Let Us Set the Record Straight

Travelling the Silicon RoadSHENZHEN, China — I was just going through the comments section of this blog to make sure all of the submitted comments had been cleared, when I came across one in an earlier post that was still pending. You see, in order to keep out spam and profanity, we review all the comments that are submitted prior to them appearing live on the site.

And it was the straw that broke my metaphorical camel’s back.

You can find it here. But it doesn’t really matter; there have been similar ridiculous comments. Being a journalist, I’m pretty thick skinned; we’re like lawyers: everybody loves to hate us, and you either get used to it or go into PR. But everyone has their limits.

So, let’s get one thing straight, and I’ll spell it out nice and simple even for the narrow-minded and thick-skulled (which fortunately seem to be in the minority). I am not an apologist for China’s communist government. Yes, I was very surprised at the openness and passion of the officials that I’ve met, both locally and nationally. They were not the automatons I expected.

But NOWHERE have I said, despite several self righteous reader comments to the contrary, that I think China’s political system is a good thing, or its repression acceptable.

I’m a journalist, and freedom of speech and the press is my birthright as an American, after all. I’d take up arms to defend that right. I do not say these words lightly; in these days of the Patriot Act, I sometimes wonder if it will come to that. But the Chinese don’t have freedom of the press here; there are journalists in prison in China, jailed for what they have written. Of course I think this abhorrent.

Got it? One more time, follow along: Jeff say repression bad; free speech good.

The thing that people in the West need to understand is that your average Chinese citizens, while not enjoying all the freedoms we have in the West, don’t appear to be, nor to they think of themselves as, repressed by a totalitarian system.

I know it’s a blow to you ideologues out there, but I’m afraid it’s true. But again, for the narrow-minded, indignantly self-righteous, let me spell it out in tiny little words that even you can understand: I’m not personally justifying the Chinese political system. Just telling you what I’ve observed and experienced — whoops, sorry, let’s say “seen and heard” — this past month. Don’t shoot the messenger.

If you don’t believe me, come here and see for yourself and talk to them, like I have.

It’s a difference in culture between East and West. Like I’ve explained here before, the Chinese people are perfectly capable of revering Mao Zedong as a hero while acknowledging that the Cultural Revolution was a horrendous mistake. And while people like me, being an American, can’t completely understand how Chinese people can be so patient and complacent about things like freedom of speech, nevertheless, they are.

I’ve had a lot of conversations with Chinese people about this issue, and my interpreter, Zhike, a 24-year-old Chinese graduate student, put it best: “We have freedom of speech in China, just not in the media.” He said it with a knowing smile. This is such a thoroughly Chinese way of looking at the world; it was a very Chinese thing to say.

To understand why, ultimately, I think you have to come here and know China for yourself. But I’ll add this: the specter of the Cultural Revolution does still lingers here, as does what happened in Russia following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Chinese are an ancient people, and are nothing if not patient; they are happy with the changes that have been made over the past two decades, but they are concerned about what might happen if things move to fast — after all, look at the last revolution they endured.

I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”
— Voltaire

Now, second of all, it is time for some self-righteousness indignation of my own; this is a subject I’m unapologetically passionate about. Read it and weep.

This business of anonymous ideologues posting morally indignant comments about me or what I supposedly said, and then not having the courage to put their names to it, is quite frankly pathetic. There is no excuse, and you should be ashamed.

You see, people have died protecting this right that we in the West enjoy, the right to express our political beliefs, whatever they may be, in a public forum like this. You do those people a disservice — if not an outright insult — by hiding behind anonymity. You insult their bravery with your cowardice. As far as I’m concerned you might as well run though Arlington cemetery kicking over gravestones.

It’s rather sadly ironic in these times of right-wing, red-white-and-blue dogma in the United States.

So say whatever you wish; ultimately I don’t care, nor do I care who you are. But you should nevertheless have the decency and courage to put your name to what you say.

This isn’t the kind of forum that you have to worry about your spouse or boss finding out you frequent, after all. And this is a U.S.-based site; there are no government goons monitoring it. Not yet, anyway.

