More on that May 8th 1999 bombing: young Chinese saw 9/11 as just desserts

Following on from Jack’s thoughts on the ten year anniversary of the NATO bombing of China’s embassy in Belgrade, I asked the younger Tony (former secretary general of the model UN, if you remember) for his take. I myself find how Tony’s classmates seemed to have been indoctrinated against the US in ’99, and then reacted to 9/11 as a result, fascinating…


I was still in primary school when the accident happened. That was a gloomy Monday, May 10th, 1999. Early in the morning after the flag-raising ceremony, the headmaster came to the front, protested against the US-lead NATO, and asked all the students to repeat him, sentence after sentence. I guessed primary schools, junior and senior highs and universities were using the same protesting words, full of various “-isms”. We could not grab the whole meaning of the slogans. We just repeated them.

On my way back home, buses were rushing on the street, sending protesting college students to the US embassy. Dazzling red flags hung on the outside of the buses, indicating which university they belonged to. Later on came the evening newspaper, in which Xinhua published photos of furious citizens throwing stones to the embassy.

I wasn’t exited at that time, nor indifferent. Just like many other classmates, I was watching the fun.

That reminds me of the day after September 11th, 2001, when I was in junior high. At that time, it was routine for us to write short articles and hand them in every week to our Chinese teacher, who was a middle-aged lady, strict but respectable. I cannot explain why, all of a sudden, everyone was writing under the title “US was bombed” unanimously. Even more ridiculous, all told the story with a cynical tone, saying “this was the revenge that the US deserved to get”, without a single word related to terrorism, without any feeling of compassion. After all, the mass media didn’t say such things, and neither did my family members.

We were scolded by our teacher the next day. “Don’t you have friends and relatives in the US? How can you be so cold, indifferent, or even teasing when you saw families losing their members and desperate people anxiously waiting for their relatives to be rescued out of ruins. You are taking pleasure in other’s misfortune. That is shameful.” These are the words I will never forget in my life.

In regards to Chinese nationalism, it is too vague a concept for me to define. The Chinese are prone to describe the Western world as “diversified”, without noticing its universal ethics and beliefs. Similarly, when it comes to nationalism, the western side tends to take China as a single monolithic actor, but they overlook its diversity of ideas, mixed and disorderly during the transformation era.

I began to understand that my two experiences are inter-related. Yes, the United States had done shameful things and China has the right to protest, to impose pressure against the US government.

But it doesn’t mean that I, as an independent individual, should hate all US citizens.

It doesn’t mean I have been granted legitimacy to throw stones into their embassy, regardless of existing international law.

It doesn’t justify the actions of Milosevic, under the hidden logic, “we support all the things imperialists oppose”.

I’m not talking about common sense, but it is a formidable task for Chinese people to separate man and state, to recognize the principles of international practice, to strengthen the immovable belief in humanism and rationalism. Such a tortuous journey started as early as the 1840s. The cost has been tremendous but we are still on our way.

Let’s move on.