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Students From China React to Appearance of Their President

By Peggy S. Chen, CRIMSON STAFF WRITER

Many people are interested in what Chinese President Jiang Zemin has to say on his visit to Harvard on Friday, but Chinese nationals in the community have more at stake than most.

For Chinese nationals, it is a visit by the leader of their country, which for some inspires patriotic feelings and hopes friendly relations between their home country and the United States.

For Chinese dissidents, it is a visit signifying the existence of a regime that has persecuted them for speaking out against a totalitarian government and which is guilty of countless human rights violations.

A significant number of Chinese nationals have taken prominent roles in the protests surrounding Jiang's visit, but many others say that the media has over-emphasized human rights problems in China and that conditions in the nation have improved dramatically.

The Opposition

Protesters say they want to raise awareness for human rights violations perpetrated by China against its own people and against the people of Tibet and Taiwan.

Many say the demonstrations are directed toward the people back home in China as well as the American people here.

"The most important reason [for the protest] is to send a message back to our colleagues in prison in China or who are still carrying on the struggle," says Shen Tong, who participated in the 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstrations and is currently the president of the Democracy for China Fund.

Others say they oppose Jiang's visit because it implies a tacit endorsement of the Chinese government.

"He will use Harvard to fool the Chinese people, in an effort to show the Chinese people back home that the atrocious human rights policy is endorsed by such prestigious universities as Harvard," says Jian-li Yang, another participant in Tiananmen now working towards a doctorate at the Kennedy School of Government.

Yang is one of the leaders of the Joint Committee for Protesting Jiang Zemin's Visit to Harvard.

"His visit can only strengthen his position in the Chinese government to squash the dissent and the criticism," he says.

Protesters say they want to present a more balanced view of China's political and social situation than they believe is going to be reflected in his speech.

They object to the rule that audience questions must be pre-screened.

"This process is not fair that allows Jiang Zemin to speak freely but doesn't allow the audience to ask freely," Yang says.

"Above all it, is funny to have the audience to ask the questions before they actually listen to the talk," Yang says. "We Harvard people are supposed to be experienced as teachers and as students. I never had a professor ask me for questions before he told me anything."

Jiang's Supporters

But although much media attention has been given to prominent figures who are protesting his visit, many other Chinese nationals say their feelings do not represent those dominant in the Chinese community.

Most Chinese, they say, support his visit and think the protesters are presenting a distorted view of Chinese society.

"It's no longer the Cold War, and China is no longer the Communist country it once was," says Hui Kuok '00, who is from Hong Kong.

They say they hope people will keep an open mind about China's situation in his when they listen to his speech.

"It's a good opportunity to let all the students and faculty know more about China. In recent years, China has changed a lot," says Liping Zheng, a student at the Kennedy School of Government.

Zheng was an executive vice-mayor in the Shenzen Special Economic Zone (SEZ) before coming to study at the Kennedy School.

The Western media has skewed coverage of Chinese political situation, Zheng adds.

"Frankly speaking, in China, most people [have] forgotten about June 4th," the date of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, Zheng says.

He says that many people he knows in China are enthusiastic about Jiang's visit and see it as a step toward improved relations between the United States and China.

"Now we have reform and an open door to the world," he says. "Many Chinese consider the U.S. our partner and our friend."

However, protesters say that the political situation in China is still unjust.

People tend to downplay the government's faults because they are not directly affected by the persecution, Tong says.

"Things happen all around them, and they choose not to look at it," he says. "When you know you're powerless, you become cynical. You feel you can't do anything, so you make peace with the situation."

Tong says many Chinese nationals here are still affected by "Chinese propaganda."

"Truthfully, most people who come here read science and technology books, not The New York Times," he says. "They don't try to comprehend new views on democracy."

Yang also says that many Chinese are afraid to speak out.

"One thing you have to keep in mind is that most people are afraid of protesting the Chinese government," he says.

"It is very much self-censored," Yang says. "They fear 'I might not be able to go back to China, my family members might be harassed, I might lose the opportunity to do business in China.' Uncertainty is a very big threat."

Pan Qiang, another active leader in the demonstration, agrees. "You will see on Saturday that there will be more foreigners than Chinese at the protest [because they're afraid]," he says.

Pan also participated in the Tianan-men Square protests and was subsequently imprisoned for several months after the crackdown.

But other Chinese nationals say the idea that Chinese nationals who do not speak out against of the government out of fear of punishment is incorrect.

"I'm not afraid of the Chinese government," says Ying Liu '00, who comes from China.

Instead, she says there is more pressure in the Chinese community to denounce Jiang's visit.

Many more people here are actually in favor of Jiang's visit, she says, but are "afraid of going against public opinion and appearing to be a conservative or a communist."

Susan Y. Tang '01 says she fears the protests will present a simplified and biased view of the situation in China.

"The things I want to say are not things you can write down on a poster," she says.

Liu says people should listen to what Jiang has to say before forming their opinions.

"He's the representative of China and he should have that respect," Liu says

However, demonstrators point out that their protest of Jiang's visit does not indicate a protest against China or Chinese culture.

"There's a difference between being a friend of the Chinese people and a friend of Jiang Zemin," Pan says. "He is not a true representative of the Chinese people."

Tang expresses concern that the protest will hinder relations between the two countries.

"By protesting, you're not going educate Jiang, you're just going to build thicker and higher walls between us," she says.

But Shen is hopeful that the visit will spur renewed international interest in China.

"I think this will raise curiosity of what's really going on in China and the government's lack of legitimacy," he says.

"It will show that this is not simply a feel good cause for the American people, that Americans have a long term interest in a free and democratic China," he says.

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