Huang: Beijing 1990 Postcards Reserved For Team Chinese Taipei Of Hangzhou 2022 – Language, Legend, Culture, Science, Math & Philosophy Of ‘One China’

Courtesy/Zhen Huang

Los Alamos 

The 11th Asian Olympic Games, Beijing 1990, was the first time that China hosted the Games.

It was also the first time that Taiwanese athletes attended the Games by the name of Team Chinese Taipei. Athletes from 36 countries got together to celebrate our diversified cultures and promote peace and prosperity of the Asian Pacific region. Mainland Chinese people warmly welcomed our great Olympic Families from Asian and Pacific neighbors, in particular, our fellow Chinese from Taiwan. 

During Beijing 1990, I served as a volunteer of the weather forecast support team for the Games. Our team stationed at several stadiums where we deployed weather air balloons to monitor meteorological conditions. I was assigned to the Capital Indoor Stadium where basketball games were held. These souvenir postcards are the rewards I received for my volunteer service. 

Over three decades have passed, I still vividly remember those happy moments we shared with our athlete friends. Sometimes, some of us sneaked to the stadium’s back seats to watch their training sessions or warming up games. We cheered for their demonstration of Olympic Spirits. Sometimes, some curious athletes came outside to watch us deploy weather balloons in the distance. They cheered for us as the deployed air balloon reached higher and higher as if it was aimed at an Olympic Gold Medal. From time to time, we bumped into athletes in and outside the stadium. Some of the athletes greeted us with their just-learned Chinese that amused us as pleasant as listening to the Beijing 1990 theme music played all day long. Our cheers and laughs mixed with lifted Olympic Spirit and echoed in the atmosphere of that unforgettable golden autumn of Beijing … 

Over three decades have passed, I have still kept these souvenir postcards. The postcards depicted pictures for most of the 27 stadiums and gymnasiums that were built or renovated for the Games. The Asian Games Athletes Village and the Olympic Sports Center was built in the neighborhood next to the Research Institution where I was a graduate student. I witnessed the entire process of the Games facility development project. I remember that many evenings, weekends, and holidays we walked through the construction sites to see how the roads, the landscapes, and the buildings were developed gradually one by one. Every time I came back to Beijing after my semester break at home, the first thing I did was to walk through the construction sites to check out what’s new and often was surprised to find how much progress had been made at Olympic speed while I was away…

At the 2022 Mid-Autumn Moon Festival, when the opening ceremony of the 19th Asian Games was scheduled to take place in my hometown Hangzhou but postponed to 2023, my mother and I found an alternative way to celebrate its delayed opening of HangZhou 2022. We walked through the Beijing 1990 stadiums and gymnasiums that are pictured on these postcards. For my architect mother, it was an architecture appreciation tour. For me, it was a virtual rewind of my Beijing 1990 memories. Together, we have also gone over the descriptions of the Games printed on these postcards word by word and had some interesting discussions. 

Our discussions started with the Chinese character in its difference between the traditional format and the simplified format. These discussions have inspired my thoughts about the language, legend, culture, science, mathematics, and philosophy of the ‘One China’ that Chinese people have dreamed of, have been striving to fulfill, and have achieved great progress towards during the last three decades. The more I think the more I feel I have to ask a serious question: How close is the magic number ‘One’ in the US One-China Policy to Chinese People’s ‘One China’? 

The Language of ‘One China’: the Chinese Character ‘Nation’ 国家 

The Beijing 1990 postcards use three official languages for the descriptions of the Games, Chinese, Japanese, and English. Note that the Chinese descriptions are printed using traditional characters while the general public in mainland China uses simplified characters. The use of the traditional characters in the official Beijing 1990 publications is a special way of saying “有朋自 遠方來,不亦樂乎” (how happy we are to welcome our friends from afar) to our fellow Chinese from Taiwan who have been using traditional characters. 

While having gone through the three-language descriptions of the Games word by word, my mother and I discussed the difference between traditional character and simplified character for the word ‘Nation’. 

In Chinese character, ‘Nation’ is written as 國 for traditional, and 国 for simplified. The traditional character 國 is composed of such that inside a ‘Country‘s’ territory, an ancient weapon called 戈 occupies most of the area, plus a small fenced territory and a broken piece of fence, while in simplified character 国, everything inside the ‘Country’ are replaced by jade 玉. The change from a ‘nation of weapon’ 國 to a ‘nation of treasure’ 国 can be straightforwardly linked to a Chinese idiom 化干戈为玉帛 ( turning arms and weapons into jade and silk ). It has reflected a dream of Chinese people, that is, turning our war-devastated Nation to a Kingdom of treasure. 

