May 06

The Chinese people and the Chinese government

Written by Buxi on Tuesday, May 6th, 2008 at 6:45 am
Filed under:Analysis |
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Written by Tang Buxi – May 5th, 2008

Over the past 4 weeks, we’ve seen the Chinese community world-wide rise up in protest. In the face of widespread criticism from the West, various segments of the community (including recently arrived students, fourth-generation Chinese immigrants, and even some “old generals” from the 1989 Tiananmen protests) have come together to fiercely and proudly reassert our Chinese identity. It was no small step; for the vast majority of us, this represented the first time we’ve ever waved the Chinese national flag, or participated in a political ‘movement’ of any kind.

I think it’s safe to assume that none of the critics of China wanted (or expected) this reaction from the Chinese public at large. So, what happened? Where did they miscalculate?

A common refrain heard recently in the Western media-space goes like this:

Don’t they understand that we’re not criticizing the Chinese people? Our goal is to criticize Chinese government policy. Why haven’t they learned to distinguish between the Chinese people and the Chinese government?

My response to this is simple: the vast majority of Chinese have no difficulty distingushing between ourselves and our government. Many of the online Chinese forums are filled with debates about our governments’ policies, and the critics often out-number those who support specific government policies. Many of us are not shy about discussing our governments’ failing with anyone ready to listen.

However, even though many of us are critical of our government, all of us love our country with a passion. If you looked closely, you would’ve seen that those of us marching in Toronto, Washington DC, and Canberra were waving our five-star national flag. If you listened carefully, you would’ve heard us singing our national anthem, “Great China” (大中国), “Ode to the Motherland” (歌唱祖国), and “My Chinese Heart” (我的中国心). As you walked the streets of San Francisco or Seoul, the loudest chants you heard would have been “Go China!” (中国,加油!).

All of these are symbols of the Chinese nation, rather than symbols of the Communist Party. None of us recited Communist Party slogans (except perhaps as a sort of tongue-in-cheek/campy humor), none of us carried the Hammer and Sickle flag, none of us sang “If there is no Communist Party, there is no New China” (没有共产党就没有新中国). In other times, there would have been loud and angry political debates between the Chinese who marched on the streets; many of us hold opposing opinions on government policies in the People’s Republic of China. But for this one moment, for this one instant, we were united by love of our country. Our country is China. Our country isn’t defined by the current government, nor is it even necessarily defined by the People’s Republic of China. (For example… many of us enthusastically cheer the sight, at the 3:00 mark in this video, of these torch supporters from Taiwan carrying the Republic of China flag.)

Some Western critics have a difficult time accepting this explanation. When presented with evidence that the Chinese in China were increasingly angered by these activist campaigns (mostly online postings), they pointed to Chinese government controls on free speech, on political dissent, on internet access… the Chinese in China were brain-washed, and could hardly hope to know better. And when hundreds of thousands of overseas Chinese (with full access to the wonders of the free media) came out in opposition to their campaign, this theory was extended further: the indoctrination we all received in our youths must be far more severe than originally predicted, and we were simply ill-equipped to handle “fair” Western criticism. To all of these critics, I have only one thing to say: 6/4/89. It’s a date now 19 years in the past, but many of us (both inside and outside of China) remember its lesson well. I, for one, remember these same indoctrinated, brain-washed overseas Chinese stepping out in overwhelming opposition to our government’s actions in violently suppressing the riots in Tiananmen!

So, this still leaves us with the original question. Why have the protesters and activists calling for pressure failed so miserably on this account? Rather than dividing the government and her people, how have they managed to push massive numbers of Chinese firmly back into the Communist Party’s corner?

In short, it is the activists themselves who’re suffering from severe myopia; it is these activists and their supporters in the West apparently lack the ability to distinguish between the Chinese people and their government. I see two key issues as being the primary driving factor behind Chinese outrage: territorial integrity, and international respect in the form of the Olympics. Due to a combination of ignorance and wishful thinking, they’ve identified these two issues as being “government” objectives, without recognizing their significance to the masses at large.

These are both issues I’ll explore in detail in upcoming articles.

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19 Responses to “The Chinese people and the Chinese government”

  1. howard Says:


  2. Jinmaz Says:

    Thanks for the wonderful writeup. Continue with the good work for the benefits for the Chinese as well as for the rest of the world. Whilst I’ve no doubt there are also some hugh majority of the Westerners who are equally fair and righteous, we must also guide ourselves from the manipulation and exploitation of the other unscrupulous Westerners.

