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Opinion: Criticism Not to Fear, But Such Fear Itself

Peking University students got a rare (probably unprecedented) opportunity – to question the British PM without pre-arrangement – and got criticized.


Published Nov. 25, 2010 | Written by Li Liang


For lovers of PKU scandal, there has been no shortage of sizzling reading during the past winter weeks.


In a blog entry – originally posted at renren.com on Nov. 11 – a Wuhan University (WHU) student, as he claimed himself, protested against a PKU student who inquired the visiting British Prime Minister “what you could learn from the China Model.”


His source may be a Beijing Morning Post article, which described the students present “hailing” Cameron’s answer that the first thing to learn was the Beijing Olympics.


David Cameron stepping into the "lecture" hall, the PKU Administrative Building, on Nov. 10


In the post titled “You bloody fool, why you PKU fool so bloody,” the author blamed the “first” question raised during the Q&A session of David Cameron’s PKU speech, as one with an arrogance of a “celestial empire,” a tone like a “seasoned expert in governance,” and a “stupidity of bloody cunt.”


“You, too simple, sometimes naive,” the author thus coronated the questioner.


His accusation basically targeted the “pompous superiority felt by PKU audience over a visiting Western politician,” when there is actually “no such (positive) ‘China Model’ thing.”


As the Q&A session was customarily to be pre-arranged and fixed by the administrations, “you, the PKU students and staff, are equally naive.”


It has also stimulated a new round of chorus on the Internet (and traditional media) in condolence of, or more exactly, for insulting a consistently degenerating university whose good old days have forever gone.


The post immediately stirred fiery reactions. At the “Joke” board of BDWM, official bulletin board service of PKU, the appellation of “bloody fool,” or “SB,” was returned to the author, while a few replied in support of the offense.


Some have discovered the Achilles' heel in the original post: the questioner, as several audience recalled, was neither a Chinese student, nor the first to ask – the first question was instead “what suggestions can you give to the Chinese Communist Party to handle the relationship between the country and the party.”


A very sharp question – possibly unprecedented in the history of “Q&A” session when foreign leaders pay a visit to a mainland university – and it received tender answers from the careful guest.


“... We should try to cooperate in a way that shows mutual respect and understanding; I think that is very important,” the leader of Britain’s biggest ever trade delegation to China responded, politically- and economically-correctly.


The point, this time, was the arrangement to let the prime minister choose the questioner. And as he freely chose, puzzles and troubles would arise – and have arisen.


The PM picking up his own questioners – including challenger and criticizer (File photo/PKU in Pics)


The audience had the chance to talk about often-unwelcomed or forbidden questions that might blaspheme harmony, including those on China’s political system – and its reform, but they also could talk about the other extreme: do not lecture China as usual; learn from her. The bizarre satire this time is: the two coincide with each other.


The agitated WHU “reactionist” – or extremist “liberal” – did not see it, nor did the other side who tried to clarify the “facts” or just to make a modus vivendi.


On Nov. 22, PKU Youth, mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Youth League PKU Committee, published an interview with Nabil Al-Sabah, the PKU student from Iraq who challenged Cameron with the question. A PhD candidate at Department of History, Al-Sabah recalled his phrasing: “Western leader[s] deliver lectures about human rights; What can you learn from China?"


According to the piece titled “When Cameron runs into the ‘China Model’ question,” whose copy later appeared in Youth.cn, “my purpose is to criticize the prime minister ... (as) I found in his speech criticisms against China ... the Western leaders are always telling China ‘how to make corrections;’ otherwise, their media are to criticize them.”


Pity, what a poor prime minister! The “Western leaders” now are hence facing not the “China Model” or “Beijing Consensus,” but a “double” jeopardy.


The article does not counter what is lethal to the publicity and image of PKU – the stereotype, widely rooted in China’s grassroots society, as an increasingly less-liberal, more-institutionalized bureaucracy (despite the self-claimed value of “science and democracy”); however, it creates new.


Nabil Al-Sabah himself noted that he used the word “China,” rather than “China Model.” According to the report, he did not seem to realize any politicized implication of this term, but he has elaborated the “model” during the interview. “I believe that it is good, that there is no so-called Western-style democracy in China ...” As China still has many developing, backward areas, “if the Western-style democracy is applied, there will be no room for negotiation of various local interests, therefore, impeding the overall development of the country.”


Epic fail. For making up for the deteriorated publicity. It is not at all reasonable to label a person as brainwashed, but those words do sound cliché in a Chinese context. Nevertheless, late professor Cai Dingjian has made it: civic qualifications and education are not prerequisites for participatory democracy; how could one say that the Chinese people in the 21st century, “nurtured by the advanced Marxist-Leninist theories and thousand-year Confucian civilization, have such backward qualities that they could not even compete with the settlers (and prisoners!) who practiced democracy in North America and Australia centuries ago?


Yes, you can, suggested Al-Sabah, but merely on the economic development side. “I think the Chinese government needs a stronger propagator to tell the West that the Chinese people lead a good life,” according to the PKU Youth report.


That has already appealed, at least to David Cameron. “We still have a lot to learn about how to generate such growth that lifts people out of poverty,” responded the prime minister during the Q&A – in a harmonious atmosphere without being grilled, egged, or criticized.


Criticism is not so fearful, especially when a criticism comes coincidently with misrepresented facts. To respond with responsibility, the mindset of those “criticizers” is to be checked. For example, when an unwritten rule of pre-arranged Q&A is suddenly broken through, people both on and off stage, in and out of the auditorium should be aware of.


And for the hardline onlookers who wait, follow, and clamor at but the negative "news" of a particular target (e.g. the so-called facecrime scandal), the best way to deal with them is to do nothing but let it go. They never represent the entire – truth. The fear itself will distort it.


Towards the end, let’s see what exactly the truth was when our Nabil questioned the British PM, according to the immediate release of the report on Cameron’s visit, with the lecture’s full text plus an audio clip, by Peking University News:


“... Western leaders, when they come to China, they always tend to lecture China about democracy, human rights, and other things. I would like to ask: what can you learn from the Chinese system?”


Everybody knows the answer will never ever be “Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs)," “democracy,” or “human rights,” with or without Chinese characteristics.



Extended Reading: British PM Speaks at PKU


The opinion expressed in this article does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Peking University News.





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