‘Seeing clearly’: a Chinese response to Western netizen

The following is an essay written by Jack, a Chinese friend of mine, who studies at Beijing’s Foreign Affairs University and will soon begin a career in China’s Foreign Ministry. He recently translated my father’s book Free World into Chinese (Ziyou Shijie) – which you can now find in Xinhua bookstores.

I will only preface the below with one comment. I believe that the majority of Westerners – even those with little to no knowledge of China – would regard Seeing Clearly‘s comments not as seeing clearly at all, but as hyperbolic mouthing off. There are valid arguments on both sides of the fence to be made on the issues raised here, but loud minorities like Seeing Clearly (or his Chinese netizen equivalents) should most certainly not be the ones to make them.


A China in the eyes of a Chinese

My friend Alec asked me to write an article on China. As a matter of fact, in this highly globalised world, there is still a lot of misunderstanding between China and the West. So I am writing this article to hopefully help our western friends know more about China.

About three months ago, the shoe-throwing incident against Wen Jiabao at Cambridge engendered a hot debate online. I followed the debate closely and read comments of some western friends who believed that they knew a lot about China. But their biased comments made me realize that the information they received was very distorted, thus giving them a wrong impression on China. In the following are comments made by a netizen called ‘Seeing Clearly’ after the show-throwing incident on the website of Christian Science Monitor. His views are what I think shared by some other western friends. I have responded to them one by one with the purpose of showing a true China to our western friends.

‘Seeing Clearly’ has the following comments on China:

  • To all those zealots so keen to rush to the defence of the Chinese leader, did it ever occur to you that in China anyone who attempts to protest either ‘disappears’ or is stalked for months by the secret police there?
  • Do you know that Google colludes with the Chinese government to censor internet content there?
  • Do you know that Nike and other sportswear manufacturers contract out production of their goods to vast ‘enterprise zones’ in China and other far eastern countries, where workers live in shacks or converted Pigstys, and have to work up to 16 hour shifts in vast temporary warehouses for a few cents/yen a day, because they are not allowed to have a union represent them?
  • If they try to set up a union, all those involved are instantly dismissed, meaning they’re likely to become homeless and end up begging? If anyone persists in unionising, the contractor (i.e. the multinational making out the orders, whoever they may be), cancels the contract, dismantles the warehouse and goes off to another ‘enterpise zone’ in another country, leaving the workers jobless.
  • Did you know that any visitors to China wishing to do media coverage of the area have to get offical (Ed: sic) permission to do so, their coverage is vetted by the government and they are tailed wherever they go by ’secret’ police?
  • Did you know that any Free Tibet protests within China are mercilessly crushed not only by the police but by the military, and anyone thought to be an organiser of said protests is imprisoned and tortured?
  • Did you know that the religion Fulun (Ed: sic) Gong is outlawed in China and practitioners are persecuted?
  • I have absolutely no gripes at all with the citizens of China, and I am no racist, but you have to face facts, China’s goverment (Ed: sic) does not believe in free speech in the way that we do, whatever PR they happen to be putting out at the moment.
  • In fact, my comment on this article in China would probably result in my arrest and disappearance.

As a Chinese, I really feel that our western friends should come to China and learn more about this country, instead of being misled by some questionable sources and materials.

To the questions raised by ‘Seeing Clearly’, which I believe show, to some extent, the biased views held by some western friends, I would like to respond one by one.

First, if we attempt to protest in China, we will not either disappear or be stalked for months by secret police. What matters is the way we protest. For those who take violent means like burning shops and hurting or even killing innocent people, they will be prosecuted in China, as in any civilized nation, simply because they violate laws. However, if we take civilized ways to make our voice heard, the government will listen to us and get the problem solved. For example, there was a famous incident in recent years, called PX incident in Xiamen city, where many Xiamen citizens organized a ‘big walk’ in protest against a government’s decision to establish a PX factory there, because that would be harmful to the environment. These people informed each other of this activity through short messages and internet bulletin boards, and walked together with slogans calling for stopping building this factory. As a result, the government listened to their appeals and stopped the factory which was expected to create billions of dollars for the locality. Many incidents like this have happened in China. The way that the Chinese government handles them has been changing for the better, and the civil society in China is also learning to carry out more acceptable and effective campaigns to express their views. As a result, the interaction between the government and the civil society is becoming better and better.