  3. snow Says:

    a forceful fight-back right on the core!
    the bias against China evidenced in media reports and on internet in recent weeks is overwhelming and it may well be the tip of an iceburge. however, there is indeed a sensible minority voice like this one made by a commentor from npr forumNPR.

    “I have to say that as a Westerner I have been personally offended by the coverage of the riots in Tibet. The idea that the lives of Chinese hurt or killed in the riots do not matter is the same disregard for human life and dignity that China is accused of. The only truly unbiased report that I heard from the region was by James Miles of The Economist. He was in Lhasa during the riots and reported on the ethnic nature of the violence. Thank you James. Every other news source including, unfortunately, PRI and NPR seemed to use the riots to once more hammer China on their human rights record in Tibet. What happened to actually reporting the news? If you want to do a story on the abuse of human rights in China or the treatment of Tibetans or even how it contributed or led to the riots in Tibet, then do so, just don’t gloss over the details of the violence against Chinese for the purposed of making a snappier headline.

    When it comes to protests of the Olympic torch, I understand and respect the right of protesters to express their views, however, the violent element to the protests (a tiny one as it may be) made them look very bad in my eyes. Trying to take the Olympic flame out of the arms of a wheelchair-bound Chinese athlete? Come on!

    Now about boycotting the opening ceremony of the Olympic games. I’ll only say this, that I was a strong Clinton supporter until she suggested that Bush boycott the opening ceremony. I thought she understood the need for diplomacy and reconciliation, but comments such as these showed me that all those who accuse her of being disingenous and pandering to the masses are right. Mrs. Clinton, you lost me.”

  4. zentra Says:

    The reason James Miles was able to come out with fair and balanced reporting was because he was among the very very few foreign journalists (only two that I know of) who had the Tibet permit. He applied weeks beforehand and he was allowed in two days before the riots. All other foreign journalists who tried to get in either via official channels (foreign journalists have to go through the foreign ministry to get the permit) were not let in “for their own safety,” or chucked out if they were caught sneaking in.

  5. Mick Says:

    Some Chinese have a difficult time accepting that their patriotic fervour is being manipulated by the Party to divert attention from slightly more pressing problems than the “sacred flame”, ie inflation, child labour, land and property confiscation.

  6. Buxi Says:


    I don’t really think that sort of commentary is useful or accurate.

    “Some Westerners apparently have a difficult time accepting that their desire for justice and human rights is being manipulated by those looking to politically weaken China.”

    My suggestion for you is that you don’t pretend to speak for the Chinese, and I won’t pretend to speak for you.

    I, for one, have no problems being concerned about inflation, child labor, land confiscation at the same time that I worry about the “sacred flame” and the dangers of separatism.

  7. Jack Says:

    The Five Star flag IS a Communist Flag. Let’s not beat around the bush. Just like a White Supremacist/Nazi Flag is red, with a white circle, and stylized black symbol a Communist flag is a sea of red with a yellow symbol. It’s the Comintern Standard.

    And from what I’ve seen from the displays of patriotism in the last few weeks, it seems myopia is not limited to Westerners and is a human condition.

  8. Jack Says:


    “My suggestion for you is that you don’t pretend to speak for the Chinese, and I won’t pretend to speak for you. ”

    The Chinese Communist Party should take your advice and stop speaking for me too.

  9. Jinmaz Says:


    Who said the CCP is speaking for you. If the majority of the Chinese are confident with their current government (whatever you called them as communists, socialists and democrats), who are you to question their loyalty and support.

  10. overseaschinese Says:

    This is BS. Don’t make people assume that all people of Chinese descent are stupid GONGFEI like these guys.

  11. Jack Says:


    I don’t question their loyalty and support. However, recent events have created a confusing situation where Chinese ethnicity and the PRC are thought to be one in the same.

    I’m not a PRC citizen, and I’m not pretending to be one. I would hope the PRC wouldn’t be so presumptious as to speak for me. That implies that they represent me, which I find repugnant.

  12. Buxi Says:


    In what way has anyone spoken for you?

    Recent events have shown many ethnic Chinese holding passports of all colors joining together on a variety of issues. The most obvious examples are the various Olympic torch rallies, in which PRC, Republic of China, United States, Canadian, and Australian citizens have stood together. Even Dr. Henry Lee has reportedly said he will be boycotting appearances on CNN indefinitely over Jack Cafferty’s comments. Elected ethnic Chinese officials throughout the San Francisco Bay Area have also made clear their opposition.

