Wednesday, April 30, 2008

It's a beautiful May 1st...but I'm not going outside

Because I'm an American in China, I feel almost obligated to make some sort of comment regarding the recent events concerning Tibet, the Olympic torch relay, CNN, and Carrefour. Since these topics have already been discussed to death elsewhere, I'm not going give a full length commentary. Instead, I will provide you with a few good links and pictures to explain why my wife and I are staying indoors on this beautiful May spring day.

All the recent trouble has been focused on Tibet. I have found an article by Peter Hessler best sums up the problem and presents both sides of the issue. Click here for part 1, part 2, and part 3. If you are too lazy to read this well written article, here are the main points:

Chinese side:
-Tibet has always been a part of China
-Before Chinese rule, Tibet had an oppressive feudal society with a few powerful figures (Dalai Lama, etc.) enjoying a good life while the rest were practically slaves
-China has invested a lot of money in Tibet, improving the infrastructure
-China has provided free schooling for Tibetans, allowing them to have an education that they would not have had otherwise
-Overall, Tibetans have a better life than before
-Tibet needs to modernize and the Chinese are helping them do it

Tibetan side:
-The level of Chinese control over Tibet has fluctuated throughout history
-Religious oppression-Atheism "for a better socialist society" is taught in schools even though most of the students are Buddhists. Also, it is believed that Beijing has taken the liberty of choosing their own Panchen Lama (an important religious figure in Buddhism) for the Tibetans rather than allowing the real Panchen Lama to take his rightful place.
-Free schools, but Chinese language, culture, and love for the Communist Party are forced on the students, in the process diluting Tibetan culture
-Lingering resentment over the destruction of their temples and the murder of their people at the hands of the Chinese during the Cultural Revolution
-Even though life may be better than before, without the necessary connections in China, Tibetans are still second class citizens in Tibet

So, as you can see, Tibet is a rather complex issue. It isn't as simple as the "Free Tibet" or "Tibet is a part of China" protesters would have you believe.

Of course, protesters in foreign countries have seized the opportunity that the Olympic torch run presents, using what should be a non-political event to make a political statement. The Chinese people are taking this personally, protesting both CNN for its biased coverage of Tibet and statements made by one of its journalists, and Carrefour (a French version of Wal-Mart) for allegedly supporting the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan separatist movement. Like I mentioned in an earlier post, the Chinese people are very patriotic. On top of this, the Chinese people are not used to hearing international criticism due to the fact that the media in China is heavily censored. These two factors combined can lead to a volatile situation. Here are a few links that sum up the mood in China right now:

From the Economist:
"Flame On"
"Manage That Anger"

This is a forum that my wife reads where Chinese people discuss living in other countries. If you can read Chinese, you will see that the discussion is now (as of May 1st) 90% patriotic drivel, totally off-topic. This is the case in quite a few Chinese online forums.

CNN/Western media protests-The Chinese people are angry over the biased reporting displayed by CNN and other western media outlets. To top it all off, Jack Cafferty of CNN made some disparaging remarks about China, further fanning the flames.

-A petition with over 3 million signatures protesting CNN a website dedicated to exposing the western media lies. I have to admit, if what is on this website is true, some of the things that the western media did were downright deceitful.

It is just my personal opinion, but I find this stuff is simply hilarious. First of all, the Chinese government is stooping to the level of someone that is essentially a "shock-jock", demanding an apology from him and CNN. This really shows how far the Chinese government is willing to go to pump up Chinese patriotism. "Look how powerful we are! We can force Jack Cafferty to apologize to us for hurting our feelings!" This just gets the Chinese citizens worked up over the fact that some nobody editorial commentator in the US gave his own personal opinion. If the American people protested every time someone in the Chinese media criticized the US, the protests would never end. If George Bush made derogatory comments regarding China, I could understand national outrage...but Jack Cafferty? Secondly, it seems like nobody here in China sees the irony of protesting the western media over unfair coverage. The Chinese media never censors the news or presents a one sided view of things, right? Yeah............

Another victim of the Olympic torch relay is French retailer Carrefour. An unsubstantiated rumor got out that Carrefour is funding the Dalai Lama and everyone is getting all hot and bothered about it. To tell the truth, if the Olympic torch was not extinguished in France, I don't think that the Chinese would have a problem with Carrefour. The rumor concerning the relationship between Carrefour and the Dalai Lama magically appeared right after the protests in France. I would show you some examples of Chinese netizens protesting Carrefour, but the Chinese government, in an attempt to control the patriotic fervor that it has created, has blocked the search for "Carrefour" in Google.
Translation: You cannot access the results for
your search term. Search for something else.

