Grace Wang: Caught in the Middle, Called a Traitor

Grace Wang, a Chinese student at Duke University, was caught in the middle when she tried to mediate a confrontation between pro-Tibetan and pro-China protesters on campus recently. She and her family were later harrassed by nationalistic Chinese who called her a traitor. Wang reflected on the experience in an article published on Washingtonpost.com:

It has been a frightening and unsettling experience. But I’m determined to speak out, even in the face of threats and abuse. If I stay silent, then the same thing will happen to someone else someday.

Wang was on her way to library when she saw two groups of people holding Tibetan and Chinese flags facing each other.

I hadn’t heard anything about a protest, so I was curious and went to have a look. I knew people in both groups, and I went back and forth between them, asking their views. It seemed silly to me that they were standing apart, not talking to each other.

Her effort was not appreciated, but regarded as offensive to many Chinese protesters.

The Chinese protesters thought that, being Chinese, I should be on their side. The participants on the Tibet side were mostly Americans, who really don’t have a good understanding of how complex the situation is. Truthfully, both sides were being quite closed-minded and refusing to consider the other’s perspective. I thought I could help try to turn a shouting match into an exchange of ideas.

Wong lived with Tibetan students for several weeks during Christmas last year, which helped her to understand their perspective and beliefs.

Every day we cooked together, ate together, played chess and cards. And of course, we talked about our different experiences growing up on opposite sides of the People’s Republic of China. It was eye-opening for me.

She wanted to learn the Tibetan language, because she felt ashamed that she could only communicate with her friends in Mandarin. She is an ambitious learner — after having mastered five lanuages, she plans to learn five more by the time she is 30.

I want to do this because I believe that language is the bridge to understanding.

In an open letter to her fellow Chinese, Wang said that Tibet is part of China, but Tibetans’ freedom should be respected: (translated by Thomas Bartlett )

Tibet is our country’s territory; how could it be abandoned or given to others without good reason? Putting people inexorably under pressure will only result in turning friends into enemies. Forcing the naturally peace-loving Tibetan people into desperate opposition, into a fight for survival with their backs to the wall, is to create a serious and irresolvable conflict.

Many people in China find it hard to understand Wang, and pour their anger at her. Someone emptied a bucket of feces on the doorstep of her parents’ apartment; the high school she graduated from convened a meeting to condemn her and revoked her diploma, according to Wang.

I understand why people are so emotional and angry; the events in Tibet have been tragic. But this crucifying of me is unacceptable. I believe that individual Chinese know this. It’s when they fire each other up and act like a mob that things get so dangerous.

Grace Wang 1 grace wang 2

Click here to read an interview with her by Radio Free Asia and watch a video clip of her in the protest of Duke University in early April.

Read a blog article A hero or a victim of western media in which the writer, who claims to be Wang’s roommate, describes Wang as naïve and arrogant.

The website of China Central Television posted Wang’s photo on its index page captioned “The ugliest overseas student” on April 17.

On a related news, CBS reported: E-mails Target Cornell Professor For Showing Tibet Film:

As international attention on the situation between Tibet and China has increased over the past few weeks while China prepares for the Olympics, a Cornell anthropology professor was the subject of personal attacks posted to two University listservs last week in response to a film screening and discussion she organized on “the prospects for peace in Tibet.”

After Prof. Kathryn March, anthropology, began publicizing the event several weeks ago, it immediately provoked a wave of impassioned e-mail responses, most of which criticized the event. A handful of the responses on the listservs were personally directed at March.

“I … was told to ‘go die’ on the Chinese Students and Scholars Association listserv,” March said at the opening of her event last Thursday, “[I] received personal emails saying things like ‘I spit on you’ or telling me that I needed ‘a brain spa’ where I could get ‘botox [for my] brain and age,’ advice that another e-mailer applauded by writing ‘well said! support!'”

UPDATED: Fury vented on Duke student on New Observer.

April 20, 2008 5:00 PM
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