How democracy finds itself in the crosshairs of authoritarianism, with special coverage of Taiwan.
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Melanie: Hey, y'all it's May 1, 2022,
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We are talking about how, even when
we live in democratic nations, there's
still always a space where we have
to be vigilant about authoritarian.
Recently Russia invading the Ukraine
has been a huge story, but it's
not the only story of its kind.
Ukraine is not the only nation
under that type of threat.
We've been free the past few
years, seeing China taking more
aggressive stances without as much
notice because there's not as much.
Overt or evident physical violence.
So we want to talk a bit about what that
looks like and how that impacts not only
China or Taiwan, but how that impacts
us in the U S and how authoritarianism
can still find its space here.
So I want to start
bringing up our panelists.
First, Susan Stutz blogger.
Extraordinary will be joining us.
Susan: Hi, Mel.
Melanie: Hey, Susan, how are you?
Well, how are you?
Susan: I'm looking forward to this
conversation, you know, I mean, I think so
many of us, and I know that I was guilty
of this, at least at some point it may
be to some extent still, thinking that
what happens over there on the other side
of the world doesn't really impact me.
It really doesn't, it doesn't
affect my day-to-day life and
that isn't necessarily true.
So I'm really looking forward to
this conversation because China
plays a huge part in our lives,
whether we recognize it or not.
And so I think it's good to highlight.
I think that's a function of how
we're educated as Americans, where
we're educated with this kind of
center of the universe mentality.
That happens a lot.
So when it's something that's not
impacting us negatively immediately,
we don't necessarily know the
inner workings of how China impacts
things like trait, so it's a really.
It's very interesting.
And even how, there are certain sentiments
that it, guides here due to whether it's
misinformation or, being the bigger story.
China is a much larger nation
then say for example, Taiwan
much larger than Hong Kong.
So we have to.
Look at, the why's and
dig a little deeper.
And thankfully we have someone who has
experienced, you know, we always like
to talk to people who know the stories,
whether it's from doing the work or from
lived experience in among us, we have
someone with lived experience and that
is our next guest and fav Christine.
Christine: Hey there.
Thank you so much for having me.
It's interesting because usually I am
the guest regular guests, and this is
a new role for me, where we are going
to get to talk about a lot of things
that I, focused on and care about.
And, I'm going to do it, speaking to what
Susan mentioned, cause we've all been in
that situation where we feel like we don't
know a lot because we are so centered.
The U S but I'm going to try to make this
international conversation very domestic.
And so I look forward to
sharing that with the listeners.
Melanie: Thanks so much.
I always joke about you being the
international woman of mystery.
I want to go back to sort of the beginning
of our time together, even in one of our
earlier episodes, our American story.
Well, we talked a little bit about
you and your family coming to the U S
so I was born in Taiwan and I
came here actually to the U S
when I was just two years old.
you know, my parents immigrated in the
seventies and I often talk about that
because there are a couple of narratives
as over the years that have really.
Led me to kind of explore this,
what it means to be an immigrant
or be more conscious of how this
group of Americans are viewed.
And at least from my lens and experience.
And one of the notions that I have sought
to dispel over the recent years is.
You know that there's this
different kind of immigrant,
there is legal versus illegal.
Like we talked about in the last show and
what really has bothered me about that
is in looking into how I arrived here.
Going way back to the seventies, you
realize it wasn't too long ago that
people that looked like me were completely
legally banned from even entering the
country, the Chinese exclusion act, you
know, so growing up, we didn't really,
I wasn't really conscious of that.
That's not what we as, the, our history
books are not very informative when
it comes to certain parts of our
history and that was one of them.
So once I realized that it was really.
Because of the civil rights movement, that
there was a wave of immigrants from Asia
that was allowed to come in the seventies,
my parents and I being beneficiaries
of that, that really felt less othered.
Does that make sense?
So I can, we're always thought
that, you know, the communities
that we we always feel like, okay,
where'd you, so keep your head down.
Don't say anything kind of a
build out American dream in your
respect of, bubbles, if you will.
Melanie: So from that tidbit, from the
beginning, can you talk a little bit sort
of giving us not the quick and dirty, but
the brief history of, how things got there
and what motivated your, family to leave?
