Saturday, June 30, 2007


I got an email from one of my 16-year-old students today. He and I have been emailing back and forth since I left Tangshan and started traveling in late March. Now he's no fool, and is cautious about what he reads and believes from Chinese media. (wise boy) However, the isolation of reality with the Chinese frightens me. I suppose what frightens me most is witnessing intelligent, independent-thought-driven people in China left in the dark. For us ("us" in this case being Canadians, I think), if we choose not to believe a thing it's because there is evidence to the contrary and we can point to it. We can see both sides of the coin. Not so for most Chinese people. Their "coin" has been riveted to steel and involves a government-run laser-light show that promotes the side showing.

Because of this, it amazes me when Johnson (my student) comes to me either telling me what he thinks, or asking questions. He has no basis, information-wise, to divide his opinion from the norm. Imagine a book that tells two sides of a debate, except each page reserved for the side that the Chinese government doesn't find convenient is blacked out completely. That's essentially how it goes. It's crazy to think that some of my students are looking at the black pages and going "I'd rather side with uncertainty than what's being said". They're tossing their away a government-generated "truth" in favour of a void.

This post was prompted from an email I received this morning, which contained: "Today I found a terrible fact: the Austrilians think that Taiwan is a country!! China has announced for lots of times that Taiwan is a part of China! Do you Canadians have that idea, too?" A bit of background: that teenage class was taken on by Jeff, an older Australian man, when I left. So clearly something is being discussed in class that has prompted Johnson to take whatever they were discussing as Australian gospel. (That's another thing... if I say "I think food in China is too spicy", that response would be tantamount to saying "Canadians think that food in China is too spicy".)

Ouch. How can I answer his question? 1) Prior to just looking it up (like, 5 minutes ago), I had no knowledge of Taiwan's history or political situation, and 2) is it right for me to give him the information I have available? He's asked an earnest question, and deserves an earnest answer. However... I worry that things I tell him could sow the seeds of further mistrust in him, and is that fair? Granted, China faces this problem now more than ever. Information restriction was quite easy before the Internet, but more importantly (and ironically) before English became a large part of their education. There aren't many Chinese newspapers outside of China, so 10-20 years ago what English media was saying wasn't a big concern because Chinese people (in China, obviously) couldn't read it anyway. Now that's changed, and I think China's heading towards a kind of information-based revolution. John (as in Zhuhai "John and Linda" John) believes that China is aimed right at a more traditional revolution. It's inevitable, he believes, given the hundreds of violent protests that occur every year... in China. (Not that you'd hear about them...)

I have to say that I think he's right.

In the bit of research I did on Taiwan, I came to the conclusion that despite PRC (People's Republic of China) influence and its enormous shadow, it is a somewhat independent country. Nice strong conclusion, eh? They have democratic elections, and their own president. However... technically, the UN recognizes Taiwan as being a part of China, and there are anti-secession laws preventing its independence. Counter-however... Taiwan has its own military. A huge issue is the US' Taiwan Relations Act, and the fact it sells arms to Taiwan. (Who don't they sell to?) So... if Taiwan makes a move to officially become sovereign, China will react militarily... prompting a counter-counter-response from the US. ... but not from the UN, which does not intervene when it comes to border or land disputes. Anyway, they recognize Taiwan as being a state of China.

For a nice propaganda-soaked read, check this out. Scary, but very typical.

For a more middle-of-the-road look, I found this interesting.

In other news, I went to tai ji quan on Thursday. The teacher, for the summer, is doing it under the Sapper Bridge near Parliament Hill. It was great. Lots of discussion about philosophy, and learning about the Chen family style and lineages, as well as application and some resistance push-hands (tuishou).

And what - the - fuck. Hamas TV martyrs Palestinian mickey mouse. Time to add some chlorine to the global gene pool, methinks.


Andy said...

Dude, that's a tough one. You could go for all the truthiness, or just explain it how I would; Taiwan has been spun off from greater China in an effort to maximize shareholder ROI by concentrating their clothing manufacturing business in one geographical spot. Much like Canada is threatening to do with Quebec's maple syrup industry.

I'm sure that will clear it up.

As for Hamas TV ... that shiite is starting to scare me as much as Nazi germany making a resurgence would. Control the media and you control the next generation and where they point their guns.


Wayward Mind said...

Bush scares me as much as this Hamas news (and most things they do). All this shit with Libby? America is in the hands of a dictator but I suppose they're too apathetic to give a damn.

PG said...

Not sure I understood Andy's explanation... ;-p

I agree it's a tough one. You can give your Western view of this. But really, us (the West) telling Taiwan that yes, they can unilaterally separate from China is like France telling Quebec that, yes, they can unilaterally separate from Canada. What would Canada say: mind your own business.

