China revisited by the former Ambassador of Hungary to China

This article was written for the Sting by Mr Sandor Meszaros, former Ambassador of Hungary to China and winner of the China Unlimited competition. Mr Meszaros took part in the China Unlimited trip from 22 July to 02 August 2016.

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Mr Sandor Meszaros is the former Ambassador of Hungary to China and one of the winners of the China Unlimited competition.

As an intern in Beijing, I went with the Ambassador to the October 1-st National Day reception in 1973. Mao was just to cross the last chapter in his life, Premier Zhou didn’t leave the hospital, but Jiang Jin gloomily stood in the reception line. As we shook hands I felt, as if staring into a frozen window. History sat on the faces, a stormy era was about to step off the scene. The only question remained:when and how. The city was dark, submerged in silent anticipation. I would never come back here, told myself, never, ever.

Next time I saw Jiang in 1980, on TV in Beijing; she was listening to the judge reading her death sentence, with a suspension. They ridiculed her for the outbursts she demonstrated, yet I felt a certain respect, because she had held herself toughly. The leadership stated that Mao was mostly right in his actions, obviously it was Jiang to be blamed for the devastating „cultural revolution”. Anyway this trial took place soon after the leadership decided on a new political course, and under the egis of Deng Xiaoping launched reforms and opening.

Premier Zhao Ziyang jovialy received Head of Foreign Missions leaving for good, assuring the Hungarian Ambassador, that they were on the right track and  learnt a lot from the Hungarian economic reform experiences.

In 1984 Deng came to a bridge tournament, was sitting not far from me, I could smell the smoke of his Panda cigarettes. His face radiated self-confidence: events were moving according to his will. By than life improved a bit for most of the people, the country accepted his promis: everybody gets rich, but some people will be richer earlier.

Yet, when returning to Beijing in 1988, the Chinese society was disturbed and agitated very much because of the growing material inequalities generated by the reforms and the spreading corruption. The majority felt not being among those who will become rich soon. A fever of money-spending and dissatisfaction overwhelmed the streets, in the restaurants baijiu heated discussions rolled on ad on.

By the tragic summer of 1989 the two closest ally of Deng were gone: Hu Yaobang died in a heart attack, many believed, caused by his disgraceful dismissal from his post two years earlier. Zhao in a way sided with the student demonstrators, so he was ripped all of his positions, and locked in his house until his death. Deng faced the toughest decision of his life: using force against the young men was bad, but to let the demonstrations go on was not feasible either for the leaders. Tiananmen protests were crushed, and I am sure it stayed with the paramount leader until the last day of his life. 25 years later,remembering that difficult year I published a book trying to find out what happened to that young man, who stoped a column of tanks in Beijing.

In 2004 I returned again in China as Ambassador of Hungary, President Hu Jintao accepted my credentials, called me an old friend of China, and praised our growing cooperation.

Everywhere one could feel sort of a „the world is not enough” athmosphere, the Chinese economy was rising like a shiny hotair baloon, seen ever smaller from the ground, but bigger and bigger for those who actually were flying above it. Cities entered into competition, wich of them is able to built more skyscrapers in the shortest period.The first Chinese austronaut only smiled at my question: whether the Great Wall really could be seen from outer space? And consumption, consumption above everything and at any price: as if the population of China wanted to catch up during one generation with the whealth of the rich countries. A high offficial complained about the problems caused by the fast growing number of private cars, the Minister of Finance told me about his nightmares he might see concerning the stability of the countries galactical amount of savings.

And now China again. Monsun heat, raining every evening, smog sits on the city as a wet blanket, cars everywhere, the highrises are higher than before, endless eatings and drinkings at every corner. The development has brought China and its society into the 21-st century, at the same time the problems seem to be significant also, the rise of the economy slowed down. One feeels the tension growing inside the people: Oh, God, don’t let anything endanger our just achieved good life! And the pressure: I have to get the money, more and more,  whatever it takes!

Having returned home I write emails about our recent trip to China to my old Chinese friends, their number unfortunately is getting fewer. I again started dreaming about going back for one more time, China drags as a magnet. Who knows…

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