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.”'