Second, censorship used to be, and to some extent is, a problem in China. But the Chinese government has been relaxing its regulation on the society and making itself more transparent. It would be a more reasonable and objective way to look at a country by taking account of its history, tradition, culture and status quo. As Wen Jiabao put it, we are encouraged to ‘see China in the light of her development’. Feudalist society was in place for thousands of years in this country, and regulating the idea of the public for the sake of social stability has been a normal practice for Chinese rulers, be it right or wrong in the eyes of western democracies. Recent years have witnessed dramatic changes in this aspect, particularly after SARS incident in 2003. Censorship has been relaxed faster than many Chinese expected. The coverage on Wen Chuan earthquake and Beijing Olympic Games was so transparent that helped China earn applause of the whole world. In addition, CCTV news at 7 p.m., which has been the official and most authoritative news for the Chinese people, broadcast the whole footage of shoe-throwing at Wen Jiabao at Cambridge. If we do some research, we will find out that every country has censorship. Governments ban contents that are in violation of laws in their countries. For example, the Chinese government has been banning pornographic websites and websites doing propaganda of Tibetan secession. This kind of censorship has won great support from the Chinese people. Freedom is not absolute or without limits, so the key point is to strike a balance. And this is the direction that we are moving toward.

Third, ‘Seeing Clearly’ depicted a grim picture of the Chinese labor, but the fact goes in the opposite direction. On the one hand, labor-intensive industries are what China needs at the current stage, largely due to employment and education considerations. China has a population of 1.3 billion, and urbanization is an irreversible trend, meaning more and more rural residents are migrating to urban areas. But due to lack of educational resources, these people don’t have high enough education, and many of them even haven’t finished high school. Labor-intensive industries could provide jobs to these less-educated people. When these people get jobs in cities, they need to start from the scratch, resulting in poor living conditions. And the government has been carrying out measures to accommodate the needs of the migrant workers, for example, setting up affordable residential areas for them and providing accessible education to their children. On the other hand, the Chinese government enacted a very strict labor law in recent years in an effort to eliminate acts harmful to the interests of migrant workers, such as delay of payments. As a result, some multinationals are leaving China, simply because the cost of labor in China has been unaffordable. We can find a lot of such examples in Guangdong, Zhejiang, Shandong, as well as many other provinces which used to be heaven for multinationals to build manufacturing centers.

Fourth, unionizing is a trend in China in recent years. For example, union members in Walmart negotiated with the company on their payment. Many companies in China are having strong unions to represent the interests of workers. In addition, the media and the civil society have been doing a better and better job to help the vulnerable and disadvantaged workers. For example, a group of university students from Hongkong revealed the bad labor conditions in Nine Dragons Paper company, a leading paper-making company in China. This company has been under severe criticism and forced to make changes.

Fifth, journalists don’t need to get official permission to report in China, nor will they be vetted or tailed by anybody, according to a provision issued on Jan. 1st, 2007. If we ask our western journalist friends based in China this question, I believe they will tell us how big the changes are in recent years.

Sixth, on the question of Tibetan protesters, echoing my first point, we need to differentiate among the protests. Protests without violence are allowed in China, as in the rest of the world, for example, the Xiamen PX incident, Chongqing taxi incident. However, violent protests, as what happened in Tibet on March 14th, are outlawed, which is the same as the rest of the world. Criminals must be prosecuted, simply because they burned houses and hurt people, for example, some protesters even beat Jin Jing, a handicapped girl in wheelchair, to grab the Olympic torch during the relay in Paris. These people must be criminalized, because their acts are against human conscience and violate laws.

Seventh, Falun Gong is not a religion. Their leader Li Hongzhi used techniques to make fake pictures, in which he was sitting in a lotus like a saint. He didn’t allow practitioners to take medicine, because practicing FaLun Gong would be enough to cure their diseases. However, records showed that Li Hongzhi himself went to hospitals when he was ill. Lies like these are numerous. Some practitioners even killed themselves in order to find the so-called ‘Falun’, meaning a sacred circle in Chinese, in their bodies. China bans cults that lead people to commit suicide and make them perverted, but we respect real religions. In China, there are over 100 million religious believers. As an Olympic volunteer working for the Kenyan team, I was able to see that even the Olympic village has a religious center, providing service for athletes and officials.

