Invisible White Elephants

May 18, 2010

In the debate about China with Timothy V, one of his quotes stuck in my mind. Timothy V wrote, “Concerning the Chinese students, I’ve met students from all over China. From Fujian to Beijing. From the rural areas to the big cities. I have one close friend who was born in northeast China and grew up in Beijing. None of them have very much good to say about their home country. One common thread that they have is that they say they have more freedom to move around here in the U.S. than in China…”

I find it interesting that so many Chinese students and one close friend would all bad mouth China to a foreigner like Timothy V. The hundreds of Chinese I’ve met would never talk about their country like that to a foreigner even if that was how they felt. In a collective society like China, it isn’t proper to talk about the “White Elephant” in the room.

That is, unless those students were Tibetan separatists, Islamic Uyghurs or one of the dissidents who fled China after the Tiananmen Square incident and was bitterly stranded in the United States. In China, the police and state security closely watch any person considered a subversive, which would explain the fear and distrust these students have for the police in China.

Even in the US, the FBI, CIA and Secret Service watch suspected terrorists closely. If they didn’t, there would have been another 9/11 by now or worse.

Chinese supporting China in front of a Sears

Consider that during the 2008 Beijing Olympic protests, Chinese nationalism, even from Chinese Americans, was at an all time high. The Chinese government had never seen so much support from Chinese all over the world.

In an April 2010 post on the “FrumForum” about Chinese Nationalism, it said, “If they ever did have a free election here, the Chinese Communist Party would win 70% of the vote.” and “…young nationalists hesitate to criticize their own government because (1) they share the widespread feeling that on balance, their government has done a good job improving their lives (China is on track to 12% growth in 2010!) – and (2) over-emphatic criticism would cost them their audience by pushing them far out of the mainstream of Chinese opinion.”

David Frum even shared a meal in China with a highly educated woman in the arts. American-educated, English-speaking, progressive-minded. Frum said they talked about the burden of censorship in the arts – and she bristled. ‘If you offend the authorities, you are just stupid. Everybody knows where the lines are, why cross them? Our idea of freedom is different from yours, why can’t you accept that?”

Could it be that Timothy V casts doubt on what I write about China because of whom he knows and that limits his perspective leading to flawed opinions?


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of the concubine saga, My Splendid Concubine & Our Hart. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. 

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