A Deer Is a Deer

On the second floor, we entered a room filled with bronze busts. Here were the heroes of the Chinese revolutions, from Chairman Mao to President Jiang Zemin. The “Ten Marshals,” including Ye Jianying, Dai Qing’s stepfather, were there. So were Zhou Enlai, Deng Xiaoping, and General Zhu De. As a fraternal gesture, the North Korean “Great Leader” Kim Il Sung was smiling benevolently from his pedestal. And there, perhaps as salute to another authoritarian Chinese leader, was a scowling Lee Kuan Yew, scourge of the Singaporean Communist movement, standing among the Communist rulers of China. It all looked extraordinary old-fashioned yet still menacing, all these bronze balls of power.

I heard a laughter. It was my Italian friend. “Listen to this,” he said as he knocked his hand against Deng Xiaoping’s head. A hollow sound echoed through the room. I tried it too, and started knocking Lee Kuan Yew, then Kim Il Sung, then Mao himself. We went about the room like children who had discovered a new game, knocking one great leader after another. And all of them sounded hollow, for they were made to look like bronze but in fact were made of plastic.

The sky outside had turned from pearly gray to yellowish brown. The wind was blowing fiercely, filling even our ears with sand. I could just make out another monstrosity not far from Army Museum. It looked new, which indeed it was: a kind of ziggurat with a large spike sticking out from the top, like a missile. There was a sign on the front. I tried to read what it is. Something about the millennium, a millennium monument. And then I could just make out the year 2000, except that the figure 2 had already broken in half. The storm was getting so bad that we had to hide inside the museum. I looked back once more at the capital of China, but by now the yellow cloud obliterated everything. Even the year 2000 had disappeared from view.

-Ian Buruma, last paragraphs of The Bad Elements-

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