Kristof on blogs in China

A must-read. It’s 5 a.m. and I’m heading to the airport, but I have to quote Kristof on his experience commenting on sohu.com:

I tried my own experiment, posting comments on Internet chat rooms. In a Chinese-language chat room on Sohu.com, I called for multiparty elections and said, “If Chinese on the other side of the Taiwan Strait can choose their leaders, why can’t we choose our leaders?” That went on the site automatically, like all other messages. But after 10 minutes, the censor spotted it and removed it.

Then I toned it down: “Under the Communist Party’s great leadership, China has changed tremendously. I wonder if in 20 years the party will introduce competing parties, because that could benefit us greatly.” That stayed up for all to see, even though any Chinese would read it as an implicit call for a multiparty system.

So where is China going? I think the Internet is hastening China along the same path that South Korea, Chile and especially Taiwan pioneered. In each place, a booming economy nurtured a middle class, rising education, increased international contact and a growing squeamishness about torturing dissidents.

President Hu has fulminated in private speeches that foreign “hostile forces” are trying to change China. Yup, count me in – anybody who loves China as I do would be hostile to an empty Mao suit like Mr. Hu. But it’s the Chinese leadership itself that is digging the Communist Party’s grave, by giving the Chinese people broadband.

This sounds rather simplistic and optimistic, I’m afraid, and I wonder whether Kristof, who lived in China and has written books about it, really believes the CCP is digging its own grave. Let’s keep our fingers crossed, but let’s be realistic, too.

Update: Danwei is a but harder on Kristof than I am.

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

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The Discussion: 113 Comments

JR, this thread is long, and Chris’ post may be hard to find (his first post is about 1/3 of the way from the beginning, dated at May 26, 03:37 AM ). He opened the topic with:

“I’m male and I’m extremely saddened to admit that I do not have a single Chinese male friend.”

May 27, 2005 @ 11:23 pm | Comment

JR, you “hit the nail on the head” – China’s – and other East Asian nations – education systems are much more oriented toward test-passing than their counterparts in the west. This is a very big part of it, school has such a huge role in shaping how we behave during the rest of our lives.

It seems to me that other more fundamental differences in approaches to learning and thinking can be traced to the differences in the philosophies of Kongzi-Mengzi (Confucious-Mencious) versus Aristotle-Socrates-Plato. I think these differences shape the way we think more than we realize.

May 27, 2005 @ 11:36 pm | Comment

Slim,

I know because I went to school with a conservative Southern Baptist church group for foreign students which passed around exam papers, term papers and tips of different professors in college.
I think most Asian students are just too shy to talk and voice out opinions in front of everyone.

Chris,

While I never lived in Mainland China before but I think I understand your sentiment after living in the US for awhile, it is so easy to start a conversation with complete strangers and make friends withe people in the US.

One thing I like about living here is the different people I meet and come across everyday. Our next door neighbor is Jewish, across the street is a Polish attorney’s family, two houses down is an Indian Professor family we had dinner with last night. We have friends who are ex Italian mafia, gay priest, British, German, Irish, Scottish, Aussie, Haitian, Singaporean, Taiwanese ABC. Now we are planning for Dim sum brunch this weekend.

May 28, 2005 @ 12:49 am | Comment

Saroj, respect to you man. My names is Michael. You took a difficlut subject, grabbed it with both hands and threw it out into the open.

It touched a nerve with me as I am mixed-race British and I live in China. I wanna personally thank you for being sensitive enough to think about the issues you raised in your post, and for taking the time to look at things from other’s point of view.

I’ve read peking duck for months now but now I’m moved enough to post for the first time.

You know man, gorilla was one of the first words I learnt in Chinese? When my company first sent me here I asked the people in my office: so, hello is ni hao, goodbye is zai jian and what’s da xing xing that I keep hearing?

Everyone in the office roared with laughter but not one of them told me that it was Chinese for gorilla. I had to ask a Canadian geezer that I met in a pub.

I remember a meeting I had with one of my compay’s suppliers. They were like, you’re black! and the first 20 minutes of the meeting was taken up with everybody talking about me being black! My translator was only translating I think a tiny bit of what everyone was saying and she looked well embarrassed.

The supplier blokes said to me, “It must be hard living in Britain what with all the racism there” I said like WTF! Britain ain’t no racist country man, I’ve never experienced hardcore racism in my country, the first time I experienced racism was in China.

They were like, no way man! China can’t be racist because everyone is racist against Chinese people!

Still, it takes more than a billion bigots to get me down. I look for the good people and I don’t care how many or how few they are.

I’m thinking that if a person has to be racist against others just to feel good about themselves then they have my pity as that’s a very sad state of affairs.

Anyway, keep up the good work richard! I want to agree with what the man Saroj said about your comment people, they’re some of the good people that I just mentioned above.

May 28, 2005 @ 2:54 am | Comment

JR, the use of the word FAG in Team America was pure parody and it was very funny. I have never heard anyone suggest that such a thing could in any way inspire a hate crime. As to civilized people using the expressions you cite, all I can say is that this is quite unusual. I rarely if ever hear civilized people talk like that. Rednecks, undereducated people, yes. Not civilized people. If they talk like that they’re not civilized.

