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A Mantis Can Halt a Chariot

Zeshi Wang ’20, Opinion Columnist

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In my China’s Economic Reform after 40 Years class, I was thrilled to be able to gain a deeper insight into many grassroots social movements taking place in rural China. I was most impressed by the scale of protests happening in China. The protests are mostly initiated by the people from the most disadvantaged group, primarily farmers and factory workers. They protested merely to make a living for themselves and families such as obtaining salary they had worked so hard for or asking the chemical factory to move out of their town to reduce the pollution of the farmland. The farmers in the second case were once mistreated by the government, which sent agents in an attempt to subdue them, were joined by social environmentalists and volunteers. They finally managed to push the government order the factory move out of their town. As a result, their farmland was preserved.

I was incredibly inspired by the success of this event, in which compassionate people joined the protesters to push for positive changes. As I realized that many people from disadvantaged groups who have little power and social relations protest for basic needs, it is then others’ responsibility to stand up for helping them and behaving for a just cause. Although an individual is readily censored or suppressed by the authority, however, when each faithful individual who believes in social justice comes together, the momentum can push for positive changes and resisting the unjust authority. The prosperity of grassroots social activism relies on me, you, and people around us.

To understand my points, it is important to note that the social activism in China differs from its American counterpart. I regard Chinese social activism as protection of fundamental human rights for the disadvantaged group such as freedom of speech and protection from government’s suppression.

Recently, the internet has become the largest platform for Chinese’s people’s discussions on various political and social topics. With the fast-growing size of Chinese social media over the past several years, China now has the world’s largest amount of internet users. By the end of 2017, the leading multifunctional messaging social media app has more than 960 million users inside China. Weibo, known as “Chinese Twitter”, is another Chinese mega social media network that has more than 340 million monthly active users. The exponentially rising number of users has posed a challenge to the Chinese internet regulators, who constantly censor online contents and discussions related to sensitive topics and maintain control over the populace. However, thanks to the magnitude of these social media platforms, when grassroots social activism emerged, it survives because when ordinary people participate in social activism despite the censorship, these voices converge and become powerful and unstoppable momentum enhancing social justice.

2018 marked the year of turbulence for many Chinese people. Since the beginning of this year, people inside and outside China have sniffed the potential advent of mass online censorship due to President Xi’s announcement of a stricter cybersecurity law last year. Unfortunately, most Chinese have already been used to the censorship, whether it is about a popular TV show being suspended because its “contents do not align with Chinese socialist core values” or some celebrities permanently banned due to ethical issues such as cheating or use of drugs. For example, your favorite reality show like Keeping Up with Kardashians would never be allowed to air in China because the lavish lifestyles and drama presented contradict with Chinese government’s mainstream ideology of “positive energy” which symbolizes uplifting power, emotion and hope. With more TV shows forced to suspended indefinitely and websites such as “Tik Tok,” known as “Chinese Vine” taken down due to “violation of internet regulations.” Chinese people, ranging from college yuppies, including me, to young professionals and even the elderly, are confused and angry. We simply do not know why these entertaining shows and websites are censored and how they have “negatively affected our lives.” Although frustrated, most chose to accept it because after all, loss of certain amusing platforms wasn’t that a big deal.

Chinese people’s endurance for the government’s obsession with censorship has given the censors a false signal that people would put up with everything. However, they are apparently wrong. When it comes to social activism, it has proven people’s participation in social activism can eventually achieve something positive.

On April 13th, Weibo announced it would start to rectify the internet space by banning all contents and topics on homosexuality, violence including pictures, cartoons, and text posts during a three-month clean-up campaign. According to South China Morning Post, the announcement came amid a clampdown targeting content across social media platforms as Chinese leaders tighten their grip on an increasingly diverse cultural scene. The ban triggered massive online protests as tens of millions of Chinese, expressed support for gay people. A hashtag “#Iamgaynotapervert” was created and viewed more than 1.35 million times. Millions of Chinese people shared posts about knowledge of sexuality on various social media platforms. Though deleted quickly by the censors, none gave up. I observed and participated in the movement as well. I think this censorship is absurd and it indeed infringed people’s basic rights. My friends and I kept sharing screenshots of the posts that were previously deleted to denounce the censorship on freedom of speech and discrimination based on sexuality. Surprisingly, probably due to an unprecedented large scale of online protest, on the next day, Weibo announced that it would remove the ban on homosexual contents, others remained.

This event further proves that individual voice matters. In China, a country with a powerful but sometimes indifferent authority, the only way to draw the authority’s attention is to deliver clear messages from the mass. As China gains spotlights on its economic development, it is imperative that each pays more attention to and participates in social activism because it affects everyone’s well-being. One can never stay silent on the unjustness because it would eventually inflict on everyone if no one stands up to it. In this materialistic and authoritarian society, we must help preserve individual rights from oppression and pursue justice for all. Even though we are mantises, we can halt a chariot.

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A Mantis Can Halt a Chariot