In a recent post, Phil has pointed to the extensive history of human rights violations in China, something that continues today. These violations include unlawful imprisonment and torture, which are condemned by both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Chinese Constitution. The issue remains very serious, despite the fact that Chinese people are freer now than they have ever been in their long, continuous 5000 years of history.
Of course, Phil would argue that the relative merits of the current government do not outweigh the continued unlawful imprisonment of critical, popular bloggers who, as we speak, are languishing in prisons for the words they wrote.
As an American I believe fiercely in my right to freedom of speech and freedom to make changes. What I’ve learned since coming to China, however, is that this is not my place. There are many reasons for this, and I would like to elaborate. Firstly, I am not currently under American law, but Chinese law. Although freedom of speech is guaranteed by the Chinese Constitution, another clause protecting the current government trumps that clause. Those who say that China doesn’t follow its own laws needs to analyze this problem and work to change it rather than merely making this statement.
Secondly, I am a Peace Corps Volunteer, sent to China by U.S. tax dollars and, though I am not a government employee, I have been assigned with 3 goals to accomplish as a volunteer.
The goals are (1) to help the country meet its need for trained people (which we do by teaching English students who will go on to become English teachers); (2) share American culture with the host country; and (3) learn about the culture of the host country in order to share that with Americans upon return to America.
According to these goals, I find little or no incentive to be outspoken about my beliefs regarding the government (though, in the past, I have certainly posted my share of information that could probably be used to gather a general idea of my feelings). Finding a reason to be more open with Chinese people about my feelings regarding the government would not help me to better accomplish my goals – even if you argue that this open, honest dialogue is indelibly a part of American culture and, therefore, should be a part of goal number 2. For me, however, the link is too tenuous for serious consideration.
Another reason I don’t rush into a healthy criticism of the government is related to how much the issues have been twisted by both sides. Most Americans still think the Embassy bombing in Yugoslavia was unintentional, or they have forgotten about it entirely. Chinese scholars contend that Tibet has been part of China throughout the Ming Dynasty, while scholars just about everywhere else argue that it’s untrue. Young, ultra-liberal westerners jump on the “free Tibet” bandwagon without understanding the arguments made by China. The same is true of other issues that rarely find themselves brought up in conversations in my part of China.
Again, my feelings on these issues are strong, and I have a large supply of emotion that will likely pour out when I return to America. Perhaps one day I will look back and wish I said more, expressed my opinions more freely, and tried to make some political change. But then, would I be any different than those wishing to spread their faith?
I enjoy Phil’s blog immensely and frankly, I’m happy he is taking a different stance than me. It gives us something to discuss.