    No one has suggested, however, that *all* ethnic Chinese around the world have a single view on this issue. Your feeling of victimization is completely, absolutely self-generated.

  13. overseaschinese Says:

    As is yours, buxi.

  14. jim Says:

    The problem is that both “sides” are right.

    1) The Western media are biased against the Chinese government, but that is in large part the fault of the CCP itself: if you lie for 60 years in such a ridiculous manner and refuse to let anyone report what is _actually_ happening in Ti-bet, what do you expect?

    2) The tactics of pro-Tibetan protesters were stupid and backfired.

    3) The tactics of the pro-China protesters were stupid and backfired.

    4) Most Chinese are either brainwashed or have no access to information regarding what is actually going on in Tibet (the 2% of the 1.3 billion who read English news and live overseas are a drop in the ocean).

    5) Most Westerners are either brainwashed or are completely ignorant of anything relating to China or Tibet.

    6) Most Chinese are hypersensitive to foreign criticism of ANYTHING relating to China — not just the government.

    7) The ignorance of most Westerners regarding China makes them appear arrogant and insensitive.

    8) Chinese have no problem criticizing Western governments (Iraq?), but they get defensive when foreigners criticize the Chinese government.

    9) Westerners should focus more on the problems of their own governments rather than lecturing the rest of the world.

    The truth is messy.

  15. Jack Says:


    “No one has suggested, however, that *all* ethnic Chinese around the world have a single view on this issue. Your feeling of victimization is completely, absolutely self-generated.”

    I recall the MOFA suggesting that Chinese, both domestic and overseas, were offended by Cafferty’s remarks and against Tibetan separatism.

    And, there IS that lawsuit against CNN on behalf of all Chinese in the world.

    AND, there was that article by Doug Saunders, about Western Chinese support for the PRC.

    And, let’s not forget that joke about telling Chinese Canadians to return to drop their Canadian passports and return to the Motherland.

    AND, there was a recent (after all the above happened) incident where a couple of Mainland Chinese on the internet basically called me a race traitor and a banana.

    And I never identified myself as a victim. Just like how I refuse to believe that all ethnic Chinese think I’m some sort of race traitor, I refuse to believe that all ethnic Chinese support PRC. My basic point is, I don’t like blowhards speaking for me, and I’m not afraid to point out their idiocy.

  16. Jack Says:

    “Elected ethnic Chinese officials throughout the San Francisco Bay Area have also made clear their opposition.”

    I’m actually curious about this. I was searching to see the opinions of high-profile politicians and activists of Chinese descent. I couldn’t find any national ones, and the only SF one I recall was Helen Zia. Any other ones would be interesting to read.

  17. Buxi Says:


    I will say it again: if you are informed about China and legitimately have China’s best interests in mind, then you have nothing to be ashamed of. You have the option of disagreeing with other Chinese.

    If you were dragged into this purely on the basis of being ethnic Chinese and you couldn’t care less about China’s best interests… then I suggest you either grow a thicker skin, or do some creative redesign with your name and identity. The vast majority of ethnic Chinese worldwide are concerned with Chinese interests; stories like that of Doug Saunders is going to happen again, and again.

    And it’s really inevitable that we’ll be making our voices and opinions heard on the international stage again, again, and again. None of us are intentionally trying to speak “for you”, but the outside world might not be very good at telling the difference.

  18. Buxi Says:

    I’m actually curious about this. I was searching to see the opinions of high-profile politicians and activists of Chinese descent. I couldn’t find any national ones, and the only SF one I recall was Helen Zia. Any other ones would be interesting to read.

    I don’t follow Chinese-American politicians, so I don’t have a comprehensive answer for you. I know only the names that have come up in the overseas Chinese press recently as having spoken out about CNN and other related issues.

    I have a few names for you… I just found these from quickly googling through shijie ribao (worldjournal.com). Not a comprehensive list, just from the first page of results when I searched for ‘议员’ and ‘CNN’.

    余胤良, Leland Yee
    劉醇逸, John Liu
    杨爱伦, Ellen Young
    邱信福, David Chiu
    朱感生, Kansen Chu

    I would’ve pasted the links to the article, but looks like the site thinks the links are spam.

  19. Joy Says:

    Survey Nation goes to the streets of San Francisco during the April 9, 2008 disrupted Olympic Torch Relay to get the story you won’t see on CNN, FOX, CBS, NBC, ABC, or any mainstream media. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nDvvxzG6hvs

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