Travel Journal #10 – Censorship

It’s easy to forget about censorship in China, especially in Shanghai. The city glitters with all the Western amenities an anxious student could hope for. If you ignore all of the Chinese characters that can be seen everywhere, you can easily imagine yourself in New York or Chicago. Censorship is just a myth that slithers beneath the surface in Shanghai. It’s something that I knew was present, but had never been seriously affected by. It wasn’t real to me—well, not until yesterday.
prisoner's uniform
We were sitting in small groups during my class on China’s foreign affairs and international relations discussing China’s image in the world. Earlier in the class, it had been explained that China had a negative image in the West due to China’s history of human rights abuses, such as the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989. Nothing more was mentioned about the incident in our group until the one Chinese student asked me what the Tiananmen Square massacre was all about. I wasn’t surprised by her question; other Chinese students had asked what it was in another class prior to today. Thus when I answered the student’s question, her reaction was something I had come to expect also. She made a brief face of discomfort as if she should have remembered something that important, but then she shrugged it off and we continued our conversation as if I hadn’t just told her that her government massacred students in the street only 26 years ago.
Her reaction was one that I hadn’t realized I was so familiar with. It’s the same look that I’d been given when talking about the Holocaust with other students; it’s the same look I’ve given to my own parents when they explained my black history to me. These events, no matter how horrible, hit some sort of disconnect in our minds. Brief discomfort, maybe even a “how sad” moment, was my reaction to my parents’ stories until I had personal experiences with racism. The knowledge wasn’t real to me until it directly and negatively impacted my life.
It’s a similar situation with my Chinese classmate—human rights abuses are not real to her, not only because she was unaware, but also because she hadn’t experienced them personally. Furthermore, she won’t have the opportunity to learn more about them because of the current censorship that exists in China. The cycle of learning and understanding is broken when there isn’t free access to information. It wasn’t until I was sitting in a classroom, where even the professor wouldn’t acknowledge the truth, that I understood that censorship is something that should stir something more than discomfort in me.
by Morgan Whitehead ’15, currently participating in the Centre-in-China study abroad program. Learn more about study abroad in China.
PHOTOS: A tai chi class consisting of Centre students (top of page); a prisoner’s uniform from inside the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum (above right).

By |2013-11-13T15:11:06-05:00November 13th, 2013|News, Study Abroad, Travel Journals - China|