Freedom of Speech: American Style
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Why Is Anti-American Sentiment On the Upswing in China?
CAMW Rating: This is a rather factual article. What we need to understand is the deeper issue behind this anti-American sentiment.
Anti-American Sentiment On the Upswing in China
Mood Reflects Hardening of Beijing's Position in Standoff
By John Pomfret Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, April 9, 2001; Page A15
BEIJING, April 8 -- As Elton John faded into Mariah Carey in the background, Zeng Chen sat in an Internet cafe and pulled up the score for his U.S. law school practice test on his computer screen. As he leaned back and pulled on a Marlboro, the young man whose life straddles two worlds offered an unambiguous blast at one of them.
"All of us are fed up with America," said Zeng, 25, a Beijing University graduate student who hopes to attend law school in the United States next year. "Your hegemonistic behavior makes us sick. You think you're the world's policeman. But you're really the world's biggest criminal."
Zeng's sentiments are echoed throughout China -- on the airwaves, in the newspapers, in bars, taxicabs and noodle joints. Eight days after a U.S. Navy surveillance plane collided with a Chinese fighter jet several dozen miles from China's coast, China's people have again embraced the role of America's victim.
Two years ago, the bombing of China's embassy in Belgrade by U.S. warplanes triggered this kind of aggrieved outpouring. Now it's the midair collision of the U.S. Navy EP-3E Aries II and the Chinese F-8, which caused the Chinese fighter to crash into the South China Sea and resulted in the U.S. plane making an emergency landing on Hainan Island.
After several days of relatively low-key reporting, China's state-run media have been allowed to issue detailed reports on the missing Chinese pilot, Wang Wei, his wife's emotional letter to President Bush and other twists in the story, stirring the embers of anti-Americanism.
Almost every major paper was allowed to publish its own commentary on the case today. The military's newspaper opined that China had the right to investigate the American crew, intimating that charges could be brought. The Guangming Daily wrote about the fiery anger of China's students.
"On this planet only the stuck-up United States is this rude and unreasonable," said a commentary in today's People's Daily titled "Don't Quibble With the Facts."
This latest paroxysm of anti-American hatred is significant because it illustrates that China's public position is hardening in the current standoff with Washington. Bush and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell have expressed "regret" but have refused to offer the apology that China demands; China has said repeatedly that it will settle for nothing less. And while U.S. officials continue to insist that behind closed doors, Chinese diplomats are negotiating seriously over the wording of a joint communique about the collision, in China's public arena nobody is giving an inch.
"None of my roommates believe we should let the crew members go," said Zeng, the 25-year-old graduate student. "No one I know thinks we should let the crew members go. They are a great bargaining chip."
But more importantly, the current "down with America" campaign serves as an important reminder that, although China is becoming a more open society, huge swaths of its public life continue to be controlled at least partially by the Communist Party's powerful propaganda machine.
In March, state-run media attempted to squelch news that a fatal fire in a schoolhouse in southern China had occurred because elementary school students had been put to work making fireworks.
The campaign failed because of aggressive reporting by smaller Chinese newspapers and the unwillingness of many people to swallow the government's line. Things got so heated that Premier Zhu Rongji, who took the lead in contradicting the fireworks reports, was forced to make a public apology at the end of the National People's Congress.
But when it comes to international issues, China's people generally muffle their skepticism and toe the government's line. And these days the line is particularly anti-American.
Ironically, Chinese are adopting this hard line at a time when Americans and Chinese find themselves in an increasingly complex economic and cultural relationship. Trade between the United States and China totaled $110 billion last year, making China the United States' number one trade partner in Asia. There are 54,000 Chinese students attending schools in the United States, and American movies have the same pride of place in China's living rooms that American books on management have in Chinese universities.
China has a "love-hate relationship" with the United States, according to Sha Zukang, a senior Foreign Ministry official.
On the whole, the anti-Americanism is deeply emotional, born of what the Chinese say has been 150 years of indignities at the hands of the West. It has become increasingly powerful since 1993, when China lost its bid to host the 2000 Olympics to Sydney. Many here blamed the United States.
