The Tech: Given the endless attention in the past few issues to China’s human rights abuses as the summer Olympics in Beijing approach, I thought this photograph here found in a German archive could spark further discussion about possible parallels between China today and Nazi Germany.
The photograph, found in a German archive, is of the English national football team giving the Nazi salute in Berlin’s Olympic Stadium on May 14, 1938. The picture was published widely in Britain amidst the recent controversy in the UK over the capitulation of the British Olympic Committee to China’s demand that British athletes sign a pledge promising not to speak about China’s human rights record.
While the focus of the recent protests has been on the Tibetans, whose plight is truly pitiable, there are others who have grievances against China — Uyghur Muslims whose marriages and unauthorized pregnancies are forcibly terminated. Forced harvesting of organs from political prisoners and others in state custody has also occurred for a long time. After many years of denial, China took steps to curb the forced organ harvesting only when the impending Olympics intensified international scrutiny of its human rights abuses.
Additionally, according to a recent Pentagon report, China has around 1000 missiles pointed at Taiwan, whose inhabitants they claim as their brethren, an assertion bizarrely incongruous with their aggressive military posture. And who can forget the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, immortalized in that photograph of a man standing in front of a tank?
Few educated in China’s schools will know anything about that incident.
Then there are the forced abortions and infanticide stemming from China’s one-child policy. Chinese oil money is also prolonging the plight of Darfurians.
Many of these problems cannot be dismissed as propagandistic anachronisms — they are happening now or have happened recently. Tibet is merely one item in a long list of topics which merit further exploration, particularly for the benefit of our Chinese student friends. There is much to learn from the diligent smuggling out of China by foreign media of facts and history which the Communist government has long suppressed inside their borders.
Technical advancement, economic growth, intellectual prowess, and general improvement in standard of living are among the material things cited as evidence of progress in China, in the numerous letters written to The Tech.
No one denies the remarkably quick and prodigious rise in China’s economic prosperity. But material things have no inherent moral value. Having lots of money, or being really smart, does not necessarily make you a good person. Money is no measure of virtue. In particular, Fei Chen’s letter calls access to education, medical care and food “basic human rights.” However, there is no mention of what most others consider to be human rights — freedom of the press, of religion, the right to speedy and fair trials, to representative government.
Can Christians in China preach the second coming of the Christ? Can Catholics openly avow the pope as the vicar of Christ on Earth and the leader of a spiritual realm beyond the reach of any temporal ruler? Can members of the Falun Gong sect freely advocate and practice their beliefs? Can the media talk candidly about Tibet or Tiananmen Square? Are those charged with crimes tried in the courts of an independent and transparent judiciary, and within a short time of being detained? Are confessions obtained without torture and without the threat of harsher punishment? Are serious opposition parties permitted to organize? Man is more than an economic being — he is a spiritual creature with spiritual needs which only freedom can satisfy.
No amount of material wealth can fill China’s gaping moral deficit.
Such criticisms are directed not at the Chinese people, but at the Chinese government.
The distinction between a people and its government may not be readily comprehended by those who grew up in as fervently nationalistic a society as the Chinese. We make that distinction because an unelected government cannot truly reflect the will and the sentiment of those governed. As a contrasting example, even though we Americans are ultimately responsible for the composition of our government via the ballot box, we are comfortable reproaching our government. That’s why some find puzzling the backlash of the Chinese students to criticism of a government which they don’t even get to choose.
To be sure, there are elections in China, just as there were in the Soviet Union, and in Iraq under Saddam Hussein. One must look past the window-dressing and see that the real power in China is still held by one party. No serious opposition to the Communist Party is allowed to organize and to enter the political process.
Fei Chen writes that the political cartoon offends the dignity of Chinese students. Undoubtedly, their pride is offended. However, no cartoon can debase the dignity of the Chinese people to the depth the Communist government has. What’s more denigrating — a silly drawing, or being forced to abort your second child? Far from trying to ridicule Chinese people, the cartoon is attempting to shed light on the indignities to which the Chinese government subjects its own people.
While we should heed Chen’s suggestion to learn how Chinese history influences the way the Chinese students react to the cartoon, they should learn how political cartoons are used in our culture to convey political messages and social commentary, often more effectively than prose. The very irreverence of the cartoons, and the offense we imagine they must cause to those lampooned in the cartoons, are what make them so effective, endearing, and enduring — they have been a mainstay of American political discourse since colonial times, and are here to stay. That one cartoon was able to trigger so much dialogue in the pages of The Tech illustrates their power.