Last but not least, we will certainly not be arrested or disappear due to making comments. China recently adopted its Human Rights Action Plan, which clearly protects the right of comments.

Generally speaking, I admit that there is still a long way to go for China in all aspects. We welcome criticisms which can press us to move forward. But criticisms should be based on sources which reflect the real condition in this country. A big problem I am finding in western countries is that many western friends are criticizing China based on totally wrong information, and this will make our misunderstanding even worse. Dear ‘Seeing Clearly’, as well as other western friends who are holding similar views on China, you may not know as much as you thought or see as clearly as you expected. Please come to China and see this country with your own eyes, you will find that many of the views or images that you once held on this country have been wrong. And I’m sure you will like the real China.


  1. Jana, very few Chinese are brainwashed. The mentally challenged are foreigners who take Falungong seriously. There are less silly vehicles for ignorant outsiders to use to hate China’s fairly popular and very competent government.

  2. Very interesting read, I think their would be a lot of mixed opinions on this. Love the theme that you are using, what is it?

  3. First and foremost, organized dissent is not allowed in China though today it is perhaps more tolerated than it was in the past. It is highly unlikely that the example he presented was sanctioned through any official channels and to offer it up as an example of China’s openness “to protest in the proper form” is disingenuous. As demonstrated during the Olympics, there is still no officially acceptable form of anti-government protest in China.

    I have spent enough time in China to know that the real China lies between the two perspectives in this article. To say that protest organizers are not tracked and often detained is as false as Seeing Clearly’s suggestion that they all disappear. It is common for those petitioners who actually reach Beijing to be forcibly detained and shuttled back to their home province.

    I will give Zhangning credit for using less inflammatory rhetoric than Seeing Clearly but his depiction of the “true China”, especially on the point about protests, is at best ignorant and at worst misleading. As anyone who has spent time outside of Beijing or Shanghai would agree.

  4. Thank you Zhangning for your essay.

    There definitely has to be an understanding between East-West relations. This becomes more important as China continues its rise and the world becomes more multipolar.

    The “red scare” during the Cold War in the U.S. helped to foster a diplomatic stalemate for almost two decades with the USSR. Many in the West, because of such misconceptions that “Seeing Clearly” propagate, seem braced for another such stalemate, and one of the major forces behind this is a fundamental misunderstanding of the CCP and the Chinese population.

    There is definite ‘cherry picking’ in your arguments that ignores a broader trend, but it is undeniable that things have been progressively improving.


  5. Zhangning is about to graduate? He needs to further his education first, I think, and not by staying in school…

  6. With regards to your ill informed remarks about Falun Gong let me start by saying this ..

    If we commit suicide and harm others as the Chinese communist regime has said then why has this phenomena never happen in the the other 80 countries all around the world that Falun Gong is practised in?

    Secondly you do not have a free press there nor are you allowed to protest peacefully or apply to the appellants office for help with out being arrested jailed in black jails or taken to prison with out juridical process . The Rule of MAN exists in communist repressed China not the Rule of LAW as the Chinese constitution states.

    So simply by that rationale you are merely reiterating what the communist regime has told you. You have had non stop brainwashing about Falun Gong from when the persecution began on July 20 1999, At that time Day and night you were exposed to propaganda and lies on your state TV saying that we self immolate commit suicide harm others, yet no where else in the world do these so called practices happen.

    It does not take a genius to figure that out . Only in China do some Chinese think your way. Many have woken up to the fact that Falun Gong is good.

    So you are soon to begin a career in the Chinese Foreign ministry –say no more you are simply kowtowing and following the communist party culture to advance yourself.
    You are one of the many communist party members who cannot be trusted to do the right thing by humanity and stop this grisly persecution
    The world knows that this persecution is wrong and you will pay the price for your lies and ignorance.

    60 years of communism in China killed a minimum of 80 million Chinese people…and that’s in China alone. The rest of the figures of unnatural deaths under communist rule (ex & current communist-controlled countries) can all be found in the “Black Book of Communism”.
    80 million, that’s more than the total death rates of World War 1 & 2.

    Read the 9 commentaries at

Comments are now closed.