Patriotism at the expense of another nation is as wicked as racism at the expense of another race…Let us resolve to be patriots always, nationalists never.
– Rev. William Sloane Coffin
Today at 2:28pm, the entire Chinese nation stood at attention for three minutes to remember the victims of the Sichuan Earthquake. Today’s edition of the Chengdu Economic Daily came out at noon and was dressed in mourning.
In the center of the city, Tianfu Plaza, thousands of people gathered at the appointed time and bowed their heads in silence as air sirens and car horns blared throughout the three minutes. A clarion call of sorrow. The country will be at half-mast for the next three days.
Afterward, the crowd chanted “Go China!” several times to show support not only for the people affected by the earthquake, but also the nation as a whole. China has had an eventful year. They are gearing up for the main event this summer.
We in the West have very bad associations with nationalism; we know what horrors have been done in the name of the state. Here as well, the people have suffered under state-sponsored programs carried out by zealous patriots throughout the last century.
Is it possible to have a benevolent, peaceful wave of patriotic love that could surge across China’s borders? I think that entirely depends on how the world reacts to a nation bursting with pride and emotion, as China is now.
Imagine if China, in a gesture born of brimming passion and goodwill, invited the Dalai Lama to the Olympics and sat with him as cousins should. Imagine if all of the western politicians who have threatened to boycott the Opening Ceremony quietly re-considered, and came anyway.
In a refugee camp in Mianzhu, a couple guys were passing out leaflets to all the refugees. The leaflets were from the Police Bureau letting everyone know that rumors of Tibetans roaming the camps stealing stuff was false and inflammatory. In every place I visited, they called my “an international friend” and thanked me, spoke with me, offered me a seat and some water.
We’ll see where China channels all of this new energy.