Trying Yahoo yields the same result:
Translation: Your search is not in accordance with Chinese law

Just yesterday the internet was full of anti-Carrefour rants, but today it is illegal to do a search for Carrefour and all cyber-discussion concerning Carrefour has mysteriously disappeared. Seems strange... Why is the government trying to calm the Chinese people down by directing attention away from Carrefour? Why am I staying inside today? Because today is the day that massive protests against Carrefour are to be staged. The buildup has been brewing for weeks and today is the big day. Given the anti-foreigner sentiment in China right now, and the fact that a Carrefour is only a 5 minute walk from our home, I think its best that my wife and I don't go out today. People are starting to behave irrationally. For example, recently my wife received a crazy QQ (Chinese version of MSN messenger) message from one of our friends telling her to always trust the Communist Party and to stay away from anything foreign. This person attended our wedding and ate dinner with us many times, so we considered her a good friend. I thought that she approved of our marriage, but I guess that deep down she didn't. Our "friend" is a college educated, seemingly rational person. It makes me a bit nervous that this sort of person can get caught up in the patriotic fever currently sweeping through China. Just 2 months ago this person was fine with our marriage. Now she is anti-foreigner. Crazy, huh?

Grace Wang-Click this link to see what happens when a Chinese person is perceived as disagreeing with the "Chinese people". I don't want anything like this happening to my wife. Some people call her a "traitor bitch" for holding my hand on a regular day. What could happen on a day like today?

Here in China everyone has seen the picture of the French protester attacking the Chinese wheelchair bound torch runner, along with commentary telling us how savage the foreign protesters are. What we don't see in the Chinese news are pictures of Chinese protesters/supporters of China acting in the same manner.

Destruction in a Carrefour...actions praised in Chinese discussion forums

These photos were taken in South Korea. The people we see being attacked were protesting China deporting North Korean refugees back to North Korea.

Although today is supposed to be the "big" protest against Carrefour, there have already been many smaller ones.

Here is a story about an American volunteer that was harassed by a mob protesting Carrefour in Hunan Province

Some quotes from the article:

"Last night, a Zhuzhou volunteer walked into Carrefour despite the fact that there was a sizable protest going on outside. This volunteer chose not to become verbally or physically involved in the protest, but like I said before, choosing to shop at Carrefour while protests are going on is making a statement in and of itself. When the volunteer finished shopping and tried to leave the store, the protesters did not let him leave at first and a mob mentality quickly ensued. The volunteer was forced to run through the crowd to safety while a couple people threw punches at him and others were chanting and verbally threatening him. The volunteer managed to jump into a taxi and close the door, but the mob surrounded the taxi, trying to break in, tip the taxi over, and smash the windows. The police were finally able to get the volunteer to a safe place and the situation was settled, for the time being."

"网友最新回复:昨天被打的外国人是我们学校的外教别个是美国的,周末到家乐福买东西,结果被打得上不了课了.今天的课全改自习了.作孽呢?他平时蛮好的一 个人很活泼,估计以后都不敢来中国教书了.呵呵.多讲道理,少动手.今天接教育局通知:所有学生都被戒严了,不允许出校门,要家长来接才可以哦.
Response from Netizen 1: Yesterday the foreigner who was attacked was a foreign teacher from the US who works at our school. He was buying something at Carrefour, but ended up getting beaten so badly he was unable to teach today. All our classes today were changed to self-revision. He is a nice guy and normally quite active. I guess he will never dare come to teach in China again. Hehe. Talk more reason and use less brute force. Today, the Ministry of Education imposed a curfew on all students. Students now can't leave school unless their parents come pick them up."

So, as you can see, Chinese protesters can get just as nasty as foreign protesters. Therefore, my wife and I are not leaving the house today. Its possible that, like the protesters in Hunan, some Chinese protesters might take their anger towards the western world out on anyone with a white face. I know that the chances of getting hurt are almost nil, but why take that risk given our close proximity to Carrefour?

My 2 years in China have been a wonderful experience. I have met so many nice people that I can't even begin to count them. It is sad that my last days in China are under these tumultuous circumstances. I won't let recent events change my mind about China or the Chinese people. I still think that China is a nice place and the Chinese people are generally good. However, I have to admit that I am grateful that I won't be here during the Olympic Games. If this much anti-foreign sentiment can be generated by people protesting outside of China, what is going to happen if some crazy protesters hijack the Olympic games inside China's borders? I am hoping that the Games come and go peacefully, and that China can get back to normal as soon as possible.


Grace said...

Regarding the protests...again, different countries, same action. And a lot of people have this "herd" mentality. Hope you and your wife had a safe day. Oh, just in case you are curious, my last name is NOT Wang :)

Unconventional Applicant said...

Thanks for the concern, Grace. My wife and I are fine. We just stayed in, ordered some takeout, and watched movies. All in all not a bad day.