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A Case for a Free Press in China

Online+Editor+Charlotte+Varnes+visited+Shanghai%2C+Beijing%2C+and+China+over+Christmas+break.+
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A Case for a Free Press in China

Online Editor Charlotte Varnes visited Shanghai, Beijing, and China over Christmas break.

Online Editor Charlotte Varnes visited Shanghai, Beijing, and China over Christmas break.

Robert Varnes

Online Editor Charlotte Varnes visited Shanghai, Beijing, and China over Christmas break.

Robert Varnes

Robert Varnes

Online Editor Charlotte Varnes visited Shanghai, Beijing, and China over Christmas break.

Charlotte Varnes, Online Editor

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In my 17 years of life, I have been lucky enough to extensively travel the world. Each break, my family and I try to take off to some new, uncharted destination and gain something from the experience. More often than not, we go to Europe; the flights are shorter, it’s relatively easy to travel around, and we love the culture. Last summer, we branched out into Asia with a trip to Japan, and two weeks ago, we began another adventure in China.

As a westerner, and especially as Americans, I think there is a tendency to have preconceived notions about non-western nations and cultures. China is a name commonly in the news due to their bustling economy and strict state policies, whether it be detaining Canadians and Americans, rounding up large numbers of Muslims and outspoken nationals to send to internment camps, or their desire to control all information provided to their citizens. As a budding journalist and (as a laptop sticker that a fellow editor got me says) a “First Amendment Freak,” I initially was not looking forward to traveling to a nation that actively works to restrain their press and hide the truth simply for political reasons. Though I have been to 32 countries, China was my first communist one and I was bracing myself for the worst.

Our first activity of the trip was watching the Chinese flag raising in Tiananmen Square at sunrise. We were surrounded by many Chinese citizens, most were teenagers or in their twenties, taking videos of the flag raising and enjoying the moment. It was an odd feeling standing where one of the greatest human rights violations of the 20th century took place and watching everyone around me smile, take selfies, and watch the patriotic ceremony.

For all my understanding that China was a communist nation, my eyes deceived me during the trip. Shanghai and Beijing were full of shopping malls with well-known western brands such as Chanel, Gucci, Versace, and Louis Vuitton. With the country being so consumerist, it almost seemed capitalist. And, with all my knowledge of the atrocities committed by the Chinese government, the number of people I saw waving the Chinese flag and smiling throughout the trip just didn’t make sense.

If not already clear, China uses a censorship to control its people. Would citizens still proudly wave Chinese flags if they knew that their fellow citizens were forcibly taken to internment camps? Would the people in Tiananmen Square still be laughing and smiling if they knew the military power and authoritarian tactics used to kill hundreds of innocent citizens in that very spot in 1989? No.

Despite behavior such as hiding the truth from citizens and regulating every aspect of their lives, China expects its place at the table among other world powers. The government does not seem to understand that with great power comes great responsibility, as many of the world’s democratic nations do. China is not a leader in any aspect aside from economically; its political actions and communist leadership prove this.

The United States is not a perfect country. We are not without our share of political drama or poorly plotted government behavior. However, the United States is an honest place. We know when our leaders have failed and we know when they have succeeded, and the right to a free press and speech gives all Americans the right to air their grievances with the government and its actions.

A big lesson I learned while in China was that we as Americans tend to take our freedoms for granted. Whether reading an op-ed about our foreign policy, publicly protesting for change, or even just logging on to Instagram, we are so blessed to live in a country that allows us to act in our own self-interest and in what we feel is the best interest for our nation.

Although I only spent 10 days in China, I met many kind, helpful people, and they live in a beautiful, prosperous nation. I hope that the freedoms we take for granted will find them, and the truth will set them free. Whether supportive of Communism or influenced to become democratic, that is up to them. A free press and a historical awareness are the most important factors in individuals making decisions, and there is no reason any nation should have to function without these freedoms.

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A Case for a Free Press in China