We noticed that the Japanese word for Nation is also written as the simplified character 国. While we discussed whether the simplified Chinese character 国 was a borrowed one from what was previously modified by Japanese, my mother recalled those days during the Sino-Japanese War when she started to learn to read Chinese as a little school kid.

During the chatatrophic bombings following Japanese army’s invasion, all the classroom buildings of the primary school my mother went to were totally destroyed. The school kids had no school to go to for quite a while. My mother later went to another school that was under Japanese control. The school eliminated Chinese language classes and forced kids to learn Japanese. My mother recalled that she and a couple of her classmates “boycotted” the Japanese class by hiding in the washroom to skip the class. Some of her boy classmates dug up a bunch of earthworms and put them over the Japanese teacher’s podium in an attempt to drive away the teacher … 

Somehow our discussions switched to the issue of the so-called “de-Chinalization” political tactics that we have seen in Taiwan in recent years. My mother, like most people of her generation who had learned to read before the Chinese character simplification, has a skeptical attitude about simplified characters in general for its loss in original meanings and lack of logic consistency. In mainland China, we used to agree that Chinese Culture had been preserved better in Taiwan because of the use of traditional character. But now unfortunately, we have seen just the opposite trend because of the “de-Chinalization” in Taiwan. A recent survey to the young generations for their knowledge about China is very disturbing. It has been found that most of them don’t think they are Chinese, don’t know why the word “China” is printed on their passport, and don’t know who Dr. Sun Yat-sen 孙中山 is. 

Then we talked about the very recent “air dropping incident”, an incident about some drones from mainland China dropping Sichuan pickles 四川榨菜 and tea-flavored eggs 茶叶蛋 onto Kinmen Island of Taiwan. In addition to labeling these drones as “Communist Drones” 共机, we found it so funny that the Taiwan leader Ms. 蔡英文 pretended not knowing what messages these mainland drones were trying to send. First, China does not have any previous conviction record of dropping any war missiles onto any inch of soil on the Earth. Second, every Chinese kid admire the American hero who dropped “Candy Bombs” to children in Western Berlin. Thirdly, Ms. Cai does not need to buy war missiles made in America for use to shoot down tea-flavored eggs. Finally, if all the countries in the world could replace war missiles with tea-flavored eggs, that would be a classic 2022 version of 化干戈为玉帛. 

We also discussed why China and Japan were able to 化干戈为玉帛. We came to agree that it is because of the long history of cultural exchange between Chinese people and Japanese people and both people appreciate learning from each other and understanding each other that has made a difference in benefiting the peace and prosperity of the region and the world. 

Japan is the only country that still uses Chinese characters in its official publications. Japan and China have had a long history of cultural exchange. Chinese characters had been introduced into Japan as early as AD 285 when Wang Jin 王经 brought copies of The Analects to Japan. In AD 853, Jianzhen 鉴真, a Tang Dynasty Buddhist monk, finally crossed the ocean and landed Japan after 5 times of unsuccessful attempts under both stormy weather and harsh political climate. Jianzhen had made extraordinary contributions to cultural exchange that had largely influenced Japanese Buddhism.

The cultural exchanges are also reflected in the present day Japanese society. One example is the naming convention of the Japanese Calendar in which years are named with two selected Chinese characters. For example, the year of 2022 is the fourth year of Ling He 令和 that started in 2019. Literally, 令和 means Order and Peace. It has its origin in Chinese literature, a poem 归田赋 ( gui tian fu) by Zhang Heng 张衡 who was an astronomer in Han Dynasty. It reads, 仲春令月,时和气清 ( here comes the peak of the Spring, the sky is so harmonious, the atmosphere is so fresh). 

Interestingly, the Chinese characters had played a bridging role in introducing western culture to Japan. As western literature was introduced to Japan during the Meiji Restoration period, Japanese translators modified Chinese characters in order to use them for English translation. 国 was one of such modified Chinese characters used for English to Japanese translation purpose. It is an example that has demonstrated how Chinese people and Japanese people have learned from each other and why different culture exchange is so important for world peace. 

However, there had been two times when Japan was about to abandon Chinese characters. The first time was after the Opium Wars, abandoning Chinese characters was advocated by some Japanese who believed that the Chinese loss of the Opium Wars was due to the inferiority of the Chinese language. The second time was after World War II, when Americans took control of Japan, they suggested Japan change the use of Chinese characters into Roman characters for whatever consideration that is difficult to understand. The Japanese refused to eliminate Chinese characters. On the contrary, Japan increased the number of its standard Chinese characters for official publications in 1946. It was a demonstration of the power and strength that have been preserved and developed through thousands of years of cultural exchange between Chinese people and Japanese people. It was such power and strength of cultural exchange, not weapon transportation, that has preserved and developed the peace and prosperity of the region since the end of World War II. 

