Ian and I went back to take a proper look at the Er’qi tower. It’s a memorial to railway strikers who were massacred in 1923 by warlords defending the interests of the companies building the Beijing-Hankou railway. The working conditions, particularly in the long tunnels through the mountainous regions, were appalling, and strikes by the railway workers spread from Beijing to Zhengzhou, where the massacre took place. On each of the nine floors of the tower (which we climbed!) there are eulogies to the bravery of these people who stood up to the ‘rule of law’. This seems ironic in light of the Chinese government’s current curtailment of Trades Unions and the right to strike. But, of course, the ‘rule of law’ in 1923 was designed to protect imperial capitalists and warlords, the enemies of the Communist Party, for whom this massacre was a decisive moment in the revolution!
We are all complicit
Since we came back from China, I’ve been asked about the detention of possibly millions of Uyghur Muslims from Xinjang region in ‘re-education’ camps. I looked at a BBC report which included a statement from a regional leader describing the camps as 'vocational education centres' designed to 'stave off terrorism'. Then I looked at another BBC report, using satellite photography to determine the scale of these internment camps. Remembering that our friend Jiang (see May posting) grew up in Xinjang, and talked of schooldays in which his friendships were forged across religious and ethnic differences, I asked him about these reports. He replied in an uncharacteristically terse message that his Muslim friends in Xinjang said that these reports were exaggerated, and were probably anti-government propaganda. I realised that this is not a conversation to pursue on WeChat. So I dug a little deeper and found a report on the US and UK companies, like JP Morgan, currently profiting from all the security and surveillance equipment which is being used to target and detain Muslims. Meanwhile Britain continues to sell millions of pounds worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia and I think I'd rather be 're-educated' than bombed.
We were visiting this tower on the last weekend of the school holidays. On every floor, and even on the staircase, parents would push their children towards us, saying, "Look! Speak English" and they'd get us to pose with their children who could just about stutter "How are you? Where are you from?" In the whole two weeks we spent in Zhengzhou, going out into the city most days, we were treated like welcome celebrities and we didn't see any other Europeans.
The day to day account of our travels was posted on a "Psychedelic travellers" WhatsApp group and a "Julia and Ian in China" WeChat group. So postings after October are summaries and reflections. To follow the story in chronological order, work your way back through the archives from March. Why "Psychedelic Travellers"? - see Los Otros Home Page.