Trust me, it’s not hard, I do it every day. I still do it, even though I’ve had my life threatened because of what I’ve written more than once. I’ve been threatened with lawsuits a number of times. I’ve even had a brick through my window and my car vandalized.

And yet I still put my name to what I write, not because I’m brave or thick skinned, or that I think my writing is particularly brilliant, but because it is my right. And it’s yours too.

The only excuse you might have to utilize anonymity here is if you are perhaps a Chinese political dissident, still on the mainland, but I’m reasonably sure “Dave in Dallas” or whoever is not a political dissident.

Electronic News Travels to ChinaLet me just add that I realize that many will take this as just my own inane blah blah blah, and those few at whom this was directed will surely have missed the point. The only thing I’ll say in my defense is that my real name is proudly displayed with it, blather or not.

Neener neener :p

Jeff Chappell

Editor’s Note: As explained at length elsewhere on this site, this is a blog entry of mine that originally appeared on the now-defunct Electronic News’ website, which is long gone. While its former sister pub Electronic Design News (EDN) currently holds the copyright to all Electronic News copy (to the best of my knowledge), as far as I know, this blog content isn’t hosted anywhere else on the Internet, hence my reproduction here.

Original Comments

at 11/4/2005 12:16:34 PM, William Woodley said:

Good for you! I have the same beliefs after visiting China.

at 11/4/2005 12:41:45 PM, Mike Jones said:

There are a lot of people in the USA still operating with an ethnocentric mentality. This is a way of thinking that can’t imagine anyone else in the world having a valid idea or way of life different than ours. And our success has only fostered this kind of thinking because it is very easy to translate success into righteousness.

What is coming next is a worldcentric mentality. This viewpoint will be a result of globalization and its challenges. In general many Europeans and Asians are ahead of the game in this regard. The rightwing in the USA just does not like the fact that they are not the center of the universe.

It is much like what the Catholic Church had to go through when it was demonstrated that the earth was not the center of the universe. And the pain the USA will suffer may be no less. All right wingers take note: we live on planet Earth and the USA is not the Garden of Eden and you are not God’s chosen people. We are all related right down to our genetic material. Mike Jones mike@integralate.com

at 11/4/2005 12:45:47 PM, David Naegele said:

Jeff, First let me say that I have enjoyed everything that you have shared. I doubt I will ever have the chance, or time/money, to go that far away.

With that said, I must also say this about the anonymous postings. In the local news paper all letters to the editor must be signed. In this day of political correctness, many topics are off limits to anyone who wants to keep their job. Some things could easily be misconstrued by ideolouges and cost you a fortune defending yourself against what turns out to be perfectly legal actions. Innocent verdicts don’t restore your bank account.

Take a look into the actions of the BATF in recent years for some overly blatant abuses. There are many agendas being pushed, for good and not so good. I don’t want to get caught on the wrong side of somebody’s agenda. For this reason, letters to the editor once had a “name witheld by request”, but that is no longer the case. Yes, we too have freedom of speech in the U.S., but I don’t believe we have it in the media here either.

at 11/4/2005 12:49:47 PM, cmichaud@mcintoshlabs.com said:

RIGHT ON.WRITE ON !!!!

at 11/4/2005 1:05:29 PM, BobboMax (aka bfank@aol.com) said:

I also enjoyed those paragraphs that ended w/ neener, neener. My sentiments exactly. Things have gotten to the point that the atitudes expressed in the “Patriot Act” require honest patriots to step in front of the tanks in the Capitol Ma– um, ahh, I mean Tienanmen Square.

Some of us are going to get squashed, just like the men and women in Iraq, both Iraqis and Americans. It’s still true that blood is the price of freedom and it must bought again every generation. Buying oil with blood is another matter.

at 11/4/2005 1:05:37 PM, Joseph Kagan said:

Jeff I enjoyed reading all your articles. They made reading Electrinic News alot more interesting. I agree with your article “Let us set the record straight”. I was in China in May making a study of the dairy industry. My impresions of China were similar to yours. I wish you continued success in your work. Joe K.

at 11/4/2005 1:27:49 PM, P. C. Chen said:

Right On, Jeff! One learns sooner or later in life that whatever one does, there will always be people putting a negative twist to it for their own hangups. A lot of people these days seem very hung up on their own perception of the world, regardless of reality. My philosophy is that, as long as I do things to the best of my ability and with a clear conscience, I don’t really give a hoot to what some narrow-minded people might think or say.

