Life of a Rooster

Memoirs of a psychiatrist, journalist and educator

We do not exist

One of the hot topics in the news right now is President Obama’s bold move to normalize relations with Cuba. As much as there are supporters of this new direction, there are some vociferous voices outraged by the recognition given to an oppressive Communist regime. This is exactly how it felt right then, in 1971.

Chiang Kai-shek and Richard Nixon

Chiang Kai-shek and Richard Nixon

What felt like a tornado turning my world topsy turvy and blowing it away, was probably barely noticed by the rest of my peers across the ocean. In July 1971, then US President Nixon announced his intention to visit Communist China. In the depths of the Cold War, the acknowledged leader of the Free World was holding out his hand to the enemy. Soon after, on October 25, 1971, the United Nations General Assembly passed Resolution 2758 which pretty much kicked us, the Republic of China, out of the United Nations and welcomed the People’s Republic of China as the legitimate representative of China.

PRC delegation formally seated in the General Assembly, New York, 15 November 1971

PRC delegation formally seated in the General Assembly, New York, 15 November 1971

No, I’m not being melodramatic. The terms were actually “expel the representatives of Chiang Kai-shek from the place which they unlawfully occupy at the United Nations.”  Well, if that was unlawful, did we sit there all by ourselves for  twenty some years? Did the other countries not sit around us watching us all this time? Did they never notice the “unlawfulness” of the situation before? This was adding insult to injury.

I am not sure what the feelings of my classmates were exactly. Did they realize the extent of the meaning of this resolution? Having grown up in the household of a diplomat made me highly aware of the situation. Having lived through our ignominous “expulsion” from France, I was extremely sensitive to the international status of my country. I felt all of a sudden that we had been abandoned by the world. They did not recognize our existence on earth any more. Our country had been kicked into outer space to float forever, as ignored and marginalized and I had been in every single school I had attended in France, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

The reaction was swift from the authorities. My class, along with a few others, was called to participate in the “spontaneous” student demonstrations in front of the Presidential palace, which, truth be told, was right around the block from our school. We filed out of the building, picked up banners and signs that were placed along the wall, and were led to our spot in the square. We marched and shouted slogans for an hour or more, then returned to school and placed our signs back in their place. We were then told that for our efforts, we had earned the rest of the day off. That was great news indeed! So I happily took the bus home.

It was hard to say whether I was still heartbroken at my country’s demise or happy for the day off. For us, East Asian students who studied round the clock and lived from test to test, such unexpected respite was a drop of heaven. It was a strange mood I was in.

In January, when we returned for the second semester, our Chinese textbooks started as usual with a text by Dr. Sun Yat-sen. But Chapter 2, surprise surprise, was the speech by President Chiang Kai-shek following our expulsion from the UN, urging the masses to remain calm. I nearly cried with despair. I wrote in my weekly journal that the wound was still fresh and yet, here it was already consigned to history! A mere chapter in our reading textbook! Teacher Yang replied equally passionately. No, she cried in her elegant brush strokes, it is not history! It is not buried! We must remember the shame we suffered!

we don't want you

That was almost 44 years ago. In the intervening years, Nixon did go to China the following summer. And China slowly unfolded, opening its doors to the rest of the world.  The madness of an isolated world slowly dissipated on the mainland, and sanity moved in, slowly but surely. Eventually, even the relationship between us, what is termed in Chinese “the relations of the two coasts”, normalized itself in stages.  Today, China is thriving and poised to become a world power leading the way in the 21st century. Would this have happened had the “Free World” insisted on shunning it?

As an older and, I hope, wiser person now, I realize that the move to recognize China was not only an economically motivated one, but also a political one, aimed at offsetting the balance that the USSR commanded. Was it wise? Was it better for everyone in the end?

And so I say, to those who cry out for their oppressed Cuban family and friends, maybe it is a wiser move after all. If you can’t beat them, join them!



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