June 18, 2015

"China’s porous laws make life in the world’s most populous country both more livable and less predictable than outsiders might imagine."

China File For some American students about to embark on a study abroad trip to China, the U.S. media reports of Chinese Internet censorship, jailing of dissidents, and draconian population control laws may dominate their perception of the country. by Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian via Foreign Policy and Tea Leaf Nation

'But after more than 30 years of reform and opening, the nominally communist country now combines economic liberalization, lumbering social and legal reforms, and spurts of ideological entrenchment to create a dynamic mix of restriction and freedom that’s hard to parse.

'It’s little wonder first-timers don’t have it all figure out when they’re still fresh off the plane. In a recent survey, Foreign Policy asked American students and alumni who had spent time in China to share revealing anecdotes from their experiences in the country. The 385 responses often portray American students struggling to understand a country where behavior that is legal on paper is, in practice, prohibited; or conversely, where ostensibly illegal behavior or speech is often tolerated. From freedom of expression to LGBT activism to real estate deals, young Americans found that their time in the world’s largest authoritarian country helped them sketch an outline of what is—and is not—acceptable there.

'“Before I went to China,” wrote Rowland Coleman, who studied at Nankai University in the northeastern city of Tianjin in 2011 while he was enrolled at American University, “I had the idea in my mind that it really was an Orwellian world where any dissent was quickly and harshly hunted down.” That’s hardly a wild supposition; Chinese authorities maintain strict controls on media, keep civil society on a tight leash, and have arrested numerous Chinese bloggers for posting sensitive content online. Currently a 2nd lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserve, Coleman recalls one day early in his trip when he and a classmate, both with ROTC experience, were discussing army training while waiting at a bus stop. Another classmate came up to them and quietly urged, “Hey, watch what you say. Ears everywhere.” For the first few weeks, Coleman and his classmates would speak in whispers whenever discussing something that they thought might be sensitive. “If that didn’t look suspicious on its own,” Coleman wrote, “I don’t know what did.”'

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