Scott: Welcome back, guys! Alright. Now we are continuing our series on the rise of China. And in this segment, Shelby Holliday takes a look at the role the country’s government has had in its development and what a new, empowered generation of Chinese are fighting for.
Shelby: Imagine life without Facebook friends or Google searches, limited freedom of speech and no brothers or sisters. Well, that is reality for the 1.3 billion people living in China.
Iris Bian: Sometimes we say we don’t care. But we do care. We want to see the world by ourselves, in our own eyes.
Shelby: An expert on Chinese youth, Iris Bian says that her peers are hungry for more rights.
What changes do young people want to see?
Iris: They just want freedom. They want to see the outside of the world. You cannot get information directly. You don’t know if it’s right or wrong. Maybe it’s not the whole picture; it’s just one thing.
Shelby: Even though the nation’s economy has been opening up to the outside world, the people have largely remained closed off. During my trip, I found out that some social networks are blocked, internet searches are restricted, and even newspapers are controlled by the government.
Even though this is a foreign newspaper and it is printed in English, it is still censored by the Chinese government every single morning before it hits the public. It is a strange concept coming from America, but censorship is nothing new to the Chinese people who have been living under their government’s tight grip for decades.
Teen: When I was really small my parents used to tell me, ‘don’t touch the politics stuff’.
Shelby: Don’t touch politics because getting involved can mean harsh consequences, jail, and even death.
Teen: My grandparents told my parents not to do that stuff and my parents told me not to do that stuff.
Shelby: So it is just the culture?
Shelby: If you look at China’s history, it is easy to understand why. In the mid-1900s, under China’s communist leader Mao Zedong, freedoms were quickly crushed. Communism is a system where the government controls all property and businesses and is supposed to spread wealth evenly among the people. Under Mao, freedoms were squashed and strict rules imposed on the people.
Professor Perry Link: You have to get permission of your work leader to move, to have children, to get married. All of these personal freedoms were constricted.
Shelby: Including the size of their families. Under China’s old one child policy, parents were only allowed one child.
Since Mao’s death, people have called for more rights, but not without fierce resistance. One of the most famous uprisings took place in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989. Thousands of students staged a giant protest to demand a more open and democratic government.
Professor Link: And there was a sense that you, this party system that’s been with us for three or four decades now is holding us back. That was what really fueled that movement.
Shelby: The movement grew, with rallies drawing as many as 1.2 million people. But as soon as China’s leaders realized they were losing control, they chose crackdown over change. On the morning of June 4th, thousands were killed or wounded as military forces cleared the square.
Today, information about the killings is still blocked in China and journalists aren’t allowed to report freely in the square. When we tried to film there, police quickly spotted our cameraman but left me alone with a cell phone.
So, this is one of the challenges of trying to film in Tiananmen Square. We have journalist visas, we are here with a translator, but Demetrius is over here talking to the police and they just don’t want any videos or pictures of Tiananmen even to this day.
Twenty-five years after Tiananmen, the government has started to reform harsh rules and expand some freedoms, just recently allowing some couples to have two children.
But China is still criticized for its human rights record. An estimated 500,000 people are currently imprisoned without trial, religious practices are restricted, poor people are oppressed, and citizens don’t have a say in government. Instead, China’s leaders are elected by an elite and secretive group of Communist Party members.
Are young people fighting for change?
Wan Xin Yuan: Yeah, things are changing, but very slowly. But one day we will make a big step forward. I don’t know if it will be good or bad, but it will happen.
Shelby: Despite China’s alarming past, the country’s youth is focused on the future. Hundreds of small protests pop up across the country every day and people can be seen discussing ideas, connecting on networks that aren’t blocked by the government, and demanding more rights for the next generation.
Iris: Compared to the last generation, like my parents’, they’re not even wanting to do this kind of interview, I guess, you know, because you are from America. ‘Wow! So my face will be on TV in America. So who knows what would happen.’ But for this generation, we are more open.
Shelby: Shelby Holliday, Channel One News.
Scott: Wow! Powerful stuff. Thanks, Shelby.
For more information on China’s people and politics, head to Channelone.com.