Teaching Tiananmen

One of my students is getting ready for his final year of High School here in Guangzhou, and like most Chinese youth his age, he loves three things: Basketball, Video Games, and Eminem. Also, like most youth his age, he knows only that which he has been permitted to know.

We had a two hour class this morning and the theme was Global IssuesI decided to show him the Kony 2012 video and one thing led to another. Soon we started talking about whether the Chinese population could ever exert the same kind of pressure on its government, as the Americans had with theirs (in the documentary).

Naturally, this led me to ask him what he knew about the most famous Chinese example of this, the Tiananmen Square Massacre. His friend had told him a little about it, but he hadn’t seen, read, or heard much about it at all. Since I have a VPN (Virtual Private Network) I am able to access the internet as if I was somewhere outside China and was able to show him these two videos:

We watched the videos and had an interesting conversation. He told me the official reason given for State censorship is that it is intended to ensure a “Harmonious Society”. He also told me that anyone born after 1990 would probably have no idea that anything had ever happened at Tiananmen Square at all. He went on to say that parents usually didn’t discuss it with their children, and students certainly didn’t learn about it in school.

All I can say is that sharing this piece of history with him was a powerful experience, akin to sharing  images of the holocaust with a German teenager who had never learned about it, or showing a documentary of the “Rape of Nanjing” to a Japanese student whose government still refuses to acknowledge any wrong doing.

In many ways, this is an example of why we should travel…and maybe even why we must travel. Because, despite all of the pressures, barriers, impediments, and limitations that governments, and institutions, may try to put on us, or place in our way, the power of human connection undoubtedly trumps them all.

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” – Mark Twain

How do you measure “Canadianess”?

Happy Canada Day! The latest International soccer tournament is wrapping up, and because I am currently living in China, I’ve come across a question that never seems to die: How to measure how Canadian, German, French, Chinese or Italian a person is?

Here in China, my girlfriend has to deal with this question on a daily basis. She was born in Jakarta, Indonesia and came to Canada when she was 5. Needless to say she is fluent in English but also speaks Indonesian. For some reason, the Chinese don’t really believe that she is Canadian. They don’t even think she is Indonesian. In fact they think she MUST be Chinese, whether she is willing to admit it or not. She was even complimented the other day on how well she spoke english…are you kidding me? English is the language she has essentially spoken all her life. Her passport says she is Canadian but that doesn’t seem to count for much here. Many people choose to believe that she is probably just an arrogant Chinese woman who “chooses” to speak english rather than Chinese.

Indonesian, Chinese, Japanese or Canadian?

I’ve come to accept that this attitude is the result of a limited world view. China only opened its doors to the world 30-40 or so years ago, so you can’t really fault the people for their lack of international perspective. The other day though, when I was on Facebook, I read a comment from someone, that read something like: “Italy won its semi-final match without an Italian scoring…”. This was a reference to the two goals scored in the semi-finals of the Eurocup against Germany by Mario Balotelli.

Unfortunately this is a fairly common joke/slur/argument made every time there is an international soccer tournament. People love to call out different countries who have players representing them that apparently don’t fit the national stereotype. No country is immune from this, but France and Germany seem to get most of the attention. The problem with Mario, is that he was actually BORN IN ITALY; Palermo to be exact, and the only reason the comment was made was because he is black. I guess there aren’t any black Italians.

As for the German team, all players were all born in Germany save for two. The two players who were born abroad were born in Poland. Lukas Podalski immigrated at age 5 and Miroslav Klose was born to Polish parents of German descent and immigrated at age 8. There are several players who have Turkish parents and one that has a Spanish father and German mother. Imagine that, a team that actually resembles the demographics of its population. The French team shares a similar story, as there are many Africans in France. Wouldn’t it make sense for there to be a few players of African descent on their team then?

So as we celebrate Canada Day, and enjoy the finals of the Eurocup, maybe it’s time to start broadening our horizons a little and accept that for many countries, what we see on the pitch, might actually be a reflection of modern-day societies. For some people in some countries the concepts of global citizenship, globalization and multiculturalism will be too difficult to grasp, but for those of us who live in Canada, a country of immigrants, this shouldn’t be too difficult.