I will preface that by saying I am
Taiwanese American over the years we also.
Call ourselves Asian American,
depending on the situation.
And so it's important for
this conversation today.
I am speaking from the perspective
of Taiwanese American, who was
also Asian-American and I really do
appreciate the space because actually
we're heading into AAPI heritage month.
And so what inspires me is Having
shared my family's story of coming
over here, what I often am very aware
of is first-generation immigrants.
Like my parents are just so focused
on trying to assimilate getting their.
Supporting the family with very
limited knowledge of American culture
of the language and doing all that
while trying to also raise kids.
And hopefully, this dream,
this American dream they have
of sending them to college.
So that was my parents' generation.
And as I've gotten older and I'm
a mom myself have a 16 year old
son who is college bound, gosh,
the time flies in just two years,
I am now in this situation.
I feel a responsibility.
What kind of torch are
my parents passing to me?
I am their daughter.
And growing up, I was a
very Americanized daughter.
A lot of people from immigrant households
can relate because we grow up by cultural
and, it's interesting that the things
that my mother used to criticize me about
when I was younger, because we had this
constant tension, I would say, right.
A very natural tension between her
world and how she was brought up.
And mine, which is very American and
that tension would always result in just
the oversimplification of a mother to a
daughter saying you're too Americanized.
So I think a lot of us either
can relate to that or have
friends who come from immigrant
backgrounds that can relate to that.
So as now I am in a position in life
and, in an understanding and awareness.
Yeah, I am going to be too Americanized.
And what that means to me is
I feel a responsibility for my
son's generation to be vocal.
My parents worked really hard to give me
this life in a country that offered me
more opportunity than the country we left.
And so that first and foremost is
the context of where I share all.
I want to make sure that we
understand as we're having this
dialogue today, this is by no means.
When we say and mentioned China, we
are not talking about Chinese people.
We are talking about the actions of the
Chinese government and one of the beauties
of growing up in a country that allows
for the freedom of self-expression We
are just very privileged in America to
be able to differentiate between American
people and our American government.
And when the government is not serving
the interests of the people, we
are, we have the freedom to be vocal
about that without losing our love
of American culture, American people.
And so in that same context, when I
talk about China, I am speaking about
my criticism of the Chinese government.
And it's actually a direct result of my
last 20 years experience, uh, as somebody
who is Taiwanese American, but that
actually lived and worked in China for
many years and has continued to have the.
20 year relationships
with Chinese friends.
So the insights I share aren't from the
bias of someone who is only American
or the bias is someone who comes from
a Taiwanese background, but it's also
the lived experience of somebody who
has actual Chinese friends who cannot
in many cases, express the things that
I feel I can be a voice to them for.
And so I just wanted to start there.
Melanie: I appreciate that because
I think that's something when we
take on these conversations, we're
almost exclusively taking on.
The systems and the culture bearers
of those systems, who, the voices that
are perpetuating these systems and not
so much an individual it's, even when
we are dealing with individuals, it's
more often than not the individual's
actions perpetuating these systems.
And I think that's a very important thing.
When we have any of these conversations,
as a person who is a black woman
in America, I have to have these
conversations all the time when I'm
dealing with matters of white privilege.
When we're talking about privileges
or oppression or authoritarianism, we
have to look at how we're addressing
this actual system, because when.
It goes into a different area
where we it stalls conversation,
installs discourse entirely.
So I appreciate that and understand
exactly why why you pointed that out.
I'd like to talk a little bit about what.
Being a Taiwanese American and working
in China, spending an extensive period of
time working in China has meant for you.
And also what that's looked like for
you as someone who has become vocal in,
in your stances about what's going on.
Um, so for me, my first, and this
is where I pull out my, by both my
age card and my street cred, right.
When it comes to this my family who is
from Taiwan and, you know, my grandmother
has a company that she started my late
grandmother that actually entered China
and expanded from Taiwan to China in 1991.
So we're talking shortly after tenement
square at a period of time in the world
when a lot of people and country countries
and companies pulled out their resources
at a time when China was still trying to
develop into the economic power that it
is today and lift people out of poverty.
The two groups that invested
early and that went back in,
were groups of investors and
business people from Thailand.
