Chinese International Students – A New Hope?

Chinese students represent the largest number of international students in America, and they continue to enroll in higher numbers. In addition, more and more of these students are making the decision to return home for employment. As the number of Chinese international students returning home increases, there is a sense of optimism that the unfettered Internet access that they have gained abroad and the newfound information and knowledge that this entails, will lead them to develop beliefs in Western ideals such as freedoms of expression and the press. They can then spread these ideals at home. This hope however, has yet to materialize.

Various interviews and studies have found that Chinese international students who have access to the open web often are just as patriotic and jingoistic as their non-international counterparts. Victor Teo, assistant professor at the University of Honk Kong, remarks that “there are plenty of Chinese outside of China who use Google, Facebook and Twitter, on a daily basis, and who read the New York Times, listen to western music and are just as every bit as nationalistic – and perhaps as jingoistic – as some Chinese who live in China.”

There are several contributing factors to this, such as the importance many Chinese attach to being loyal to their country.

What I found interesting though is that Chinese students often perceive anti-China bias in both the American media and American students who discuss China-related issues with them, believing that they “often exhibit misinformed, prejudiced and offensive views of Chinese current events”. This is essentially the exact opposite of how Americans and others in the West feel about people in China – we generally feel that China’s media coverage is biased and untruthful, leading the people there to also have biases and misconceptions about the U.S..

What is actually going on here is unclear. Though Chinese students may have a point when they claim to perceive anti-China bias in American media and students, I believe that their perception could be colored by the censored, pro-China media that they’ve been exposed to for all their lives. It is easy to be more oversensitive to criticism when you’re used to hearing something else your whole life. Sometimes, criticisms are legitimate and are not merely due to media bias. Furthermore, for all the bias that the American media may have, at the least it is not plagued by government censorship, as its Chinese counterpart is.

Nonetheless, how Chinese international students feel probably plays little difference in the context of Internet usage trends. With so much else available on the Internet, young Chinese simply don’t have much time or interest for political and social issues. A recent survey showed that of the total time spent among Internet users, only 4.6% is dedicated to “news”. Another survey showed that the top 3 activities among young Chinese Internet users are music, gaming, and video.

Such findings reinforce the argument that there is a large enough amount of domestic content within the Great Firewall to satisfy the average person, or that the average person simply isn’t all too interested in politics. Further, the fact that even Chinese students who are exposed to an open Internet mostly do not undergo any sort of change of heart, or gain any motivation to become more active politically, paints a bleak picture. Thus, it appears as if China’s web censorship may prove to be more resilient than previously thought. It capitalizes on the average person’s reluctance to go past the Firewall by providing content that caters to their tastes, and even when Chinese people do have access to open Internet, they mostly do not undergo any significant change.



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