Recently we’ve read about the shameful treatment of a Chinese student in the US, Grace Wang. The Washington post gave her the opportunity to explain her side of the story.
Over Christmas break, all the American students went home, but that’s too expensive for students from China. Since the dorms and the dining halls were closed, I was housed off-campus with four Tibetan classmates for more than three weeks…
I’d long been interested in Tibet and had a romantic vision of the Land of Snows, but I’d never been there. Now I learned that the Tibetans have a different way of seeing the world. My classmates were Buddhist and had a strong faith, which inspired me to reflect on my own views about the meaning of life. I had been a materialist, as all Chinese are taught to be, but now I could see that there’s something more, that there’s a spiritual side to life.
We talked a lot in those three weeks, and of course we spoke in Chinese. The Tibetan language isn’t the language of instruction in the better secondary schools there and is in danger of disappearing. Tibetans must be educated in Mandarin Chinese to succeed in our extremely capitalistic culture. This made me sad, and made me want to learn their language as they had learned mine.
Chinese will complain that foreigners have never been to Tibet, but they haven’t lived with ordinary Tibetans either. Maybe they’ve come across a couple of very wealthy ones who work and live in big Chinese cities, but they’re the minority – it’s like hob-nobbing with someone who lives in Chelsea, as if they can tell you what it’s like for most Londoners. In any case they don’t understand Tibetans that well either.
The Chinese protesters thought that, being Chinese, I should be on their side.
It appears that in China some people believe your race dicatates what your opinion can be.
Some people on the Chinese side started to insult me for speaking English and told me to speak Chinese only. But the Americans didn’t understand Chinese. It’s strange to me that some Chinese seem to feel as though not speaking English is expressing a kind of national pride. But language is a tool, a way of thinking and communicating.
Well it’s better to wrap yourself blindly up in nationalism than communicate. Otherwise you might have to change your views if the other side can make good arguments.
Now, Duke is providing me with police protection, and the attacks in Chinese cyberspace continue. But contrary to my detractors’ expectations, I haven’t shriveled up and slunk away. Instead, I’ve responded by publicizing this shameful incident, both to protect my parents and to get people to reflect on their behavior. I’m no longer afraid, and I’m determined to exercise my right to free speech.
Because language is the bridge to understanding.
It’s easy to dismiss the actions of the criminals who have hounded her and her family as that of a minority, but students like these are supposed to be China’s future. Is this what CCP nationalism and media manipulation has created – a generation of middle/upper class children who are angry and so “proud” of their country that they will attack those who do not conform to their views? Take the case of China’s “hero”, Jin Jing.
But what words came out of her mouth? Jin Jing has just said publicly that netizens should be very careful about the call to boycott Carrefour, because that company employs many Chinese employees who would be hurt by any boycott.
Here is a sample of the comments posted on her recently.
What kinda fart is Jin Jing! She is helping Carrefour. I think that she is a Chinese traitor.
What kinda person is Jin Jing? You give her a little color, and she thinks that she can run a dye mill.
First, she lost her leg. Now she has lost her mind.
The interests of a number of Chinese employees cannot be as important as the interests of a nation. There is no need to worry about them. It is important to let the world that China cannot be bullied.
She went to France just once and now she thinks that she is French. Jin Jing speaks like a Chinese traitor with no brain. No wonder she got fired from her job.
Who is Jin Jing? Is she famous or something? If she does not want to join the boycott, she does not have to. But why come out and speak? Does she want to be cursed out?
Stop fucking bullshitting. Any torch bearer would have protected the torch in that situation. This is the duty of everyone and there is nothing more to be said. When the Chinese people offer you some praise, you begin to think that you are some kind of goddess. It is not your fault to lose your leg, but it is worse to become brain-dead.
If someone like Jin Jing can become a traitor the next day due to making a very reasonable and logical comment, it indicates how bitter and poisonous Chinese nationalism has become - and it will only get worse. It also rather demonstrates that she was a convenient "totem" for Chinese anger over the Torch relay, rather than the cause of it. Someone who was seriously well-respected would not have been the subject of such abuse.
So is this what we can await from China in the future? An extreme "you're with us or against us" mentality that condemns and persecutes people for not conforming? It seems a lot like the Cultural Revolution, where people were bullied and tormented for not going along with the flow.
The Chinese government should be shitting their pants over this - they have created a self-conscious monster (a very nasty strain of Chinese nationalism) that will demand people conform to what it wants, but not necessarily what Beijing wants. If things carry on as they are, with manipulation of the media to stoke xenophobic attitudes and repress open discussion and more generally the support of angry nationalism to divert attention away from the CCP, one day this beast may well turn against the political establishment. Then there will be blood, one way or another.
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.