Richard Baum, a political scientist from the University of California at Los Angeles who stayed up until the predawn hours at Beijing University on the evening China lost, remembers the feeling clearly. "The students said, 'Why did you do this to us? We believed in you and you sold us out,' " he said.
From then on, the Chinese government has made use of numerous incidents to drive home the point that the United States is no friend of China's -- most recently the Belgrade embassy bombing, Washington's continued arms sales to Taiwan and its support of the Dalai Lama.
"Nationalism is a good salve for a society that is confused about where it is going and is confronted by enormous challenges," Baum said. "It provides many Chinese with a shelter in the storm. This is a textbook case of the uses of nationalism."
What is curious about the statements these days is the almost identical wording of many of the arguments made by the state-run press, normally scoffed at by average Chinese, and those made on the street.
Get into a taxicab and the driver begins his analysis of the situation with, "If someone came into my house to steal my things, of course, I'd fight them." Stop by a local noodle shop and the waitress says, "If someone was making noise outside my house, do you expect me not to go outside and see what's going on?" Both expressions originated in China's state-run press.
In step with the party line, very few people say the Americans should be released. Many of them say they believe the Americans could be used as a bargaining chip in negotiations with Washington.
"Now we have a chance to get even," said Wei Jun, a 31-year-old physicist, who studied for two years in California. "We should get something in exchange for their lives."
But when asked exactly what their country or government could win, many Chinese were at a loss. Told that perhaps holding the Americans had a downside -- delays in China's joining the World Trade Organization, or problems for another Chinese Olympics bid, this time for 2008 -- many didn't seem to care.
"Nothing is more important to China than sovereignty and dignity," said Sun Ning, a 23-year-old student of fine arts, who had just logged off a Web site exploring the work of American artist Jasper Johns.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Sun Yuxi made the same remark on Thursday.
© 2001 The Washington Post Company
In recent years, we have been going down the wrong road without any strong China experts among our European American dominated politics. Instead of taking proper advantage of the post Tiennamen Squre period, we have squandered away all of our advantage in our improper directions on Tibet, Taiwan, and human rights.
Instead of destroying communism, we have let our support for ethnic segregation, attack on Chinese sovereignty help Beijing with generating nationalism. Our lack of understanding of an underdeveloped country's needs resulted in many Marie Antoinette styled "human rights" challenges, which further turn off the Chinese people.
Beijing could not have hired a better publicity agent to galvanize the people of China than our mindless Congress who contributed millions to the "free Tibet" movement.
America needs to wake up now. Instead of blaming "the Chinese propaganda" once again, and making the Chinese people out to be brainwashed, let's take note that Wang Wei's wife's letter criticizing the U.S. of "human rights" was published in all Chinese newspapers, meaning all of the Chinese people are aware of our human rights drive.
If we made a movie "Top Gun", it's likely Tom Cruise will be the "hot dog" pilot, flashing a boyish grin and his email address to the enemy. While "the Chinese" will be a crew of 24 "in-step-with-party-line" comrades watching him with blank faces. When it comes from push to shove, Cruise might plunge to his death, bringing a tear to the audience, while the 24 "Chinese cowards" will be forced to land their spy plane on our soil.
Victory for America!?
Let's recognize the truth:
It's true Beijing controls the Chiese presses, but one can hardly say our American press has given fair coverage on issues such as Tibet. Washington Post has yet published our own Chinese American's view on the ethnic purity aspects of "free Tibet", and the fact that there are 56 ethnicities in China.
While this article talks about "party line", we have to realize most of the American media also toe a party line. We have been putting on blindfolds over our own eyes while we talk about how the Chinese people are "brainwashed" by propaganda.
We need to ask ourselves: Why don't these Chinese people care about WTO and the Olympics when Beijing cares?
We need to ask ourselves: "If we work so hard for the Chinese people's 'human rights', why are they angry at us for it?"
The answer isn't pretty.