China's Greatest Generation

In this day and age of rampant, unabashed materialism, greed and cynicism, it is important to remember that there indeed was a time, in the context of Chinese history, not long ago, when Chinese people actually cared for the future of their country, and backed these convictions up with strong beliefs for a better China.  As such, I would argue the time period from roughly 1905 to the late 30's can fairly be called China's greatest generation.  

Let’s look at a few of them.  There is no detail.  More a synopsis really. I hope it whet's your curiosity for further study.

Chen Jue 陈觉 and his wife Zhao Yun Xiao 赵云霄

This is one of the few married couples I know of that were martyred for the cause of the CCP. (incidentally, the limited list below is not limited to CCP supporters.  However, there are no KMT members included below.  I’m sure there are KMT members that cared just as much abt China, I just didn’t take the time to do the research)

Betrayed by a colleague he was arrested by the KMT and put on trial.  A CCP member, he was of course tortured, than executed.  I could find little data on him, but in my view he is relevant all the same, not just because of his death, but because his wife was executed as well.  
It is important to note that their affiliation with the CCP made them high profile targets, and many people could thus for themselves gain protection by betraying a CCP member.  
Chen Jue was only 25 at the time of his death.

Qiu Jin 秋瑾

Qiu Jin was ahead of her time.  She was prominent feminist and muckraker.  At the peak of her influence, muckraking was also big in America.  While ours wrote books and the nation reformed itself, (The Jungle, Upton Sinclair, and the reforms in the meat industry that followed),  China simply arrested and executed theirs.   Ahead of her time, she fought against traditions such as footbinding, and stressed greater female independence in China.   She was beheaded in  her prime at 31, in 1907.  Typical of most “revolutionaries”,  “being heard” was a quick ticket to an early death.

Qu Qiubai 瞿秋白 

Qu Qiubai was an actual leader of the CCP, as opposed to being a foot soldier.   He was old for a revolutionary, and was not executed until he was the ripe age of 36.   During his detainment, like nearly every other prisoner held by the KMT, he was beaten and tortured on a regular basis.  Their attempts to turn him failed.  (It is ironic that I’ve found little evidence of the CCP during this time of treating it’s own KMT prisoners this way, ie beatings and torture.  I’m not saying it didn’t happen, I’ve just yet to come across such actions than by the CCP)

There are thousands of people like those above that offered up the greatest sacrifice for the future of their country. (Shanghai Massacre….Xinhai Revolution) What makes their sacrifices even more impressive is that though the future of the nation was unknown, not at all clear for anyone to see, it did not prevent any of them from continuing with their work.   It was certainly not clear in the leadup to the Qing collapse, or in the 20’s and 30’s, what path China would take.   It certainly wasn’t clear that their beliefs would be on the winning side of history.  This deterred none of the thousands that fought for a better China, all the same.   That makes the tragedy of China today….well, all the more tragic.

The only strong convictions today are that one should get his while he still can, and while the “gettin” is still good.   China has truly deteriorated into a country of the individual grabbing what he can for his own benefit, at the expense of the collective.    Empathy does not exist.  This may be top down.   Though this trend is barely 20 years old, it is well rooted and only extreme measures that will incur a lot of potential violence will dull the sharp blade of it’s effect upon society in any serious way.   

Now back to work……


  1. The idea of a "Great Generation" is one of the sillier ideas to emerge out of American thought during the 90's. The idea that a generation is 'great' simply because they were involved in a war that they did not lead (their parent's generation and older did) did not volunteer for (the overwhelming majority of combatants were conscripted), and the outcome of which was not, reasonably speaking, liberation of the countries over which the war was started, is patently absurd. It adds up to a western version of ancestor-worship.

    Yes, many heroes came out of the war, but simply fighting in a war doesn't make you a hero - the majority were simply following orders and looking out for the people in their units. Yes, the second world war was a just war if ever there was one - as was the first world war - but the simple ability to recognise a just cause is not something special to that generation.

    People talk about 'sacrifice', but obviously it was very rare for soldiers, sailors, and airmen on any side to consciously decide to sacrifice their lives rather than taking their chances in combat. The sailor who drowns on a ship that is torpedoed in the middle of the night, the soldier who dies of shrapnel wounds from a shell-burst, the airman whose plane is blown up by a lucky anti-aircraft shell - none of these can be described as having 'sacrificed their lives'. They dided serviing their country - which is a different thing. The ones who did sacrifice their lives - most notably the Japanese Kamikaze - are not automatically deserving of praise.

    China very clearly never had a 'great generation', and I say this as someone who is a big fan of the Chinese writers of the 20's, 30's, and 40's, since there was no clearly justified side to be on in any of the armies fighting at that time. The ills of communism, nationalism, warlordism, and collaboration are well-known - for the reasonable person, siding with any of them was only the backing of the one you believed to be least-worst.

    Talk of the communists of the 30's - a generation that went on to kill millions of their own country-men through sheer fanaticism and hobbled their country with a dictatorial system of exploitation that has been maintained to this day - as heroic, is rather bizarre. One might as well talk of the heroism of the Nazis.


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