July 1 is Canada Day. It’s a fun, energetic and beer-filled day for people inside Canada, but almost completely unknown outside of the country’s borders (except for Canadians abroad). The small Canadian celebrations here in Hong Kong usually have to compete with another major anniversary on the same day: the return of Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty, or “Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Establishment Day” (just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?) This has traditionally made planning social events for July 1 rather difficult!
There’s actually a third anniversary on July 1 that usually flies under the radar: the anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China.
The Party throws a party
The party’s anniversary usually isn’t a big deal — no parade, no big celebrations, no day off work. This year was different, though, because it marks the centenary of the party’s founding. That’s right, the CCP has been with us for one hundred years — and that’s cause for a party.
China does celebrations well and certainly didn’t skimp on this one: a parade in Beijing, live songs, a 100-gun salute, and a gung-ho speech from President Xi Jinping delivered with such fervor it reminded some of the patriotic declarations from Mao’s time.
The spectacle in Beijing was meant to show all Chinese people, and the rest of the world, that China is big, it’s powerful, its time as come, and it won’t be pushed around. Xi said:
“We will not accept sanctimonious preaching from those who feel they have the right to lecture us. We have never bullied, oppressed, or subjugated the people of any other country, and we never will.
By the same token we will never allow anyone to bully, oppress, or subjugate [China]. Anyone who tries will find them on a collision course with a steel wall forged by 1.4 billion people.”Xi Jinping, President of the People’s Republic of China
The outpouring of nationalism spread across Chinese media and social media throughout the day. People were feeling good about who they are and the direction of their country.
Canadians, not so much…
The same can’t be said for Canadians.
They were in a very different mood for their national day.
In May this year, a mass grave was found in Canada holding the remains 215 children, some as young as three years old. The children were part of the residential school system, a series of schools around the country designed to assimilate indigenous children into Canadian society. Often times children were forcibly separated from their families with many dying from neglect, abuse, and worse while attending the schools from the 1840s to 1990s. Some in Canada call it “cultural genocide.”
The news that remains were found at the former Kamloops residential school breaks my heart – it is a painful reminder of that dark and shameful chapter of our country’s history. I am thinking about everyone affected by this distressing news. We are here for you. https://t.co/ZUfDRyAfET— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) May 28, 2021
Then last week, the remains of another 751 people were found in Saskatchewan in a mass grave where a residential school once stood. Indigenous leaders expect more to found in the coming weeks.
In some ways the country remains in shock, and certainly in no mood to party and talk up their own country. Local Canada Day celebrations were put on hold around the country (including in my hometown), with fireworks and performances cancelled. There was pressure on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to cancel national celebrations, but they went off as planned. To many, waving the flag just didn’t feel right. After all, it was the Canadian government – our ancestors in Canada – who perpetrated this.
Of course Chinese people should be proud of what they’ve accomplished, especially in the last 40 years or so. The quality of life has improved for hundreds of millions of people while the country has developed into a strong military and economic power. I certainly understand the jubilation.
But as Canada’s experience shows, reflecting on one’s own past can be difficult — even uncomfortable. It’s also controversial, and takes the shine off patriotism; but it’s necessary. Nobody can go back and change the past, but we can reflect on it, discuss it, listen, learn lessons from it, and hopefully never allow those things to happen again.
Celebrating is the easy part.