By Anonymous, Contributor
This article has been edited as of Jan. 19, 2020
A previously published version of this article stated, "Contrary to what many people in the West may believe, state-run news stories about China, although heavily censored, are in fact quite accurate when they do get published." This has been corrected to, "Contrary to what many people in the West may believe, the fact that state-run news stories about China are heavily censored does not make them factually inaccurate."
The correction has been made to reflect the final submission of this piece published in print on Jan. 9.
The CSSA-gate at McMaster has triggered an interesting online debate between members of the Chinese community at McMaster and the rest of campus. Many non-Chinese students mistakenly believe that the Chinese students who questioned the procedures and implications of the McMaster Students Union’s decision are brainwashed as their life before coming to Canada was behind China’s “Great Firewall”. Some of them seem to perceive such Chinese students to be victims of an absolute information barrier, which supposedly leaves them no choice but to accept the government’s propaganda. Therefore, it seems righteous to “enlighten” those Chinese students with patronizing questions or bombardment of pictures of historical incidents like the Tiananmen Square Protest. These gestures, although they may have good intentions, are pretty amusing to this new generation of Chinese students who were born and raised in China, including me. Let me explain why.
First, Chinese people have access to the largest ever-increasing reservoir of information and news on China — in Chinese. Such information not only comes from state-owned media channels, but also non-official channels, social media platforms, online chatting groups and other online platforms. Contrary to what many people in the West may believe, the fact that state-run news stories about China are heavily censored does not make them factually inaccurate. Due to the rise of social media platforms as well as the anti-corruption campaign, it has become increasingly difficult and costly for government officials to cover up catastrophic or controversial stories. Therefore, most people, if curious enough, can get a pretty good grasp of what is going on simply by combining information from state media and other channels.
Second, while China’s “Great Firewall” does block a few websites, such as Google and Facebook, it does not block all Western media. In fact, Chinese people have access to a majority of Western media channels through state and non-state owned media. Some include the Associated Press, Reuters, Agence France-Presse, the Economist, CBC, The Globe and Mail and CNN. Selected news coverage on China and international affairs are translated into Chinese from tens of languages. In any country in the world, a larger blockade to absorbing foreign information is usually the barrier of a foreign language rather than the “Great Firewall”. Therefore, translated news stories offer a very informative picture of the world to the Chinese people.
Lastly, the “Great Firewall” is not an absolute blockade of information, despite the websites that are blocked by censorship. For those who want to obtain unfiltered information, they can get around the firewall through a VPN proxy to gain access to those blocked websites. Such VPN services are usually not blocked by the government.
You may argue that China’s censorship of information is still controlling people’s minds but — and this may come as a surprise to many — contrary to the idea that the Chinese are “brainwashed”, Chinese people are usually hyper mindful of the fact that the government dominates and controls information inflows. Hence, they do not take media at face value and are usually super critical of it. This is particularly true for educated Chinese students on McMaster University’s campus. They generally obtain information, compare multiple sources and do some further research before they come to their own conclusion.
In this new era of fake news in the Western media, more and more Canadians are trying hard to seek the truth and stay critical of Fox News, CNN, the National Inquirer, and tabloid sources that may provide dis-information, mis-information and mal-information. In order to be engaged citizens of the world, we all have to be investigative journalists to some degree to search for stories from different sides. However, in China, people have been carrying out such an independent investigation on controversial events for decades because of the apparent censorship.
Sadly, Chinese students were judged based on two assumptions: that the Chinese students are absolutely “brainwashed,” and China is an evil country. As a result, the Chinese students who questioned the treatment of Mac Chinese Students and Scholars Association by the MSU were mocked as if these students can’t think critically because they are Chinese. Therefore, despite the fact that we’re in Canada, Chinese students’ voices can be immediately dismissed, our rights can be compromised and our character can be attacked based on these assumptions.
This article is not arguing that Canadian students are “brainwashed” by all the fake news about China or that you shouldn’t believe anything Western media says about China. Rather, its purpose is to serve as a gentle reminder that biases against China and Chinese students can exist on campus. In this increasingly divided world, keeping a cool head and sticking to the facts are valuable qualities that make us Canadians truly multicultural and inclusive.
It takes some effort to do your own research, fact checking and comparing different sources of information, but we can’t afford to be lazy. It might not be that difficult to carry out a Google search on different sides of stories about the recent happenings about Xinjiang, Hong Kong or Mac CSSA. It might not be that difficult to truly listen and respect opinions from the Chinese students’ side as equals. If some members of our community, within the Student Representative Assembly or outside of the SRA, can truly reflect what happened in the MAC CSSA-gate instead of getting defensive and maintaining their anti-discrimination responsibilities merely as lip services, it might not be that difficult to correct the mistakes made. At least I wish.