked at the pictures. And then I looked again. And then I picked them up, and went through them, one by one.
"Tanks," he said.
I stared at him. "But these can't be –"
"People," he said.
I slowly went through the pictures again, my eyes blurring with uncontrolled tears. The room seemed to shudder just a bit. I suddenly felt unmoored from the civilized world.
He didn't explain it then, but I would later learn the background for the pictures. Upon the death of a Communist Party leader who had widely been regarded as a liberal reformer, students took to the streets both in mourning and to mount a pro-democracy protest. They wanted government accountability and the same freedoms of speech and press that we protect in our own First Amendment (because such inalienable rights belong to all people everywhere). They stayed in the square, in hunger strikes and peaceful protest. At some points, it was estimated that there were a million people in the square. At one point, a statue was raised as the "Goddess of Democracy," designed to resemble our own statue of liberty. Sympathetic protests by students and non-students alike popped up in hundreds of Chinese cities.
The protest lasted six weeks and six days.
It ended only after the government of Deng Xiaoping declared martial law. Troops were sent in to quell the dissenters.
Perhaps you have seen the famous picture of the lone protester known to this day only as "Tank Man" – the man standing in front of the tank and refusing to move. That man did in fact stop the tank, and he climbed up into the turret so he could use the PA system to address the crowd. But when he went back in front of the tank, he was pulled away, and the tank continued on its way.
The pictures I saw were of people who didn't stop the tanks. The pictures I saw were of people who were stopped by the tanks – murdered by their government.
The pictures I saw were smuggled out of China. They were unauthorized. They were forbidden.
Because they were the truth.
These pictures were amateurish. There were no soft-focus lenses, no gauzy filters – just blood and brain matter and gore and grue.
And there was no looking away.
If you didn't know what it was, you could never have put it together in your head.
But I knew what it was.
It was people.
It was friends of my friend, who were crying out for reform in one of the most repressive nations in the world, their protests and their bodies literally crushed.
Q and I sat silent, for there was nothing left to say. It was over. It had happened. Nothing could be done now. It was just a horrible, horrible fact of history, soon to be forgotten by the wider world, its former urgency replaced by other events, in other places.
A year later, in a Playboy interview, here is what Donald Trump said of the Chinese government's handling of the Tiananmen Square massacre:
When the students poured into Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government almost blew it. Then they were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength. That shows you the power of strength. Our country is right now perceived as weak … as being spit on by the rest of the world –
Then the interviewer changed the subject.
So, no, Trump fans, I will not vote for this man. Not in the primary, not in the general.
I saw the pictures. Nothing can excuse that statement.
This man is a monster. And he can't have my vote.
Don't give him yours. For freedom's sake.