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Censorship Affects Families, Not Just Google’s Bottomline in China

New America Media, Commentary,  Eugenia Chien, Mar 17, 2006

Editor’s Note: The most difficult conversation about censorship in China needs to be between Chinese themselves, not just the Chinese government and U.S. corporations like Google. Eugenia Chien, a writer and editor with New America Media says censorship caused an irreparable rift across generations of her own family.

SAN FRANCISCO - In the uproar over Google’s Internet censorship in China, some Chinese say the issue doesn’t affect them personally.

Just the opposite was true for me, growing up in Taiwan where government censorship created a gulf between generations in our family. Far from a cerebral discussion between activists and journalists, censorship was personal issue for me – it created a house with secrets that couldn’t be told.

After World War II Taiwan was ruled by mainland nationalists who did not tolerate dissent from local Taiwanese. On Feb. 28, 1947, a police shooting in Taipei escalated into riots. In the first – and last – demonstration of Taiwanese self rule in that era, nationalists troops killed up to 30,000 Taiwanese.

Among the victims in what is now known as the "228 Incident" were my grandfather's friends.

After the Chinese Communist Revolution in 1949, the Nationalists enacted martial law in Taiwan. Much in the same way that the Chinese government censors topics such as Tiananmen Square and Tibet, the Nationalist government of Taiwan repressed the 228 Incident in history books. Two generations of Taiwanese -- including my father and me -- were taught little about Taiwanese history. No one I knew seemed to care.

Fearful that this information would bring retribution, my grandfather kept silent for many years. A few years before he died, my grandfather tried to tell my father about the 228 Incident, but because it was censored in the media, textbooks and literature, my father refused to believe him.

"I didn't want to listen to him," my father later told me. "Our school education made me very patriotic, so I had no interest in hearing about that kind of criticism of the government at all."

The election of a pro-independence president in 2000 led to an active effort to change textbooks in Taiwan and open discussion about Taiwanese history. Only then did I realize how censorship had caused an irreparable rift in my family.

I could imagine how disappointed my grandfather must have been when his children did not believe him; how long he had to keep silent about one of the biggest losses of his generation; how frustrating it must have been to watch his children grow up believing in an ideology he knew to be false; and how high a wall censorship can put between parent and child.

"I didn't let him talk," my father said. "I just couldn't accept it. If I had been interested or asked him questions, he would have wanted to tell me more."

No one in my family was a political dissident, but government control of information caused a rift in my family anyway. Criticism of censorship in China from a Taiwanese like me might be easily dismissed. But if an average family like mine – a middle-class family living an otherwise stable life – can be as profoundly affected by censorship, how many other families in China must have secrets from their past that can’t be told?

The Chinese government encourages Chinese to put economic matters first, says Xin Liu, an anthropology professor at the University of California at Berkeley.

"The government says that we should try to think about economy and development, and that after the economy gets to a certain level, we can discuss political reform," Liu says.

"It's true that people in rural China do not care about Internet censorship because they have other economic concerns," says Yan Sham-Shackleton, a Hong Kong-based blogger who writes extensively about democracy. "However, it does not mean it's not an issue."

“As for why some Chinese people will say it doesn't affect them, other than they are not telling the truth, is because they do not know what it is like to be in a free country,” she says.

“Not having something you never had will never affect you,” she says.

My father can’t reverse time to discuss the 228 Incident with my grandfather, but it is a topic that he and I can now freely discuss. The most difficult battle over Internet censorship may not be between U.S. corporations and the Chinese government, but between Chinese who feel its impact in their personal lives and the ones who say it doesn’t really affect them.

Censorship Affects Families, Not Just Google’s Bottomline in China

New America Media, Commentary,  Eugenia Chien, Mar 17, 2006

Editor’s Note: The most difficult conversation about censorship in China needs to be between Chinese themselves, not just the Chinese government and U.S. corporations like Google. Eugenia Chien, a writer and editor with New America Media says censorship caused an irreparable rift across generations of her own family.

SAN FRANCISCO - In the uproar over Google’s Internet censorship in China, some Chinese say the issue doesn’t affect them personally.

Just the opposite was true for me, growing up in Taiwan where government censorship created a gulf between generations in our family. Far from a cerebral discussion between activists and journalists, censorship was personal issue for me – it created a house with secrets that couldn’t be told.

After World War II Taiwan was ruled by mainland nationalists who did not tolerate dissent from local Taiwanese. On Feb. 28, 1947, a police shooting in Taipei escalated into riots. In the first – and last – demonstration of Taiwanese self rule in that era, nationalists troops killed up to 30,000 Taiwanese.

Among the victims in what is now known as the "228 Incident" were my grandfather's friends.

After the Chinese Communist Revolution in 1949, the Nationalists enacted martial law in Taiwan. Much in the same way that the Chinese government censors topics such as Tiananmen Square and Tibet, the Nationalist government of Taiwan repressed the 228 Incident in history books. Two generations of Taiwanese -- including my father and me -- were taught little about Taiwanese history. No one I knew seemed to care.

Fearful that this information would bring retribution, my grandfather kept silent for many years. A few years before he died, my grandfather tried to tell my father about the 228 Incident, but because it was censored in the media, textbooks and literature, my father refused to believe him.

"I didn't want to listen to him," my father later told me. "Our school education made me very patriotic, so I had no interest in hearing about that kind of criticism of the government at all."

The election of a pro-independence president in 2000 led to an active effort to change textbooks in Taiwan and open discussion about Taiwanese history. Only then did I realize how censorship had caused an irreparable rift in my family.

I could imagine how disappointed my grandfather must have been when his children did not believe him; how long he had to keep silent about one of the biggest losses of his generation; how frustrating it must have been to watch his children grow up believing in an ideology he knew to be false; and how high a wall censorship can put between parent and child.

"I didn't let him talk," my father said. "I just couldn't accept it. If I had been interested or asked him questions, he would have wanted to tell me more."

No one in my family was a political dissident, but government control of information caused a rift in my family anyway. Criticism of censorship in China from a Taiwanese like me might be easily dismissed. But if an average family like mine – a middle-class family living an otherwise stable life – can be as profoundly affected by censorship, how many other families in China must have secrets from their past that can’t be told?

The Chinese government encourages Chinese to put economic matters first, says Xin Liu, an anthropology professor at the University of California at Berkeley.

"The government says that we should try to think about economy and development, and that after the economy gets to a certain level, we can discuss political reform," Liu says.

"It's true that people in rural China do not care about Internet censorship because they have other economic concerns," says Yan Sham-Shackleton, a Hong Kong-based blogger who writes extensively about democracy. "However, it does not mean it's not an issue."

“As for why some Chinese people will say it doesn't affect them, other than they are not telling the truth, is because they do not know what it is like to be in a free country,” she says.

“Not having something you never had will never affect you,” she says.

My father can’t reverse time to discuss the 228 Incident with my grandfather, but it is a topic that he and I can now freely discuss. The most difficult battle over Internet censorship may not be between U.S. corporations and the Chinese government, but between Chinese who feel its impact in their personal lives and the ones who say it doesn’t really affect them.

Comments

Raj

"...says Yan Sham-Shackleton, a Hong Kong-based blogger who writes extensively about democracy."

Nothing like a bit of self-promotion, eh? :)

Censorship's a real scourge the world over. I think many people forget that Taiwan had a repressive past much like the mainland because they only see the current democracy - I was shocked when I heard about the 228 Incident. Taiwan's Tiananmen, I guess.....

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