Chinese Canadians conflicted on Tibet
CARLOS OSORIO/TORONTO STAR
Lawyer Andrea Chun, who has a phone-in show on local Chinese radio, says many listeners are conflicted over human rights. "They just dont want a boycott of the Olympics," she says. April 7, 2008.
Surging nationalism tends to overcome concerns about Beijing's human rights record
Apr 13, 2008 04:30 AM Nicholas Keung IMMIGRATION/DIVERSITY REPORTER
Raymond Wang is quick to complain about the lack of freedom in China, but the Mainland Chinese immigrant is also fast to defend Beijing's crackdown on the Tibetan protests leading up to the Summer Olympics.
"I was in Beijing during the (Tiananmen Square) June 4th massacre in 1989," says the Markham investment adviser, 45, who moved here six years ago. "China handled it poorly. They made a mistake. I'm not a Communist. I'm not a fan of the government. I know there's no freedom of the press there.
"But the Tibetans and the Western boycotters are hurting Chinese people a lot. We do have the human rights to join the Olympic games and to share the spirits of the Olympics."
Wang is not alone in his seemingly contradictory views. Many Chinese Canadians condemn China's human rights records yet support its iron fist on the Tibetans, and loathe the worldwide protests along the Olympic torch run.
Increasingly, the world's Chinese diaspora is becoming antagonistic toward the West and its media over criticism and coverage of China, on anything from corrupt leadership to unsafe food, substandard products and stifling air quality.
And China's hosting of the Summer Games has caused a long-dormant surge in nationalist pride.
In the eyes of many expatriates, an attack on the Chinese government becomes an attack on their homeland and its 1.3 billion people, even though many hold grudges against the Communist party for whatever social, economic and political problems they have.
"It's like me and my mom," says Victor Wong, executive director of the Chinese Canadian National Council in Toronto. "I can complain about my mom's cooking, but if a friend comes to my house and complains about her being a bad cook, I'm going to be all over (him)."
Toronto lawyer and broadcaster Andrea Chun sees it another way. "For the silent majority, they know what's going on in China. But they accept that the violation of human rights is part of the life in China. They also believe that things are changing there, slowly. They just don't want a boycott of the Olympics."
Wong says he has seen his share of Chinese Canadians coming through the door of his community advocacy group's offices, denouncing China's one-party rule and relishing the democratic freedom they all enjoy in Canada.
"But there's so much contradiction within them," says Wong, whose grandparents paid the $500 head tax to come to Vancouver in 1912. "I'm just constantly amazed that it's the same people who criticize China and who are also the first to come forward to China's defence."
Despite China's 5,000 years of rich civilization, the West has long considered it a poor and inferior country, especially in the past century with the fall of the Qing Dynasty, followed by foreign powers' annexation, the trauma of the Cultural Revolution and subsequent international isolation of the country.
There had been little for the Chinese diaspora to be proud of until China's economic boom in the 1990s and, later, admission to the World Trade Organization, which launched the sleeping giant onto the world stage.
The 2008 Olympics is icing on the cake.
"We've seen this tidal change in Hong Kong, where the democratic movement is now viewed as anti-central government," says Chun, a political commentator whose one-hour phone-in show, Newsbeat, airs daily on Fairchild Radio, which has Chinese-language stations in Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary. "This idea of national pride can supersede a lot of things."
Chun believes many of her listeners are torn over the actions in Tibet, because their pride in China hosting the Olympics tempers the disappointment they face in Canada trying to find jobs that suit their professional training.Notwithstanding his colonial upbringing in Hong Kong and initial detachment from China, Wilbert Lai, who was educated in North America and has been in Canada for 34 years, was elated watching China win the Olympic bid.
That's quite a change for someone who grew up with negative impressions of China during the Cultural Revolution and its aftermath.
"But China is my root," says the 60-year-old Torontonian. "I always have this emotional attachment to it. My views of China started to change when it opened it doors in the late 1980s.
"I think China is well deserved to host the Olympics," he adds. "I do feel the rest of the world is ganging up on China. I ask them to look at China's human rights today and compare that to four years ago; it's doing a lot better. To change that, we need to continue to engage China, not to isolate it. A giant is going to be a giant, no matter what."
If there's one subgroup of Chinese diaspora that has been consistently and staunchly critical of China's human rights record, it's the Taiwanese across the strait, who are equally concerned about their independence in China's nationalism drive.
Taiwan's resistance to the mainland was evident in the run-up to the country's presidential election last month, when voters swung their support from the pro-China frontrunner, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) candidate Ma Ying-jeou, in the wake of the Chinese crackdown in Tibet. Ma ended up losing much of his support margin in his eventual victory.
"People in Taiwan didn't want to see Tibetans suppressed because Taiwan could be next," says Harry Chen of the Formosan Association for Public Affairs Canada. "We were not happy that China was awarded the Olympics. We are sad with the violent crackdown in Tibet. But we don't bow to the pressure of China."
Cindy Gu, publisher of Epoch Times, a North American daily trilingual newspaper that's often critical of China's Communist regime, says many in the diaspora simply confuse the love for their homeland and compatriots as love for the Chinese government.
"They associate the criticisms of the Chinese government as attacks on China and the Chinese people," observes Gu, who was disappointed by China's crackdown on the student-led democratic movement in 1989 and left for Canada a year later. "They are not able to differentiate that.
"When others criticize the Chinese government, they automatically take the criticisms upon themselves. Patriotism and nationalism have been the biggest tools by the Communist party to gain support from the Chinese people to stay in power, to stay in control of the country."
Chinese political observer Gloria Fung agrees that the Communist party has a long tradition of using nationalism to strengthen its dominance by deliberately "equating loyalty to the country and its people with their loyalty to the party."
From day one of the Tibetan protest, the government has framed it as a fight for independence by insurgents, even though the Dalai Lama has long stopped talking about independence and advocated a meaningful dialogue with the Communist regime.
"In China, nationalism is very narrowly defined as loyalty to the Communists, the only ruling party," says Fung, a Cambodian-born Chinese woman who moved to Canada in 1990. "It makes it easy for the government to manipulate its people, because if you criticize the government, you betray the government, the country and its people."
Public opinion on Tibetan unrest has been much easier to manipulate than that about the Tiananmen Square massacre, says Fung, because a minority group is involved and the pride of hosting the Olympics is at stake.
In 1989, the party wasn't able to use "the nationalism card" against the demonstrating university students, majority Han people, who demanded corruption-free leadership and democratic changes.
Torontonian Eric Li had always been antagonistic towards China's Communist regime and the Tiananmen Square massacre. Yet the Chinese government also seems to have found a soft spot in the computer programmer's heart when it comes to the Olympics.
"I am still not a fan of the Communists, but they are not all that bad," says the 55-year-old, who moved here from Hong Kong in 1982. "I'm not as resistant to China as I was, as the country started to open up more and more.
"The Olympics can be an opportunity to change for the better, just like the democratic changes and openness that were brought to South Korea as a result of the Seoul Olympics," he contends. "They need to open up and follow the rules of the game if they want to be a world player."