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China Diary #3: Snarr Addresses Politics and 'The Great Firewall of China'

by Michael Snarr

May 17, 2012

Enjoying a Chinese meal during the women's basketball team's trip to China are, from the left, McKenzie Kilburn, Spencer Robles and Makenzie Wipple.

Enjoying a Chinese meal during the women's basketball team's trip to China are, from the left, McKenzie Kilburn, Spencer Robles and Makenzie Wipple.

Our trip has focused on sightseeing and basketball. As a political scientist my main interest in China is the politics and economics of the country.

I was disappointed that we were told by our travel agent and travel literature not to discuss politics with the people of China while on our trip. One reason for avoiding political discussions is that they can become heated and usually end in a deadlock.

At some point in the typical conversation the American will criticize China for limiting political and economic freedoms, and in turn, his Chinese counterpart will respond by pointing out that America has great wealth and abundant freedoms, but also many poor and homeless people.

Over the week, however, we have had the opportunity to witness some politics.

For instance, the students have not been able to access Facebook. The government blocks access to Facebook and other sites deemed to be a potential threat. In other countries it has been used effectively to organize political opposition. This strategy has been termed the Great Firewall of China.

Another incident occurred when some of us were watching a CNN story on China. During a human rights report critical of the country, the screen went blank until the story was over. The same did not happen during stories critical of the United States. Another instance of what appeared to be government censorship.

Since we were warned that discussing politics was rude, we refrained from initiating political discussions with our tour guides. However, toward the end of our first week, our main contact in China launched into a long unprovoked political reflection.

He explained how many people in the older generation viewed President Nixon as a hero because he opened China to the rest of the world. He said he remembers being in grade school and, like children throughout Beijing, being prepared by his teacher for Nixon's impending visit.

Students were told if they were asked, “Do you have a good life?” then they should answer “yes.”

The teachers also tried to explain some aspects of American culture by describing a hamburger as a piece of meat between slices of bread. Next they explained that a sandwich was meat between slices of bread; and that a hot dog was a piece of meat between slices of bread. When the students asked what the difference was between the three, the teachers were unable to explain because they had never seen any of these American foods.

These candid conversations with our guides have been very interesting and informative.

Michael Snarr is a professor of social and political studies at Wilmington College. He and his son, Ty, are part of a Wilmington College entourage includes women’s basketball team members and several parents.