Saturday, August 7, 2010

"It is MOST important that our government represent the people" .... or how a Chinese student sees China

I wrote earlier about the way my Chinese students viewed the US. These things were funny for me, but I gotta say that the most fascinating thing of all for me was how they viewed China.

BoyCott Olympic Games !!We in the West get a heavy dose of negative media about China. It's the big, bad Communist country that is threatening our dominance of the world, and people are scared of their ability to hack into our government via the internet, they're scared of their amazing economic growth which puts them on track to soon be the dominant world economic power, and they're scared of what military secrets and advancements the Chinese may be developing and hiding.

China isn't as bad as we see in the media, in my opinion. They are technically communist, but they are no longer the same kind of Communism that Mao pushed. They bow to two things above all else - stability and economic growth. They will do anything to ensure a stable society and they see unrest and protest as being dangerous. Most of the government and country is structured to advance their economic growth, and this is what has made them drop most Communist principles and open up to the West.

In any case, my view of China has softened over the past few years that I've done research on them. However, they still are not a "free" country the way we in America take pride in being free. They don't have free speech or free press. The government censors the internet, the news, books, newspapers... everything. When we arrived in Beijing my hotmail address was blocked, and so is blogspot, bloglines, and facebook. The English language news on TV comes from a government news source that filters everything. The same goes for the English language newspaper - it's all censored.

Great Firewall of China

China Daily Feature Story

The interesting thing about working with college students is that they've lived with censorship their whole life, but they don't know it. They have no idea that their news is differ than our news. They have no idea there are sites the government blocks on their computer just because they are seen as potentially threatening to stability (ie - they might have news about Tibet or Xinjian or other hot-button issues that China is trying to suppress).

One day when I went with my girls to their dorm room, they tried to get me to sign up for QQ, which is like an instant messaging service.

QQ概念版截图I told them we didn't use QQ in the US, and they asked me what we use. I said that all of my friends keep in touch via facebook, which they'd never heard of. I told them it was blocked. What? They were confused. Why is it blocked?
"Your government blocks it - you can't get it here." (I demonstrate - typing in the domain name and pulling up a blank white screen)
"Why? Why would they block it? What does this site have on it?"
"Well, it's just like QQ. You each have a profile, you have your personal information, your name, your photos, you can write about how you are feeling each day, etc."
"Then why does our government block it?"
"I think they think information can be spread too quickly there - they cannot control what people say, so it is a threat to them."
"Why? Why would they do that??"

Fascinating, huh? Having everything censored and never knowing it? They have their own version of everything, they just have no idea they are all under government surveillance and anyone's profile can be shut down at any moment and nothing is actually private.

北京市: Beijing Peking 2008 Olympic Games Olympische Spiele - Tibet 西藏Another time I had a fascinating conversation with one of my students about the way American came into being via the Revolutionary War with England. They all know this piece of history and we were talking about it when our class was discussing the American traditions on Independence Day. One of my most inquisitive girls had made an interesting comment the day before about "the terrorists" in Xingjiang and Tibet that were killing people, costing China so much money in security efforts, and just making trouble. In truth, there may be some terrorist efforts in Xinjiang and Tibet, but they are rooted in independence moments who see China as a colonial power and want to be free. However, the Chinese government allows NO public discussion on the matter and it's very sensitive.

"Christina, you know many people in the West view the situation with Tibet as being similar to the situation with America and England at the time of the Revolutionary war."
(she's confused by this) "What? How?!"
"Well, they see China as being a colonial power that has taken control of a land that didn't used to be theirs, and they say Tibet just wants their independence to be their own country, and that this is fair."
(Christina's jaw dropped and you should have seen her face - she was so shocked. When you've NEVER hear that side of the story, it would be shocking!)

"Why would they think this?!"
"Well, it is a different view of history. China says the land of Tibet has always been Chinese. Many people in the West say that this is rewriting history."

Free Tibet

Hah... it was amazing how shocking that was to her when that is the PREVAILING view of the Tibet situation in the West. I actually padded my comments a little because I think usually these situations are more complex than the West realized. I told her about growing up in another province in Indonesia that wanted independence from the central Indonesian government. I told Christina that even though this province has very good historical and cultural arguments for their independence, I also think that if they fight for good representation in the central Indonesian government and justice for their people, they may benefit MORE from being a part of a larger and more powerful nation like Indonesia than in fighting and dying for for an independence that would leave them impoverished and struggling to govern a mostly-uneducated and rural people. Tibet is the same, in my opinion. Independence is not also the best option.

From china

Perhaps the most fascinating conversation about the Chinese government came on the day we put together the Venn diagram I showed earlier this week. As my girls were writing things down I threw out only one suggestion.
"I think one cultural difference is our form of government. We have democracy and you have.... umm... what do you call it here? Communism? Socialism?"

"No, no, no, not communism..... (my sweet girl Abi stopped to try to find the right word)... umm... I don't know the word for our form of government. The most important thing is that it represents the people."

"But you can't vote for your leaders, right?"

"We vote for our leaders!"

"Okay, maybe you vote for your local leaders, but you can't vote in the highest levels of authority in the Central government, can you?"

"Oh yes, we vote for the local leaders, they vote for the provincial leaders, the provincial leaders vote for the Central government... it all moves up from the people and the MOST important thing about our government is that it is a good representation of the people."

I sat in stunned silence.... wow.... what she described is democracy. I may not understand their government, but I'm pretty sure it's not democracy. However, she was totally convinced that was true.



Bethany said...

Wow, that's really interesting about the blocking and how they view it differently- what a cool trip!

Wiley said...

Fascinating, indeed. Thanks so much for posting all these experiences - it's very interesting to see the similarities and differences and, in particular, how some Chinese see themselves.

Erin said...

Facinating :)
This reminds me of a conversation I had with a Chinese exchange student during our last federal election. He thought it was hilarious that we all voted - He thought the most logical thing in the world was to have the government chose representative to vote for the government - and couldn't see that we thought that was unusual.
It was a real eye opener to how differnt societies view things.

matchingmoonheads said...

ok, i haven't been reading this blog lately but apparently I should! You went to china? i spent a summer there and was there last year for a conference! wow, i have so much to say but working with all Chinese students, i have VERY interesting conversations at work surrounding these topics. My favorite was we had this one guy from the North (were you in the North or South? I have found that political opinions vary drastically depending on how close you are to Beijing) and he kept saying that the Dalai Lama is evil because he wants all the virgins for himself! And THAT'S why we must get rid of him! We've also had very interesting discussions on Communism and how its not actually possible but I've felt its much too sensitive to publish on my blog.