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.