King's "I Have a Dream" speech not forgotten In China

Updated: 2013-08-26 11:02

By Chen Weihua (China Daily)

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Saturday morning saw the gathering of tens of thousands of people in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC to mark the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Activities had already started the previous week and will continue the coming week, with exhibitions, talks, bike tours and more gatherings. A memorial service was held on Sunday at the National Cathedral where Martin Luther King Jr delivered his final Sunday sermon, "Remaining Awake", on March 31, 1968. Four days later, King was shot and killed in Memphis on April 4, 1968, at the age of 39.

The anniversary celebration will culminate on Wednesday, Aug 28, the exact day of the 50th anniversary, when President Barack Obama and former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton will speak at a rally in front of the Lincoln Memorial. The commemoration will start with a nationwide ringing of bells at 3 pm.

Speaking at Saturday's rally of the National Action to Realize the Dream March, Martin Luther King III, the oldest son of the civil rights leader, said, "This is not the time for nostalgic commemoration, nor is this the time for self-congratulatory celebration. The task is not done. The journey is not complete. We can and we must do more."

"As we gather today, 50 years later, their march - now our march - goes on," said US Attorney General Eric Holder, the first African American to hold the job.

"Our focus has broadened to include the cause of women, of Latinos, of Asian Americans, of lesbians, of gays, of people with disabilities, and of countless others across this country who still yearn for equality, opportunity, and fair treatment," he said.

A Pew Center study released last week found that five decades after King's historic "I Have a Dream" speech, fewer than half (45 percent) of all Americans say the country has made substantial progress toward racial equality and a slightly higher percentage (49 percent) say that "a lot more remains to be done.

"African Americans are much more downbeat than whites about the pace of progress toward a color-blind society. They are also more likely to say that blacks are treated less fairly than whites by police, the courts, public schools and other key community institutions," said the report, which polled 2,231 adults, including 376 blacks and 218 Hispanics early this month.

For most Americans, the only connection China has with Martin Luther King Jr may be through Lei Yixin, the Chinese sculptor who created the stone statue of King for the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial on the Mall in Washington, which opened about two years ago.

Lei has had to spend the past few weeks removing an inscription from the memorial which reads "I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness" after heated criticism that the words had been taken out of context.

The whole controversy has been followed closely by news and social media back in China. The Chinese feel hugely proud of Lei's work in the US and felt unfair when the work drew initial criticism for its so-called Maoist or Soviet style.

Lei has repeatedly told the US media that King was highly regarded among the Chinese and that he read King's "I Have a Dream" as a child.

In the 1960s, Chinese were fervent in supporting African Americans in their fight for equality and freedom, with mass rallies in Beijing and other Chinese cities.

Chairman Mao Zedong personally wrote articles supporting King's cause, including one on April 16, 1968, 12 days after King's assassination. In that article, Mao sharply criticized racial discrimination against blacks in the US.

A Chinese translation of King's enduring "I Have a Dream" speech has been included in a national textbook for high school students since 2006. Many high school students can recite the whole speech by heart.

In addition, several books about King have been translated into Chinese, including the publishing a few years of Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr by Clayborne Carson.

In fact, the Martin Luther King Jr Research and Education Institute at Stanford University, of which Carson is the founding director, co-produced a play in China in 2007 based on Carson's play Passages of Martin Luther King.

While news about the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington was also covered by the Chinese news media, some have tried to draw inspiration from King's "I Have a Dream" in looking at the growing inequalities in Chinese society, as well as hot-button issues regarding public participation in politics and the rule of law.

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(China Daily USA 08/26/2013 page2)