The most interesting discussion my mother and I have had was what we call it as a ‘genetic blessing’ for Chinese people to realize “One China” dream. In Chinese Culture, family value is our single most invaluable treasure 玉. We often add a suffix to Nation to call it 国家, National Family, meaning a nationwide united family. For Chinese people, ‘One China’ is more of a family with all the family members united than of a country with the complete territories. To achieve Nation’s Unification across the Taiwan Strait is to fulfill a Family Reunion. We don’t want any family member to become a colony of any foreign country or a hostage held by any alien to threaten our family’s peace and prosperity. We don’t want any family member’s home to become a military base to attack other family members, or a laboratory of any kind to test experimental weapons made in alien countries that would threaten the well-being of our family members.

The Legend of “One China”: the Legendary Founding Father Great Yu 大禹 

Beijing 1990 was also the first time I got to meet fellow Chinese from Taiwan in person. I enjoyed a few pleasant chats with the athletes of Team Chinese Taipei. Despite the subtle differences of our spoken Mandarins, we felt like we had known each other for many years. For me, I also had a secret imagination. Could anyone in Team Chinese Taipei happen to be my ‘Taiwan Cousin’, grandchild of my father’s uncle? I imagined that someday I could meet them at Grandma’s PengHu Bay 外婆的澎湖湾, and sing along together this song that was very popular in 1980’s campus. 

My father’s uncle was among those millions who left for Taiwan at the end of the Chinese Civil War. My father lived with his uncle for several years while he attended schools in the city where his uncle worked for the Nationalist Government. When my father said goodbye to his like-father like-brother uncle, he never thought that he could no longer get to see him again. 

I remember my father told me that Great Yu 大禹 was his uncle’s hero. A Great Yu’s statue was worshiped at the most prominent location in his uncle’s residence. For a couple of summers, my father went with his uncle on his business trip and visited Great Yu’s Mausoleum Temple in Shao Xin 绍兴. I never asked my father why he had chosen to be a hydrologist, but I believe it had much to do with the influence of his uncle. 

Great Yu is the legendary founding father of China. He is also a legendary icon in China for his great achievements in Great Flood Control. Great Yu had successfully solved long overdue flood problems that had devastated Yellow River Basin his father failed to solve. Unlike his father who applied flood control methods that were based on blocking only, Great Yu took a different strategy that effectively combined blocking and dredging to mitigate the devastating floods. 

Great Yu also applied his successful flood control strategy to reform the political regime he inherited from his father. He ordered the removal of those high city walls his father built around the premises. He opened his Nation to welcome people from neighboring Nations. He ordered the discard of weapons his father made to prepare for wars and turned them into beneficial tools for his people to construct water conservancy and irrigation facilities and develop agriculture. As a result, his people lived increasingly improved lives and his Nation became more and more prosperous. As a result, people from those not so friendly neighboring Nations admired his Nation’s achievements and came with their jade and silk to trade for the benefits of each other. That is the legendary story that the Chinese idiom 化干戈为玉帛 comes from. 

The most well-told story about Great Yu for Chinese children is 三过家门. It is a story about Great Yu who passed by his home but did not stop to see his family ‘three times’ on his way to the frontier of the battle fields against the Great Flood. I remember when I was a little kid, my father often stayed at the Flood Mitigation and Control Center day and night during those emergency days of typhoon season. The devastating winds outside were scary but I tried to keep myself awake while thinking about this story. I counted the number of nights my father was not home, and expected when I counted to “Three” my father would be home. That’s how my little mind interpreted this story. Miraculously, my father always came home on time when I counted to day three, but then I got to count again… 

Many years later at Beijing 1990, I was able to connect the dots of my childhood “count to day three” memories with my night shift duty experience at the weather forecast support team, and get a firsthand understanding of this well-told story of Great Yu. 

For Chinese people, our legendary founding father Great Yu’s stories have been told generations after generations in mainland China and in Taiwan. Clearly, the “Nation” that the legendary founding father of China, Great Yu, had built is the “One China” Chinese People have been dreaming of and working hard to build up generation and generation. 

However, how would the US policy makers translate and interpret the legendary founding father Great Yu’s story with their language and apply its values and principles to the US “One China” policy? I doubt that the US “One” is close to the Chinese “One” given that the US government has kept transporting weapons to Taiwan. I wish the way the US policy makers rounded up to the magic number “One” could be as genuine as a little kid like me when I counted the number of days to the majestic “Three” to expect my father to come home, as sincere as the mainland Chinese people to expect fellow Chinese in Taiwan come back to our majestic “One China” Family. 

To be continued …

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