May 28, 2005 @ 9:28 am | Comment

Richard,

The use of the word fag is one stone for two birds for both the Hollywood liberals and gays. Buckwheat is not a bad word until you call black a buckwheat.

May 28, 2005 @ 9:43 am | Comment

Mark, sorry to “meet” you so late in the thread (I’m just now reading it hours after the most recent posts). I hope you comment again – your perspective is really interesting – and I hope you’re finding some good folks while you’re in China.

May 28, 2005 @ 10:26 pm | Comment

RICHARD, INDEED!!!!!? AS A UPPITY VETERAN, OBVIOUSLY I AM DISGUSTED!!!!!!! IT’S OBVIOUS, THE RETROSEXUALS STOLE THE SO-CALLED ELECTION BY DENYING THE FEMINIST VOTERS IN SWEDEN, JUST LIKE ZELL MILLER HELPED OUR CHIMP IN CHARGE TO STEAL CIVIL UNIONS FROM THE MIGRANT BUNNY RABBITS (WHILE THE 700 CLUB HAPPILY SAT ON THE SIDELINES)!!!! SPARE ME!!!!!! WHAT CAN WE EXPECT NEXT!!!!!!!? WILL THE NEOCONS COME TO CAJOLE ME FOR BEING A VEGETARIAN!!!? WILL MY PAGAN FRIENDS NOW BE OPPRESSED JUST BECAUSE THEY’RE BISEXUALS!!!? REALLY IT’S OPEN SEASON ON NUDISTS! PORTER GOSS!!!!!!!? GEORGE TENET!!!!!!? IT’S CLEAR TO ME, I CAN’T TELL ONE TEXAN, SLIME-LOVING, DWARF-BLUDGEONING, CREEPY HENCHMAN FOR THE YACHT INDUSTRY FROM THE OTHER!!!!!!!! (GLENN REYNOLDS EITHER, IN MY OPINION!!!!!!!!) SANCTITY OF LIFE, INDEED!!!!!!! THE EMPEROR’S WAR AGAINST RECYCLING MUST END NOW!!!!!!? I REJECT ENVY AND CENSORSHIP!!!! UP YOURS!!!!

May 29, 2005 @ 2:54 am | Comment

What on earth was that last post???

Anyway, it’s been a while since I looked at this post, but I would like to add my welcome to Saroj. I too hope to hear more from you.

One of your posts reminded me of an incident from my distant past. During my first visit to HK, before I lived there, I met the local HK girlfriend of a friend of mine. The boyfriend wasn’t around at the time, and myself and another friend were just making iddle chit-chat. In the course of it, she commented that black people smell. It was such an outrageous comment that neither myself nor my friend took it seriously, and just nodded and smiled, thinking it was a joke. Then she went on to explain that the reason they were black and smelled was because they don’t wash. Our smiles became rather frozen in place, as we sat there listening to her, gradually realising that she actually meant it all. How did we respond? Well, basically, we didn’t. We sat there and listened and nodded, not saying much at all in reply, but once we were out of ear-shot, we turned to each other and said “what the hell was that????” I suspect that a lot of westerners respond in a similar way … stunned silence, or quiet probing to see if the person REALLY believes such outrageous statements, and then make a decision not to challenge / engage that person, because they’re clearly not worth the effort / too stupid to understand that they’re being so grossly offensive.

May 30, 2005 @ 4:12 am | Comment

FSN,

The first time when I moved to America, I moved into a huge house by a sweet nice Jewish widow/holocaust survivor (later I found out), who loved anything Chinese, including adopting a Chinese boy from Taiwan. I was new to American culture at the time but from what she told me “Blacks smell, most black men are bi sexual, my German Shepherds are good because they bark at black people when they pass behind my house…” Just to name a few, I am not trying to say anything bad about her because she was a wonderful and caring old lady, but this was what I was told.

May 30, 2005 @ 1:03 pm | Comment

I have a lot of white relatives, two of the young boys had pointed at some gay people and called them queers while I was driving, I stopped the car and turned around and told them right away, its not correct to use the word queer to call gay people. They listened and stopped.

May 30, 2005 @ 1:10 pm | Comment

In the first semester of college, foreign students were forced to take the ESL class, and people from Russia, Germany, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong… from all over the world were all stayed in one classroom, a lot of us became friends during the semester. There was this short brawny Spanish guy from Spain. For the whole Spring semester, he had been wearing the same blue sweater to the class, and it started to stink as the weather became warmer. I remember classmates were talking about the stench, but none of us had the courage to tell the guy he stunk up the whole classroom. How can one tell a friend in a nice way, you stink, go take a bath?

May 30, 2005 @ 1:23 pm | Comment

JR – yeah, there are definately people like that everywhere. It’s a surprising thing for me that personal contact with someone who belongs to the group they hate will usually NOT cure them of this problem. Rather, the individual will be placed into a special category of his/her own, as somehow different from the great mass of the filthy unwashed depraved heathens. I see that kind of thing a lot in Sydney, where Koreans often make friends with Japanese … yet will still say quite freely that they hate Japanese … just not that particular Japanese person.

But the next question becomes … is it more common in China than it is in western countries? I tend to suspect that it is, for the reason that there seems to be less public education telling people that it’s bad to behave like that. What do you think?

May 31, 2005 @ 1:55 am | Comment

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