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Justin Mitchell is a cranky, aging American journalist from the People’s Republic of Boulder, Colorado and editor for The Global Times an English language newspaper in Beijing. He has previously done “PR for the PRC” at China Daily in Beijing and Shenzhen Daily and worked for the free press in Hong Kong, including The Standard and Voice of America. He’s been in China about 6 years His personal blogs, Shenzhen Zen and Son of Shenzhen Zen focus on his admittedly increased navel gazing and ignorance of what goes on in China, particularly among Chinese women and clueless expats like himself. “The usual hijinks, cultural misunderstandings, hilarity and mishaps ensue..." so expect a little irreverence for CLM Magazine.
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One Martin Luthor King Day in China    

By Justin Mitchell
6594 Views | 2 Comments | 5/14/2010 1:10:38 PM
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This April 4 marked the 42nd anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr in 1968, one of the most tumultuous years in America’s 20th century. King’s assassination would be followed by massive race riots and barely more than a month later by the slaying of the late President Kennedy’s brother, Robert, – a third shock so great that even at age 15 I felt suddenly more old, cynical and numb than grief stricken.

The dreams we’d seen in the Kennedy brothers and King, it seemed at the time, were over before they had begun.

But it was in China 37 years later that I found King’s dream – if not realized, at least vocalized in a seemingly random yet entirely inspiring way.

I was living in Shenzhen in 2005 in an apartment that bordered a middle school that I could always count on to rouse me - if even briefly - promptly at 8 am, six days a week. That's when recorded music began, followed by about 10 minutes of strident sounding, unintelligible announcements, exhortations and proclamations as the fidgeting students stood more or less at attention on the concrete assembly ground before finishing with jumping jacks, stretching exercises and going to class.

I mostly just groaned, pulled a sweat soaked pillow over my head and rolled over.

But one May morning after the usual aural clatter, I heard what sounded like English – more specifically, a young girl speaking English. It took me a little longer to figure out that it also sounded vaguely familiar.

“My friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream..."

What? Kicking aside a roach trap, I bounded to the kitchen in my frayed boxer shorts and pitted out Dead Kennedys T-shirt to the window overlooking the assembly below, grabbed my trusty counterfeit Soviet army binoculars, scanned the school yard and saw her earnestly speaking, without notes into a microphone.

..."I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’ I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners..."

Yes, indeed. It was Martin Luther King's 1963 Washington, DC speech being clearly and expressively orated by what appeared to be a 12- or 13-year-old girl in 2005 Shenzhen, China.

I kept listening - half in disbelief and mostly in a state of slight awe and puzzlement.

"Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania! Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!"

I started clapping from the window. "And from Tiananmen Square, too!" I shouted, though no one 9 floors below seemed to hear me.

..."we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

Except for another round of applause from me, there was no response from her classmates, but she bowed slightly, said something to a teacher who then took the microphone and apparently told her schoolmates to form single file lines and return to their previously scheduled lives.

I had to share this with someone who could relate and I immediately called a fellow American expat and told him about it.

"It was weird and wonderful," I said. "I have no idea of whether she knew what she was really saying."

"Yeah, there was probably a disconnect between the content and the comprehension," he said.

Later, I asked a couple Chinese coworkers what they knew of King and I Have a Dream. They'd all learned of him and the speech in school as a part of their English training and had the basics down - one even said, not inaccurately, that King "was regarded by some elements to be an enemy of the US government" – so thanks partially to one of Kings’ severest critics, the late cross-dressing FBI director and rabid anti-Communist J Edgar Hoover, Martin Luther King became a respected figure in the Communist China school curriculum.

"But I think we know more about your country's famous people than you know of ours in your schools, right?" one asked. I somewhat shamefacedly agreed and told him I'd start working on memorizing Mao's 1956 "Let a hundred flowers bloom and one hundred schools of thought contend" speech as soon as possible.

Copyright owned jointly by Author and CyberCupid Co., Ltd. Breach of copyright will be prosecuted.
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(Showing 1 to 2 of 2) 1
#2010-04-23 08:31:07 by thedragonb1 @thedragonb1

Kudos... Now that is a very interesting thought...
A nice written piece. Thank you for sharing it. It's good to know MLK's influence transcended to other countries... Stories like these make me almost believe there is hope for this world. ;)
Bren

#2010-04-29 13:12:40 by justpmitch @justpmitch

Glad to share. Thank you, Bren.

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