FOREIGN Minister Julie Bishop was loudly heckled by radical students when she opened the Australia-China Relations Institute at the University of Technology, Sydney, on May 16.
After stating their case, the demonstrators were removed by UTS security. The same audience had heard Ma Zhaoxu, China’s ambassador to Australia, in silence and with respect.
Currently Bishop and her department are making representations concerning the Chinese-born Australian artist Guo Jian who has been detained by Chinese authorities. Apparently the communist regime in Beijing has taken exception to a work of art by Guo depicting the Tiananmen Square massacre of June 5, 1989.
This week China’s police force has successfully thwarted all attempts to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the occasion, which saw the People’s Liberation Army go to war against primarily young men and women on the streets of Beijing and some other cities.
The Communist Party leadership has had significant success in blocking all references to the Tiananmen Square massacre and in preventing the subject being discussed within Chinese schools and universities.
Hence the detention of Guo, a former PLA soldier, who joined the protesters on Tiananmen Square in 1989 as a 19-year-old.
During his appearance on Q&A last April, Guo made the point that China today is freer that it was in the 1980s.
However, in a recent interview with the Financial Times, Guo said that one of the aims of his art was to encourage “people to see how this violent culture not only existed before but is still strong in China”.
Guo is not the only Chinese Australian painter to use artistic expression to tell the story of the oppression imposed by Mao Zedong and his comrades on China after the communists came to power in 1949.
The most compelling painting in last year’s Archibald Prize was Wang Xu’s Self-portrait (interviewing Maoist victims).
Wang depicted the haunting looks of some of the Chinese who spoke out against Mao’s repression from the mid-1950s on. In explaining his work, Wang (who arrived in Australia after the Tiananmen Square massacre) said: “While enjoying a life of personal security in Australia, I am still deeply affected by the terrible social and political injustices that continue to occur in China.”
Wang was referring to the various “anti-rightist” purges which occurred in the 1950s that led to Mao’s forced famine, which was called the Great Leap Forward.
The recent work of such historians as Jasper Becker, Frank Dikotter, Yang Jisheng and Zhou Xun indicates that more than 40 million people died as a consequence of Mao’s disastrous attempt to turn China overnight from an agricultural nation to an industrial giant that could match the manufacturing output of the Soviet Union and even the US.
The Leap Forward ran between 1958 and 1962. Then, within a few years, Mao embarked on what was termed the Great Cultural Revolution, which only ended following his death in 1976. This led to the incarceration and/or deportation of up to 100 million Chinese, along with some millions dead.
Last week The Australian, as part of the 50 Years In Fifty Days series, reflected on the ping-pong diplomacy of 1971, which saw a group of young Australian table tennis players travel to China.
This was the commencement of China’s attempt to open up itself to the world. This preceded the visits to China later that year of US secretary of state Henry Kissinger and Australia’s then opposition leader Gough Whitlam.
Whitlam’s visit in 1971 was followed up by an official trip to China as prime minister in 1973. Throughout the 1970s, many Australian politicians, academics and students visited China, along with a few business leaders.
During the first half of the 1970s, China was in the latter part of the Cultural Revolution. It is a matter of record that few if any visitors to China criticised the deportations, deaths and widescale repression that were part of the Cultural Revolution.
Malcolm Fraser was a strident and vocal critic of the Chinese totalitarian dictatorship until he became prime minister in late 1975.
Mao died on September 9, 1976. As prime minister, Fraser led a condolence motion in the House of Representatives on September 14, 1976, during which deputy prime minister Doug Anthony spoke along with Labor’s Whitlam, Tom Uren, Mick Young and Bill Hayden.
Fraser, Anthony, Whitlam, Uren, Young and Hayden all praised Mao. None saw fit to mention Mao’s repression which was widely known at the time and which was subsequently documented by Jung Chang in her books Wild Swans and Mao: The Unknown Story (which she co-authored with Jon Halliday).
The anti-communist Liberal MP William Wentworth used the occasion to criticise Mao’s repression and then he, along with the Coalition’s Kevin Cairns, Col Carige and Philip Ruddock, plus Labor’s Dick Klugman, walked out of parliament.
Guo is correct in stating that there is much more freedom in China today than four decades ago when the likes of Fraser and Whitlam, along with the cream of Australia’s intelligentsia, fawned over the dictator Mao. But he is also correct in warning that the “violent culture” which has been a feature of the rule by the Chinese Communist Party has not gone away. Gou’s detention in China proves his point.
The Coalition under John Howard and Tony Abbott, along with Labor under Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, got the Australia-China relationship right.
Over the past two decades, Australia has had a strong association with China without fawning and without denying the human rights abuses which prevail in the world’s most populous nation.
It says much about the mindset of the contemporary campus Left that it wants to silence the likes of Bishop while politely hearing the views of Ambassador Ma, the Chinese Communist Party’s representative in Australia.