The difference is that, outside Western civilization, these responses are made not only on the diplomatic level, but also on the military and economical level. China feels very strongly about this - since they kicked the UK out of Taiwan, they feel the province is theirs again, and they don't want foreign influence. I think there are many levels to this issue: China wants to assert their position as a major power, and as such, don't want to lose face. On another level, they probably don't want to lose a gib pot of gold. Finally, they likely do not want Taiwan to fall under the influence of Western powers.

Other countries are very sensitive about the way the US tries to influence their internal affairs. We have decided that democracy is the way to go. But I can tell you that democracy can be scary. Let's not forget that it's democracy here in the states that decreed that homosexuality was illegal - and sodomy IS still illegal in certain states, which, essentially, means that homosexual males in those states must either opt for celibacy or be criminals at large... Uhm.... This is also a country where they still believe in capital punishment -- and we're so sorry if the legal system made a mistake and we killed one or two innocent people in the process.

There is a lot of bad stuff happening in China, for sure. And it's unfortunate that they impose censure on Western views. At the same time, I can't balme Islamic countries and ceratin eastern countries for blocking some western content. We could all do with less exteremist evangelists and pornographic material broadcasted to the world. Freedom of expression has its drawbacks too...

But back to your question: I would probably tell him that people in the West are so used to deal with Taiwan as an economic partner with a distinct identity, and buying products "made in Taiwan", some people have then thought of Taiwan as its own country. What individuals think should not be confused as what the political leaders think, and what the country;s official position is, and what some countries think should be VS what currently is. Let's not forget that China is litterally at the other end of the world, and Average Joe doesn't always have the full picture.

Mainly, I would avoid any "line in the sand", and responses such as: "your government is SO misinforming you. The rest of the world thinks that...". There are definitely different perspectives out there. It would be nice if China let its citizens see both sides of the coin. I think the Internet is giving them that opportunity to a certain degree. But as they get exposed to more information from outside, I hope they don't just see the our white picket fences and green lawns, but also the brown spots on our grass, our back alleys and our landfills... America isn't all pretty.


K. Scott said...

OK. First I'm going to slag you for not knowing a little about Taiwan. How can you go to China without having spent a little time looking in to the history and understanding a few of the sensitivities. Just wait till one of your students asks you about Japan or Kampuchea! Ok - all in jest of course.

It's fascinating that you're getting emails from students - that is so cool. I think you have established a bond with these kids and you should tell them the truth - based on facts - but sensitive to what is the "art of the possible" for them. There are always different opinions based on your loyalties. Do we have a 200 mile (sorry, I'm old) fishing limit or does the US have the right to fish in our waters? Do we have sovereignty over the North or can the US rightfully transverse it. It's all a question of perspective. So in my opinion, it's explaining the perspective that's important to a kid living in China.

That's my humble thought on a Sunday evening. But very cool that you're keeping in touch.

Andy said...

On a completely different subject: The latest trailer for Conan is out on GameSpot. Man, that looks sweet.


Andy said...

Oh, and back to the previous subject:

Unless I'm mistaken, Taiwan usually has its own entry into the Olympics under the name of "Chinese Taipei". Something tells me they might not be in the Olympics at Beijing.


Wayward Mind said...

Yeah, I think Taiwan has its own entry in the Olympics. Interesting... hadn't thought about how they'll be represented in Beijing.

This is what I wrote in response to my student's question:

Taiwan... Well, that's a very hard thing to talk about, Johnson. The history of Taiwan is very sad. First it was a Dutch land, then Han Chinese had it for 200 years. Then the Japanese took it over, then the Japanese gave it back to China 60 years ago when they lost in World War 2. But right now... well... Taiwan has democratic elections, and their own president. Taiwan, I think, is officially a part of China, but it isn't really a part of China since they have their own elections and president. It's like Hong Kong: if you go to Hong Kong, you have to cross a border, so it's like two different countries. Taiwan isn't like Tibet, because Tibet is ruled by China. I don't know how Taiwan is ruled. The president now is from Taiwan, not China. People in Taiwan are a bit angry at China because China did not treat them very well 50 years ago. It's a difficult situation.

I guess most Canadians think that Taiwan is separate from China. We think it isn't Chinese, but not many people understand the history or know what is happening. The United Nations sees Taiwan as a part of China.

His reply to that: I'm not going to continue the topic on Taiwan,'cause it's the job of politicians! I just wanted to know how you think about it.

Good answer, I think.

Andy: Can't wait for AoC, man!!