Being critical is easy.
One could be critical of every aspect of his life, ranging from the school he choose and the pen he writes with to the legitimacy of a state and the meaning of life. The hard part is to be critical on a reasonable ground and to refrain from twisting critical thinking as a means of propaganda. I do appreciate Edwin Everhart’s formidable effort in a column he wrote entitled “Yale should be more critical of China’s skeletons” (1/16) to persuade the University to adhere to his organization’s ideal. Nevertheless, neither the premise nor the body of Everhart’s argument fulfills the intellectual standard of critical thinking. Forcing an intellectual institution to a position that does not suit its duty and purpose, and piecing together some familiar, flawed points of criticism, Everhart hardly provided any new information or inspiration. He simply failed his fellow Yalies by forming an biased, unbalanced view of China, destroying the goal of criticism itself.
Whether a university is in a good position to make high moral judgments is questionable in the first place. A secular university’s mission lies in encouraging, and appreciating different opinions in a tolerant setting, so as to offer its students the raw materials necessary for the formation of their own opinions. A university is a moderator, a facilitator, a host — not a judge of awe-inspiring moral issues. (Leave those admirable duties to the church; it exists for a reason.)
Columbia University clearly demonstrates this point. The ironic contradiction between the friendly invitation letter and the rude introduction delivered by the university’s president only served to make one of America’s most highly regarded educational institutions seem pretentious, and the chief of the “axis of evil,” who responded without losing his temper, shine. I feel fortunate Levin did not make the same mistake with President Hu Jintao of China.
Given that Everhart had good intentions in raising his critique of China, he was profoundly misinformed and misguided, either by China’s often-biased mass media, or by some outdated ideology of the Cold War period. Firstly, whether Taiwan or Tibet is an independent “countr[y]” is not a debatable question. The United States has been supporting a “One China” policy since 1971, and has not officially recognized Taiwan’s independence under any circumstance. As for Tibet, even the Tibetan Nobel Peace Prize laureate that Everhart mentioned in his article recently reaffirmed his opinion that Tibetan people seek no independence from China. I, personally, cannot understand why Everhart seems to care so much about the independence of Tibet when its own leader shows no similar interest.
Everhart’s statement that China’s relationship with North Korea is irresponsible is ridiculous as well. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Christopher Hill have both wholeheartedly praised China’s effort in helping negotiating between the United States and the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea in the six-party talks. China was a major player in preventing North Korea from further developing its nuclear weapons and sending them to the American soil.
Perhaps too enthusiastic for engagement in foreign affairs, incorrectly claiming that Muslims in China are “marginalized and persecuted like political dissidents,” Everhart failed to see that only one year ago did we, the United States, which is supposed to be the most liberal and diversified country in the world, witnessed the inauguration of our first Muslim congressional representative Keith Ellison from Minnesota. By contrast, China has elected to office 12 Muslim congressmen, two Muslim governors (there are only 31 provinces in China) and one Muslim representative in its Central Committee.
No country is perfect; that is for sure. Criticism is necessary for any state in the world; that is guaranteed. The point is, should we criticize based on a constructive attitude, a well-informed source, or should we throw our criticism around only for the sake of pretentious propaganda?
Robert Li is a sophomore in Ezra Stiles College. He is the Vice President of Chinese Undergraduate Students at Yale.