Changing China

Giant on the move

“Is this an anonymous interview?”

June 3, 2009

I spent a year working at a university in China in 2002. With the anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown looming, I wanted to solicit some thoughts from my former students. Unusually — but perhaps not surprisingly in retrospect — I did not hear back. I did hear from friends who are currently studying abroad. The following views are from one 27-year-old originally from Fujian province, who came two years ago to do a Master’s degree in Canada. Anonymity was requested.

Caption: Undergraduates stand in front of a Chinese national flag after three minutes of mourning for Sichuan earthquake victims at Fudan University in Shanghai May 12, 2009. REUTERS/Aly Song


Q: What are your thoughts on June 4th?

My knowledge about June 4th is from a three-hour documentary called Tiananmen. I know it’s definitely illegal in mainland China but these things always appeal to college students. I admire the courage of the protesters and their passion for this country. It’s quite difficult for me to imagine people acting the same nowadays. On the other hand, I don’t think those protests were well-organized,  and things seemed to be out of control when they were close to the end … Chaos won’t do any good to this country. We all know that China’s political system is not good, but what is better?

Q: How do you see life in China now?

Life is better, at least for people living in cities. The widespread use of computers and the Internet make it possible for us to find out hidden facts. Although the government has set up the Golden Shield Project [sometimes better known as the Great Firewall of China],  one doesn’t need to be a computer science expert to figure out how to deal with it.

Caption: Job-seekers visit booths of companies at a job fair held for graduates in Changchun, Jilin province, November 22, 2008. REUTERS/Stringer

But it seems that nowadays most people — and frankly speaking, myself included — care more about how to make life better than things such as democracy. Maybe it’s because most Chinese are still poor. Maybe it’s because of the way we were educated. Sometimes we college students do talk about the “lack of democracy”, but I guess most of us do not have much of an idea about what democracy really means. According to our textbook, the communist style is the only true democracy in the world, though most Chinese students just say this to pass the exam. Our government seems to be more open than before, but you can still catch the smell of autocracy everywhere. For instance, college students are not allowed to have a valid ID on their university BBS (bulletin board system) without reporting their true name to the network administrator. This makes it easy for them to track who said what in case there are “improper” political concerns on the BBS.

Q: How do you see China’s future?

I’ve seen enough trouble with these “one-child” generations, but I still believe the new generations are capable of making our country better, both in economy and politics. We’re better educated, and have more opportunities to learn from the outside world compared to our parents’ generation. For me, the most impressive part of the younger generations is that most of them know how to think independently and question instead of merely accepting what they’re told.

I do wish the day will come, however, when we Chinese people don’t need to ask before an interview, “Hi, is this an anonymous one?”

Caption: A Chinese honor guard is entangled in his flag during a welcoming ceremony for Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak outside the Great Hall of the People at Tiananmen Square in Beijing June 3, 2009. REUTERS/Reinhard Krause

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