Last night, I went to the Egg – the National Center for Performing Art to attend a concert of Konghou, an ancient Chinese music instrument with harp. It was a stunningly beautiful day blessed with a vast blue sky. I went there early as I always love the sight of the theatre, especially on a fine day like this. The setting sun coated a layer of reddish gold on the egg-shaped structure. In the gentle breeze, ripples teased in the pool that circles the Egg. In the open space in front of the pool, tourists and self-styled photographers snapped; young lovers strolled, holding hands; and a few old men were doing their daily exercises by walking backwards. A scene of harmony.
Then I went inside to wait for a friend. As I stood on the steps, quite close to the entrance, a little drama happened. A middle-aged man walked in unhurriedly. From his black bag, he took out a hammer and started to hit a piece of glass that formed the front entrance of the theatre. After three hits, he made a palm-sized hole on the glass and shattered it. Some broken shards fell to the ground. The loud noise shocked the theatre goers who were rushing to get in before their shows started. A security guard in blue uniform, a few meters away from me on the steps, rushed towards him. He closed door, to prevent the man from running away. But the man obviously had no intention to so. He stood passively and calmly until two
plain-clothed police jumped on him. When one of the policemen produced the handcuffs, the man held out his hands as if he had been looking forward to it. At the start of the drama, I thought: what a dreadful man. What was he doing? Then I dashed a few steps up. When I saw the man in close range, my hatred towards him was replaced by sympathy and puzzlement. The man in question was in his fifties, clad in a white cloth top, and he had a kind, gentle face – that was what struck me most. It looked like that he was from some province outside of the capital. He was taken away without a fuzz or struggle.
Crowds formed, taking photo of the smashed glass door – me among them, and discussing what had just happened. “Is he mad?” “No,” I said. I was among the first who saw this and I could tell from his eyes that he wasn’t mad. Someone suggested that he probably had some grievance and had come to Beijing to Shanfang – to petition to the authority here but no one had listened to him and he therefore took this extreme measure. I agreed that this was the most likely case. A child asked his mother if the man was in trouble. His mother said yes. what kinds of trouble? We had no way to find out.
Tiananmen Square, right to the east of the Egg, has been the place where people tried to let out their frustration and anger, notably the Tiananmen protest in 1989. In the past, people have often tries to displace banners detailing their grievances here or even set themselves on fire. With the tight security check-ups, such actions became rare. China is still not a country ruled by law, as
highlighted by the Chen Guangcheng drama and there are simply not enough channels to express their grievances and fight for justice.
I love the Egg. On any given day, there are always some fabulous world-class performances. Each time I come here, I feel sophisticated and feel lucky to live this culturally vibrant city and Beijing feels like such a developed and civilized place. Then, ‘bang’, the man hit a discordant note.
Without rule of law, to build a harmonious society will always remain a pipe dream.
I still enjoyed the show. A lady masterfully played konghou, sometimes on her own, sometimes with an Argentinean lady who played a western harp.
When I returned home, I recalled the night’s events and thought how China is so full of contradictions.
The China paradox.