Not to make this blog all East Asia, all the time, but hey, it’s what’s catching my attention right now. It turns out there was a lot more fallout from the local NC protest/counter-protest I mentioned last week. A Chinese undergraduate somehow ended up between the two groups, apparently trying to get them to actually talk to one another rather than just competing over who could yell slogans loudest, and, well, things went downhill for her from there.
Some people posted an account of her actions to the Chinese student and scholar listserv I mentioned before as having organized the counter-protest. Outraged messages followed calling her a traitor. Then people posted her picture… and her name, her Chinese identity card number, her US address and email, her parents home and work addresses in China, a map to their house, and pictures of their front door. One of my colleagues has friends in the student’s hometown, and they called over the weekend to ask what the student had done to get rocks thrown through her parents’ windows. News of this has now made:
- The Chronicle of Higher Education, April 14, 2008
- Global Voices Online (with translations of some of the listserv emails), April 13 & 15, 2008
- NY Times, April 17, 2008
- Washington Post, April 17, 2008
Interestingly, the two articles that came out today do not mention at all the event that took place last night, which the NY Times reporter attended sitting next to the threatened student. It was a panel discussion set up to address the contentious issues surrounding Tibet (and to some extent the Olympics as well) in a calm, rational setting. Though seven campus police officers had been arranged for security, the entire thing went very smoothly, with no heckling or interruptions of any kind during the speakers’ presentations, nor during the Q&A. The campus paper has a reasonably good report of the overall points that speakers made here: Panelists Stress Trust, Sincerity.
I didn’t stay beyond the end of the Q&A, so I didn’t hear many reactions to the event. However, while I was waiting to leave the auditorium, I was standing behind a Chinese student talking to her American professor about what she thought. “I am very disappointed. All the people on the stage already agreed with each other.” She also made the strange point that she felt the two sisters who founded a nonprofit school in Tibet had an unfair advantage. As Tibetans who were born in diaspora, they were born in Canada and had grown up there, in the US, and in England, and therefore are native English speakers. “It is not fair that they have perfect English on the Tibetan side, because they can speak to answer questions so quickly. They can make their words sound however they want.” Okay, interesting point. But then she finished with, “They can just pick and choose the best things to make their argument.” Isn’t that what making an argument is?
Anyway, if you want to read a bit on the background of the conflict, and how complicated it really is, Peter Hessler (author of Oracle Bones) wrote an excellent piece for The Atlantic Monthly back in February 1999 that covers a lot of points brought up by the speakers last night: Tibet Through Chinese Eyes. He also has a more recent piece on modern Chinese attitudes coming out in May’s issue of National Geographic, which you can see online now: China’s Journey. (The entire May issue will be dedicated to China.) One interesting point he brings up that seems particularly relevant right now is this:
But there are risks when a nation depends on the individual dreams of 1.3 billion people rather than a coherent political system with clear rule of law. China faces an environmental crisis—the nation has become the world’s leading emitter of carbon dioxide, and there’s a serious shortage of water and other basic resources. The gap between rich and poor has become dangerously wide. The difference between urban and rural incomes is greater than three to one—the largest since the reforms began in 1978. Each of these problems is far too broad to be solved, or even grasped, by the average citizen. And because the government continues to severely restrict political freedom, people are accustomed to avoiding such issues. My students taught me that everything was personal—history, politics, foreign relations—but this approach creates boundaries as well as connections. For many Chinese, if a problem doesn’t affect them personally, it might as well not exist.
Rather than meaning that average Chinese people don’t care about politics, though, it seems that the first part of his statement carries a bit more weight: Everything is personal. Clearly, the reactions to the recent protests over the Olympics, Tibet, and human rights issues show that many Chinese, even (or perhaps especially) overseas Chinese, feel quite passionately, and personally, about the politics of the situation.
-posted by Dana