Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Chinese Taboo

I rarely talk politics on this blog, I rarely talk negatively about China, and certainly while I was there there were several subjects which I would never bring up online.

The lack of politics on the blog is simply because that's not what I set out to write about when I started out on my travel adventures. The infrequency of negative posts on China was because I was usually having such an amazing experience that there weren't many negative things to write about and in general whenever something bad happened it was usually so ludicrously over the top that I could easily put a positive or at least amusing spin on it.

I would of course from time to time break these habits and write about politics and my less enjoyable adventures. However, the idea of writing about the various subjects which are taboo in China was simply something which would never have crossed my mind. The possible repercussions were not worth considering, even though the likelihood of the authorities caring about a small expat blog were marginal to nill.

I was told before leaving for China that there were a few things you should never talk about with Chinese people. The top four were Taiwan, Tibet, Falungong and Tiananmen. Well, it turns out that the Chinese love to talk about Taiwan and Tibet, although the response is always so unequivocal that starting a genuine debate is hard. Besides, the number of 'facts' that they may have to hand on the subject so far outweighs my knowledge of what I believe to be a subtle truth, that I never got terribly far in such debates.

In my two years in China I only had two conversations about Tiananmen and these were with people that I trusted. I didn't talk about it to stir up dissent, but simply to try and find out from people I respected what their thoughts on the subject were. Even though it would almost certainly do no harm, I'm not going to write about how these conversations went. Even outside of China I feel somewhat censored because as long as I have links with the country there are things that I'd rather not discuss online.

Spending two years in China I, and many blogging expats I know, became wary of straying onto uncertain political ground. I experienced this first hand when a book and film club I started up were shut down within three weeks. What appeared to be conspiracy theories at the time seem all too clearly to be hard truths many months later.

I would talk occasionally about the dreaded 'Net Nanny' who would regularly shut down various parts of the web for those in China, typically the BBC, wikipedia, blogspot, wordpress and CNN (Twitter has been blocked as of recently and the timing is no coincidence).

Anyway, the last link ties in with the motivation for writing this post. While many of us blogging in China would stay away from the taboo, a few others were always courageous enough to face the front line and discuss difficult issues, none more so than Richard at the Peking Duck and today, as the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen square massacre comes up, he writes a short article linking to a very powerful piece on the subject of what happened in those dark days in 1989. The Peking Duck is generally a place where you will find a huge spectrum of opinion, dogma, hostility, understanding and finger wagging with a good dose of common sense thrown in liberally (from the good combination of Richard's insightful writing and his many commenters), but it almost always provides something thought provoking. The article he links to in the Guardian is exactly that, and helps to add a few more ideas to the strange melting pot of half truths that we have to piece together to understand one of China's most important and terrifying moments.

1 comment:

DJ said...

Well, I quite agree with the top 4 sensitive topics. But maybe they should have put Tiananmen as the first?
I was born right after the massacre when the government started super propaganda brainwashing tactic, so I can't post much opinions in this. Once I tried to talk to my dad, but since he didn't really take part in this movement, all the information he got was from news (twisted facts) so he can't talk much either. So, you see, there couldn't be any inspiring conversation anyway since most of us were hidden away from what really happened.
Sad thing is, now when I did learn more about it, I finally understand that I HAVE to seal my mouth too, for the sake of my friends.
The process from "don't know" to "know" is also torturing. I can't explain. Something I deeply believed oneday became just a soup bubble...I hope more people from my generation will eventually learn about the real history though. It doesn't mean you don't love your country any more, but quite to the contrary, those who ventured their life are the real heroes and patriots.