A young Chinese girl draws the Chinese national flag on a chalkboard during an activity to mark National Day, in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, September 30, 2007. [China News/Getty Images]
YangYang Cheng, the particle physicist and Science writer from Cornell can be reached at @yangyang_cheng .
A Birthday Letter to the People’s Republic
“Dear People’s Republic, 28SEP19
“Or should I call you, China?
“I am writing to you on the eve of your 70th birthday. 70, what an age. “For a man to live to 70 has been rare since ancient times,” the poet Du Fu wrote in the eighth century. You have outlived many kings and countless men, and you have lasted longer than every other state that has espoused the hammer and sickle. Congratulations must be in order.
“I was born a few weeks after you turned 40. We are both October babies, a fact I was so proud of as a child, your child. During a class in elementary school, the teacher showed us a recording of the day of your birth. The audio, raspy with time, still echoes in me as I write, its black-and-white imagery etched in my memory.
“The People’s Central Government of the People’s Republic of China is founded today!” Chairman Mao declared atop the Gate of Heavenly Peace, overlooking a sea of red flags and exuberant faces. His portrait hung at the center of the gate, where it remains, next to these words: “Long Live the People’s Republic of China.”By the end of this October, I will be 30. Confucius said that at age 30, a person should be able to li, versed in etiquette and firm in morals, to stand upright.
“I left you over a decade ago for graduate studies in the U.S., where I continue to live and work. Have I learned how to li? Can one ever find solid ground away from her homeland, or should she be condemned to a life of rootlessness?
“I am writing to you from a foreign land in a foreign tongue, with a body that used to be inside yours. This is not to be a short message, where a simple “Happy Birthday” would suffice. I am writing to you to rewind time, to shift space, to bridge oceans; to touch the severed cord, and to trace the knotty ties.
“What is a passage but steps made of words?…”
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