Glad to see you think likewise. I enjoyed your columns very much. My admirations for staying cheerful and objective when in a very different cultural environment.

at 11/4/2005 1:29:42 PM, Herb Smith said:

I decry the religious repression in China, and also the government censorship and monitoring of various media. And yet…one of the best ways to change a repressive system is to expose it to capitalism, however imperfect THAT is. The Chinese government attempt to crush Christianity will also fail. The Church thrives on reporession. So China is going to change, and in ways the government will not be able to control.

at 11/4/2005 1:40:30 PM, Bob Duncan (in Dallas) said:

Jeff, thanks for sounding off against those gutless critics. I enjoy your insight into China and want to learn more about the country than just who’s in power today. Your blog has been terrific! Too bad you have to come back! I also share your concerns about the way our government is treating our personal liberties. Waving the flag and threatening us with terrorist attacks has helped the Bush crowd hide their rape of the American people, both our tax dollars and our privacy.

at 11/4/2005 6:40:10 PM, Al Giese said:

Hello Jeff, I have been enjoying reading your reports from China. I traveled to China in the very early years when the doors to China first opened (first trip in 1977) and sold Thermco Diffusion Furnaces through MEI in Beijing to the then small Semicionductor factory in Wuxi. In those days we traveled on simple and slow local trains and the best hotel in Beijing at that time was the Friendship Hotel. Only old timers will remember this hotel.

Needless to say there were no fancy restaurants, high speed trains and the best you could hope for as local transportation was an old Russian build Limosine with a poorly working heater in the deep of winter. The reason I’m sending this note is to express my full support for the position you have taken in the above article.

There are always some jokers that try to mess up business with narrow minded and arrogant political views. After these early business visits to China which were very successful, I didn’t believe that China would ever manage to build a Semiconductor business or any other high tech business. But I have to give them credit, with support from Beijing and from local Government agencies, it is an unbelieveable success story and as you have said, one has to visit the country to believe it.

The positive changes in business and the changes for the majority of the Chinese population are real and amazing, especially for one who has been there and observed the country 25 years ago. Jeff, please keep on writing. You are doing a great job and don’t let ignorant, narrow minded readers disturb you. Best regards Alfred W. Giese IBC,International Business Consultant

at 11/5/2005 1:45:09 AM, Jeff Chappell said: Wow. Rather just the opposite of the reaction I had expected. A gracious thank you to one and all.

at 11/5/2005 12:33:37 PM, Tom Murphy said:

Interesting observation about PR. I was a journalist for more than 10 years before I was laid off for the fourth time and then took a job in public relations. There were times in journalism were I was villified by readers for something I wrote. But I did not feel the true wrath of criticism until I was involved in client-vendor relations as a PR practitioner.

Even ten years of having rocks thrown at me as a journalist barely gave me thick enough skin to deal with the pressure here. People get fired based on the whims of an executive. That’s pressure. Journalists are protected by the first amendment and sometimes by a publication with a backbone. PR practicioners don’t have that and when you’re dealing with a publicly traded company and the entity’s shareholder value is on the line there is just a great deal at stake. That’s something I was never exposed to as a journalist but it is an experience that is highly valuable.

at 11/6/2005 2:25:13 PM, Clayton Werner said:

Onya Jeff! Too many of us from across the oceans see only the bad side of this North amero-centric push. The world is full of real people, different languages, cultures and the like, viva diversite’ (from the land of Oz) Clayton

at 11/6/2005 6:54:45 PM, Mei said:

Hello, I am Chinese, and love to read Jeff’s writings. What Jeff wrote here is quite to the point.