Wednesday, April 9, 2008

contentious issues

Tracy, Katharine and I had lunch with Billy, a Beida student, today. Billy is a third-year Psychology/Econ double-major here. He's from southern China, and is in my Corporate Governance class (which means, among other things, that he went through three rounds of interviews and written English tests to be selected as one of 11 Beida students allowed to take Stanford classes).

We went to this sort of Western restaurant on campus where they served us salad with silverware and "egg budding" that was actually flan. Over lunch, conversation wandered over to current events, as it often does. Billy was telling us about how angry he is at Europeans in general (and protesters in Paris in particular) for being so close-minded regarding China. Paraphrasing:

They protest the Olympics and protest Tibet without really knowing anything about the issues, only reading biased Western news; a lot of them don't even know where Tibet was or what any of the history between Tibet and China has been, but are simply jumping on the bandwagon and denouncing China because everyone else is doing it. My Chinese friends in Europe say there is a generally unfriendly atmosphere there towards China.

Not to mention, Europeans think all Chinese people are brainwashed by the central government, when in fact a majority of college students dislike the CCP and the way it runs the country. They put up with it because they believe that "China's transformation" and rise upwards should be accomplished by a united country, and not a fractured one (aka not a repeat of the Warring States period of Chinese history). Now is not the time to cause dissonance. The students all have ways of getting around the Chinese firewall (proxies, tunnels, etc), and often read Western news as well as CCP news to try to get all the facts. We're all fluent in English as well as Chinese.

The interesting part of this, for me, was that unlike most times in the past, when he and his friends have just shrugged off outside criticism of China, the Tibet/Olympics issue -- and the "biased Western media accounts" of the story -- has angered a large portion of the college crowd at once. People are actually gathering together online in support of China and against the unfair accusations towards the Chinese government. They're angry at CNN in particular for biased reporting -- one example he gave was a CNN photo that was cropped to show only Chinese soldiers with guns in Tibet, without showing the Tibetans throwing rocks at the soldiers. Billy, who a week ago thought the concept of the Olympics was stupid, now wholly supports the Olympics to show his support for China.

Not to say that the government has acted well. Clearly, they are suppressing free speech, and they are limiting the Tibetans' freedom of religion. The point is that even students who by and large don't support the CCP think portrayal of the Tibet issue has been unfair enough that they're willing to stand up for the central government.

This is true of Chinese (international) students in the U.S. too. Amongst my facebook friends list -

It was the first time I've really talked to any of the Beida students about Tibet, so it was interesting. Tracy's Taiwanese friends would give you an entirely different story.


ahsiau said...

oh, so that's flan!

Nabill said...

I talked with my language partner about Tibet as well. The nuances are definitely interesting, and I do agree that the way the West approaches it is frustrating in many ways. It's cool that we're able to talk about it, though. I feel like the youth are more willing to talk about these issues more openly.