Yale should be more critical of China’s skeletons

Over the past few years, Yale students have focused more and more on China. The flowering Peking University-Yale partnership, the popular Richard U. Light Fellowship and overflowing Chinese language classes make it clear that we’re all becoming more involved with China than ever before. Whenever two parties deepen their relationship and learn more about each other, I find that there are always ugly facts that must be faced. This is the case with the Yale-China relationship, and the Chinese government has some troubling dirty secrets.

Yale students may have heard that the Chinese government threatens the sovereignty of several neighboring countries like Taiwan and Tibet. But the more insidious and harmful ways that the Chinese government conducts itself aren’t yet well-known to many in the Yale community.

According to experts who participated in a panel called “What’s Happening in Burma?” hosted by the Council on Southeast Asian Studies last fall, China provides around 85 percent of the weaponry used by the brutal Burmese military junta, and is a major player in the exploitation of Burma’s once-rich natural resources. This is the same regime that arrested, assaulted and killed thousands of peaceful protesters this past September and October, the same regime that has imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize laureates.

China’s relationship with Burma typifies their irresponsible foreign policy. A similar case is China’s support for North Korea, which maintains gulags akin to those built under Stalin, and China’s money flowing into Sudan, where a genocide is being committed as you read these words.

At home, the Chinese government fails to uphold its own laws. Freedom of expression and freedom of religion are guaranteed under the Chinese constitution, and yet individuals, Web sites and groups are routinely silenced and identified as “bad elements.” Dissidents are subjected to illegal round-the-clock surveillance and harassment by plainclothes police. It’s also dangerous to criticize or resist the interests of big industries. Often, companies force peasants off their land to build factories or new housing developments. Any homeowner who resists being forcibly removed has no protection from the state. In fact, local governments usually label the resisters a “nail household,” as in a stubborn nail that resists being hammered down. Those who resist forced relocation are humiliated by local TV and print news until they give up or disappear.

The Chinese government also actively oppresses any independent religious practice. Christians and Muslims are marginalized and persecuted like political dissidents, and anyone who engages in the Falun Gong spiritual practice is in danger of arrest and torture. Like with “nail households,” the Chinese government has also engaged in a propaganda war against the Falun Gong practice; many Chinese people believe that practicing Falun Gong actually causes a psychological disorder. The assertion is ridiculous.

Chinese citizens are fighting their government’s abuses as hard as they can. Human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng has fought for oppressed religious groups and peasants, and has written many letters of protest to President Hu Jintao. In a public letter to President Hu, Gao wrote,

“Article 33 of our own constitution also declares, ‘The State respects and preserves human rights.’ From the perspective of international law and norms of our own constitution, it is absolutely unacceptable for anyone to persecute or violate the rights of a fellow citizen.”

As of September 2007, Gao Zhisheng’s whereabouts are unknown. Human rights groups speculate that currently Gao is being secretly detained by Chinese police, if he has not already been tortured to death.

When President Ahmadinejad of Iran visited Columbia, the university’s president delivered a thorough criticism of Iranian policies and President Ahmadinejad in particular. The human rights abuses of China are certainly comparable to those of the Iranian regime, but when President Hu of China visited Yale, we delivered no strong formal criticisms.

The Amnesty International club at Yale does not seek to end Yale’s relationship with China, or even to diminish it. But we believe that Yale must take a more critical approach to the Chinese government. On Monday, the Yale Daily News featured a story in which Yale faculty called out their Peking University colleagues for rampant academic dishonesty. It is time for us, as an institution, to speak up about some of China’s other systemic problems.

Edwin Everhart is a junior in Saybrook College. He is the coordinator of the Amnesty International club at Yale.


  • Anonymous

    I would strongly suggest that you go to China after Yale. Live there for a few years, and then write about China. I can not imagine someone who writes about something he has never experienced. It is not a bad comment, but a suggestion.

  • Anonymous

    I entirely agree with the previous comment. Everhart definitely sounds like one who hates China so much that he would never step on Chinese soil. He (and the Amnesty people he represents) make China sound so dangerous that it seems that any person living in China should fear for his life because he could be killed any second. If China is really that way, I do not think it would have developed so much in the recent years. Economic growth occurs only after safety is guaranteed.

  • Anonymous

    Hello, this is Edwin Everhart.
    I don't need to go to China to write about it. That is terrible logic.
    I love China. When people tell me that the United States is the greatest nation on Earth, I correct them and tell them that China is clearly the greatest country. It is the country with the most glorious history, the richest culture, and the most possibility of any on the planet. China should be the moral leader of the world. The reason that I criticize some Chinese government policies is the same reason that I criticize some American government policies, some Russian policies, some Zimbabwean policies, et cetera: because they are unjust. Because they cause suffering. Because they are counterproductive and inefficient.

    I have never claimed that "any person living in China should fear for his life." But it is certainly true that anyone who questions the system, anyone who "sticks out," anyone who fights for his legitimate rights, will be treated cruelly at best.
    It is by selling out China's rich resources, and by exploiting its poor, that the government and business systems have created so much rapid economic growth - as well as by legitimate means.
    This is not only my view, but it is generally the view of my friends in Amnesty International, and that of many sensible people in China and elsewhere.

    Also, I have to ask you - where is Gao Zhisheng? Tell me honestly what happened to Gao Zhisheng. Tell me why a peaceful lawyer, fighting for poor people, was harassed for years, and has now disappeared under very suspicious circumstances. If China had a good government, Gao Zhisheng would still be at home with his wife and daughter.