Friday, May 25, 2012

Censorship in China Part II: A Chinese Perspective

After the last post, I thought I should finally initiate a political discussion with a Chinese friend.  Since she's only 23, I thought she would be more open about things.  The disadvantage is that youth often brings an unawareness of things around you, but she was quite knowledgable and VERY interested in talking about these things.  In fact, I tried to cut her off after an hour and she was still going.  I'll try to remember and summarize the key points of our discussion.

First, I asked how the heck Desperate Housewives and Gossip Girl are the most popular American shows in China.  She did not have a good explanation other than to say "I just love those" and I wasn't willing to tell her that she along with 1.3 billion Chinese have very bad taste in t.v. shows.  I understand that taste is all relative, but some things are just bad (Exhibit 1: Twilight).  She indicated to me that there is a Chinese YouTube along with many other Chinese websites that have thousands of American movies and television shows.  So, it's not a lack of options.  Apparently, the Chinese government does not regulate Western popular culture too much as long as the productions are not very political.  However, I would argue there is a fine line between politics and entertainment and this will become a huge problem for the Chinese in the future.  I mean, think about all the political discussions about torture that started just from watching the show 24.  She said she did not feel particularly limited when trying to access content on the internet because she is not very interested in political issues.  She said that if she were interested, she could easily find out about the things she wanted to know because most students, including nearly every person in her dormitory utilize illegal methods to access the internet in China.  I asked her if she was worried about doing anything illegal and whether that would land her in jail.  She said that students don't worry at all about it and as long as they don't search for terms like "revolution" or "bomb" or something like that, the Chinese government turns a blind eye to it.  I still find it a bit ironic that Chairman Mao instituted the current system of government through revolution and that now they get in trouble in China for searching the word "revolution" on a computer.  Apparently, the people in the Hunan Province here are a bit more rebellious than other mainland Chinese because Mao came from here and that the people reflect a similar attitude about seeking change.  

We then talked a little about the Tiananmen Square Massacre.  She said, "Oh yeah, I know what happened there."  I didn't want to taint her answer in any way, so I just said, "Really, what happened?"  She said something like "The government squashed some kind of student revolution."  She also said that "The victor in any conflict gets to write the history."  I then asked, "Do you believe the history that is being taught to you?"  She said: "Absolutely not."  She then explained something that I think is very interesting.  She said that most Chinese people don't believe anything the government tells them and if they stumble upon some information that they know the government is trying to keep them from, they will automatically accept it as truth.  Their interpretation of the situation is that nobody would try so hard to hide something that was not true.  

I also brought up Taiwan and this one was a bit more sensitive than the Tiananmen Square topic.  She basically told me that Taiwan was an important part of China, much the way Hong Kong and Macao are important.  The latter were recently brought back into the fold and so would Taiwan at some point.  I said, "Well the Taiwanese assert their independence from China."  And she said: "So you Americans just accept that because they say so?"  That one really threw me off my game.  I knew that the U.S. government was very careful about openly supporting Taiwan because of our bilateral relations with China, but I suspect that most Americans probably do accept Taiwanese independence simply because they want their independence.  I wondered if revolution is such an integral part of our culture because of the way our country was born.  In many ways, we can probably relate to the position of Taiwan wanting to be free from an oppressive motherland.  I responded to her by saying it was a sensitive issue and that Americans probably did believe that Taiwan was a separate country and explained to her the reasons.  She responded again that Taiwan was very important to the economy and that they would continue to be part of China.  She also said that the U.S. government should stay out of other people's business.  

So, I jumped off of the Taiwan issue and started steering the conversation toward Chinese people's attitudes about the United States.  She said that the Chinese perceive the American government to be extremely aggressive and that we involve ourselves in conflicts that we don't need to be in.  She said that the Chinese government does not start wars, but merely protects itself against attack.  I said, "Or, if North Korea chooses to invade South Korea, right?"  I got a dirty look and so I changed the subject.  I asked her if it bothered her that she has no say in the outcome of government or the distribution of power in her country.  She said that it bothers her, but there is not much she or anybody else can do about it.  She believes that as the economy grows, there will be more opportunities and rights granted to the people.  She argued that the older generations of Chinese were just trying to survive and ensure there was enough food on the table.  She said the young people have their basic necessities and so they are now looking for the next thing to be granted to them and she believes that to be more individual freedom.  I asked if she thought there would be another revolution and she said that she comes from a culture where dynasty after dynasty rose and fell and that it was only a matter of time before this one fell too.  Pretty interesting stuff.  

Last, I asked her about the blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng, who had recently dominated the American media landscape and she had no idea who he was.  I told her to go on her illegal connection and look him up straight away.  I could tell she really enjoyed talking about these things with me and had very little concern about doing so in a private conversation.  She claimed that the Chinese people frequently talk about sensitive current and historical issues with each other, but it's kind of an oral history that never gets written down because of the government controls.

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