Friday, May 25, 2012

Censorship in China

I wanted to briefly discuss the political environment here since I've been getting a few questions on this area.  I read several Chinese cultural etiquette books before I came and they all said to not talk about the three T's (Tibet, Taiwan, and Tiananmen Square Massacre).  So, I have refrained from discussing any of these issues with anyone.  I have talked with people in a vague way about the censorship and their freedom to talk about certain "issues" without naming any of them specifically.  These individuals basically felt that they had full freedom to talk to anyone they wanted in a more private context, such as with family and friends.  Public discussions of sensitive issues was certainly not advised.   My brother, Keith, asked me if it "felt" like a communist country.  He has been to Russia (after the collapse of the Soviet Union) and served his mission in the Baltics, so he has a sense of at least the remnants of Soviet Communism.  I do not, so I'm not sure what I was supposed to feel when I got here, but I do know how it does feel here.  Apart from the statues and pictures of Mao Zedong everywhere, I certainly don't feel that I'm being watched or that anyone really cares what I am doing at all.  The people seem content and they do many of the same things people do in America (i.e. shopping, eating, talking on their cell phones).  I certainly do not get a communist vibe from this place.

Before I came to teach here, I was a little concerned about the content of my classes and whether I would be heavily regulated.  I was told that I could teach whatever I wanted and there would be no limitations.  So, I made minor adjustments to my existing critical thinking course (mostly just adding some things to powerpoint because of the language issues) and was geared up emotionally for this new adventure.  I was a little concerned when I arrived and saw in one of the classrooms that they had cameras at the back of the room.  I asked one of the teachers about them and he said they were for distance education and other things.  In my own mind, I thought "Yeah, I bet I can guess what those 'other things' are."  However, when I got to my classroom, there were no cameras and nobody scary sat at the back of the room glaring at me.  I have read on some blogs of teachers doing ESL stuff in China that they suspect the Chinese government sometimes asks students to keep notes of what professors say, but I really doubt this was happening in my class.  I guess I could be wrong, but I don't think so.

In terms of the attitudes that the Chinese people have toward foreigners, there is nothing really hostile or suspicious about their behavior toward me.  They seem very curious about me and will often engage me in conversation.  They always have questions about the United States and often want to talk with me about their favorite American TV shows.  I can't tell you how many people have wanted to discuss Desperate Housewives and Gossip Girl.  I'm not sure if this is all that is available to them here, but many people seem to be watching these two shows.  I heard a funny story the other day regarding the censorship of the movie Titanic.  Apparently, the government was worried about the Kate Winslet nude scene being in 3D.  They thought it would endanger people in the movie theaters to have people reaching out in front of them trying to touch a realistic looking Winslet, so they edited that part out of the movie.  Not sure if it's true, but it was an amusing story.  From what I can tell, there is certainly a great deal of Westernization happening in China.  It might be regulated, but it's certainly far from being full controlled.

In order to illustrate even better what the censorship looks like on the internet, I took a screen capture of me doing a search on the internet for various sensitive political topics.  You can see very clearly how difficult it is to find information that the Chinese government does not want you to see.  Have a look below!

1 comment:

  1. I actually got nervous for you as you were typing in the government-flagged search queries. As if Big Brother's switchboard was lighting up somewhere in Beijing.