Today at school was an interesting experience for me. This term, I have made it mandatory that each group from my 7 classes see me at least one time for about 10-15 minutes. Though this seemed like a reasonable idea at first, it has proven to be mixed success. Now, I hardly have any free time when I go to Pearl River College, because when I’m not eating or teaching my classes, I am meeting with students.
However, today I began what has turned out to be an interesting dialogue with one group of students. Yesterday, I saw on television that China is not “happy” with Taiwan’s recent purchase of fighter jets from the U.S. So, I wanted to understand my students’ reaction to this issue – the issue of Taiwan’s relationship with both the U.S. and China. Of course, they were inclined to believe that Taiwan is and has always been a part of China; yes, the same situation with Tibet.
Yet, these students were still interested to hear what I had to say. I told them what I feel most Westerners believe – that Taiwan really isn’t part of China. If only I could have had a camera ready to record their reactions to this viewpoint… “shock” as they later described to me in a letter they wrote me.
So, the second half of this “debate” proved to be the most interesting. As it turned out, some of the students with whom I met had class with me later the same day. When it was time to call it a day and end class, these students approached me rather quickly and suspiciously. I wasn’t quite sure what they wanted to say or do, but before I could even speak a word, they handed to me what seemed like a college essay for some exam… I must admit, I was equally “shocked” by their response to mine.
The letter goes like this (verbatim):
We are writing this letter just want to tell you a serious thing… You said Taiwan is not a part of China. We are shocked and very sorry to hear that… Being a member of Chinese, we have the responsibility to defend our motherland’s territorial integrity… From ancient times, Taiwan is part of China…”
Furthermore, they wrote:
“All of Chinese people believe that Taiwan will come back to her mother’s embrace, it is an unchangeable fact.”
According to their history, “Although Taiwan was ever occupied by foreign force… Especially Taiwan was occupied for nearly 50 years by Japan in the World War II.”
Now, first, I must admit, I am very impressed by their response. The fact that they were able to discuss such a complex issue in English and went out of their way to write a page and a half on this issue automatically gains my respect. In fact, it is my intention to write back to them, hoping to clarify some details and also to encourage them to further investigate the issue.
Although I know freedom of access to information is somewhat limited in China, and that any form of dissent towards the government is prohibited, I feel that I have a slight duty in this matter. I intend to explain to them that, as humans, we have the right to think for ourselves; that we should defend our own opinions and viewpoints; that we should investigate an issue from different angles.
I don’t want to openly say that I think the Chinese government is “wrong”; that they are “wrong.” In fact, it’s hard to say who is “right” and who is “wrong.” However, I do want to express my views on history and thinking. Even for my own educational background, I can be sure that there are many flaws in my thinking.
However, I am willing (and able) to admit that history is very much political and not always balanced in view; that we have to come to our own conclusions given solid data and support for our viewpoints. As of now, I'm still not sure what to believe when it comes to the Taiwan issue. Although the Chinese raise a good argument -- that they were at civil war during the time that Jiang Jie Shi (Cheng Kai-Shek) fled to Taiwan in exile -- this war occurred before the establishment of the P.R.C. (People's Republic of China). Would it then be a civil war?
It will be interesting to see how China reacts to the world this August for the 2008 Olympics. Already, several countries have begun to put pressure on China to change its stance on human rights. I feel that it is only a matter of time until things do change… just as slavery has ended in the US (although remnants of it remain), so too will China's approach towards its people…