People in China holding Chinese flags while protest against government corruption – it’s ok to denounce the government, but not ok to denounce the unity of the country.

Like me, most Chinese people are brought up on images of China’s suffering in the hands of the Western and Japanese invasions. It always serves as a warning of what China might be again, if people don’t unite. The humiliation of these invasions still affects people’s lives in China today.

The more the West gets involved in Tibet, the more people fear the same history will repeat. With negative reports from Chinese central media, Chinese people believe that the West is trying to invade China again through the issue of Tibet.

Every middle class Chinese person I meet wants to go to Tibet. However, most of them are not interested in the Tibetan culture as much as the amazing scenery. China is always willing to learn from other cultures, but historically it looks down on cultures which are not as advanced as ours. This ignorance is a second barrier to understanding Tibetans and appreciating their way of living.

That’s why it is very hard for any Chinese to speak out for Tibet without being labeled a separatist. To be a separatist is to deny your own culture and people, which is seen as a traitor to your country. Once people in China see you as such, you won’t only be denounced by the government, but more crucially, you will lose creditability with the entire Chinese people. As an intellectual, it is much worse of a punishment to lose your audience.

Therefore, reform in Tibet will come at a much slower pace. As the Chinese slowly open to other cultures and influences, I sincerely believe Chinese people will reflect on their own lives and understand the actions of Tibetans with restored mutual respect.


Four young men in China went into hiding, after posting videos on Weibo showing them tearing up photos of Chairman Mao. It mirrored Sinead O’Connor tearing up a picture of the pope. All of them looked at the huge influence that both figures have on the modern world, and saw it as their right to emphatically disagree with it. Sinead was on the receiving end of death threats, boycotts of her music, and public outrage. Similarly, the young men faced a public fury that saw the online account of one of their girlfriends shut down in an attempt to limit the damage.

For millions of people figures like Chairman Mao or the Pope represent something indelible, a sort of fundamental foundation, so while the West champions freedom of speech and political expression, it seems there’s an unspoken limit – Sinead’s career never did recover from the backlash of that incident. I can imagine it being a Western act of challenging free speech. What surprised me was the fact Chinese youngsters are learning from their western counterparts to express their own opinions in a way that’s almost forbidden in Chinese society.

The Orphan of Zhao (2010 Chinese Film)

The Orphan of Zhao (2010 Chinese Film)

The recent controversy over the Royal Shakespeare Company’s casting of the play Orphan of Zhao has sparked an online debate about the complexities of casting minority actors.

Although the anger of the Chinese and other East Asian actors is understandable, the issue carries more shades of grey underneath the black and white.

The fact that the RSC is doing Orphan of Zhao is a triumph. It shows a great interests in Asian culture and history. In the context of a non-racially biased society, the race and ethnicity of the cast members is by definition irrelevant, and it’s the opportunity for pure cultural exchange and understanding that matters. For this, I believe both the West and the East will benefit.

We can’t assume that a production of Romeo and Juliet in China is not true to Shakespeare, simply because it has no Western actors in it.

However, there is a total lack of East Asian actors in Western TV, film and plays. Most Asian actors who do appear are British, yet they are hardly ever casted as anything but a sterotypical Asian person.

We need to make a protest, but it must be for the right purpose and from a right angle. It’s important to note that making misleading protests when others are stepping out of their comfort zone makes them less likely to do so again.