During parents’ weekend, I showed my father the September issue of the Scroll, in which Madeline Lee ‘20 wrote an article titled Far From Home regarding the recent Hong Kong riots. He snatched the paper from me. “Did you print this? In print? Online?”
“Online? Everyone can see?”
My father proceeded to marvel at the article, tracing the ink with his hands.
“This is crazy,” he said. “This would never happen at home.”
“What do you mean?”
“You know what I mean, Claire. No one would ever publish this. This would be censored.” For the first time in years, I am reminded that my dad is a product of his background. He grew up in Shenzhen China, educated in a local school of over 14,000 students. Throughout the 20th century, he witnessed the rise of President Xi, the political craving for censorship and security. Even now, living and working in China, my father shares stories with me about the political culture. “The main problem, I think, is fear,” he said. “It is cyclical. There is a cyclical, inescapable nature about it.”
The degree of online censorship maintained by the Chinese government is, in a word, absurd. All online information is scanned for ming gan ci – sensitive words. These include “Xi Jinping,” “Party,” and even “disagree.” New photo detection technology can even track political memes and cartoonists. Sites like Google, Youtube, and Facebook are also blocked, accessible only through VPN, a service becoming more and more unreliable as the Chinese firewall becomes more and more advanced. This means that, for the few online platforms which still stand, information is systematically and meticulously filtered.
You can imagine the implications. In the past, the Scroll has written articles on Sonya O’Donnell’s sexual discrimination lawsuit, instances of blackface in the yearbook, and more. With the administration’s blessing, we published data on students’ politics, relationships, and activities. In contrast, the administrations of some peer schools never allowed this data to be collected, much less released. Indeed, most of these works portray Deerfield in a rather negative light. But there is something to be said when our administration, even if reluctant, allows these pieces to be published and disseminated.
Visiting my old school in Shanghai, I see these stories come to life. The 1989 Tiananmen Square protests are a series of student protests, the political significance of which is equivalent to 9/11 for the American populace. But, because the protest represented the triumph of people over government, it is not only banned online but removed almost entirely from China’s academic curriculum. It is astounding to me that, when I reference the Tiananmen protests to my peers at home, they are unable to respond or comment intelligently.
You can imagine the implications. From personal experience, I can tell you that Honors US History is a grind. But it taught me important lessons about this country, the values it was founded upon, the systematic prejudices that exist in our world now. History is what gives us meaning. When China chooses to omit its history from its history pages, its people lose something in themselves.
When I return to China, I am astounded by its economic and technological advancement. They have done so much — faster and further than America could ever hope to. But, if speech remains censored, China will never truly move forward. There is a deep sense of hopelessness when I look at its circumstances.
As my father flipped through the Scroll, I asked him: “So, nothing like this would ever be published in China?” The answer is a resounding “No — at least, not for a long time. China needs a revolution, not a movement.”
You can imagine the implications — or can you? We often take our license to speak freely for granted.
Next time you see the Scroll, whether or not you are part of it, whether or not you agree with it, I ask you to think about how lucky we are. Take advantage of the right to free speech that you have here. Write. Read. Speak. There are many people in the world who do not have the same privilege.