And Hong Kong.
And so my family's, uh, background
is a direct result of that.
And I, myself was a college student in the
nineties, spent every summer vacation as
a result in Shanghai and graduated with,
international relations degree because my
experience in, China during those summers,
from that specific period of time, and
China's growth really inspired me to.
Carve out a career for myself.
And so after graduation, I
packed up and I moved there.
And from 1999 to 2004, I
lived in, worked in Shanghai.
So that's important to note because
I never now, fast forward, I never
criticize things that I don't feel.
I have either experienced myself from a
firsthand perspective or have friends.
And deep relationships that have been
forged from the last 20 years to be
able to hopefully speak on their behalf.
And I say that because we're dealing
with we're dealing with a government
that unfairly is able to exert
its economic strength now, right?
As a result of being given.
The ability to grow in integrate
with the international world.
And many of us, those, me
included were part of that.
So I come to you now as somebody
who's looking back and saying, wow,
and I'll be just really honest.
Part of me, just looking at the state
of where the Chinese government is
heading today in terms of human rights
and in terms of its reach and its.
Still lack of freedoms for
many of its own citizens.
I look back and I say, yeah,
I was that naive American
foreigner who actually believed.
In that period of time that I could
be part of a generation who went and
embraced and build cultural bridges with
the purpose and the goal of hopefully
looking towards the next generation.
And I used to say this many of my friends
who know me say this, can you imagine what
the next 10 years are going to look like?
If the world embraces the
next generation of Chinese?
Who have learned English who are studying
abroad, who are trying to learn different
cultures, like whatever we see now.
And this was my ability to be able to
almost nicely dismiss what was going
on and the criticism at the time of
China, because I looked at it as, okay.
Let's pick our battles.
I want the long term.
Goal of a country that
integrates with the world.
And that has a generation of Chinese who
are our friends, who are our business
partners, who are actually part of
establishing peace in the world, you
know, and this was my, this was me.
So I'll just stop there and see if
you or Susan have any questions.
Susan: This one's, this is a tough
one for me because how much do you
think that perspective changes though?
Let me backtrack.
I imagine that China had a different
stance internationally when it didn't
have the military might that it has.
So it, it may have taken
and correct me if I'm wrong.
I'm asking you was the perspective
different when China didn't have
the military prowess that it
has such that they could not,
they had to lean more on what the
rest of the international community
said and felt as opposed to currently.
Where they are very close to us
in their military and whatnot.
So is there a difference
there, if that makes sense?
Christine: Yeah, no, absolutely.
If you spoke to me just even
five years ago, like this
awareness has actually come about.
Just in the recent years
and it's a direct result.
I'll just get right to the heart
of it, of the fact that you have a
president in China, who five years
ago, a little bit over five years ago,
decided to take it upon himself to
actually shake things up domestically.
And he changed the constitution.
So imagine if someone here,
which they are trying was able
to disrupt the normal process.
There is supposed to be a peaceful
handover every 10 years of a new
president and, the policies that were
set from before carry on and that.
Contributes to stability in the
world because it's predictable.
A little over five years ago,
actually a little longer.
Now you had president Xi Jinping
change the constitution to allow
for himself to indefinitely.
Not only seek a third term, but
remain in power indefinitely.
So you can imagine then for us, those
of us who are very knowledgeable and
experienced with what our version of
China was, and I've talked about different
versions, that was an alarm bell.
And the other part is then you
start to put the pieces together
from that level of awareness.
And you see what happened in
Hong Kong in 2019 Hong Kong, a
city that used to be managing.
People who traveled overseas used to
always talk about Hong Kong has one of
their favorite international cities.
And even though it was handed over back
to China, because there was that treaty
with the British and it was a colony
before, but even when it was handed over,
it was supposed to be what they call.
One country, two systems, we're
going to leave Hong Kong alone.
We're not going to mess with it.
All the freedom of speech and
the rights and that they have,
nothing's going to change.
We'll look at what happened in 2019.
And those who aren't aware, just
need a Google Hong Kong 2019.
So when you have those data points coming
from my perspective, you're just like,
oh wow, this is not what I signed up.
And then it gets really personal as
somebody who is not only Taiwanese.
My family has been in
Taiwan for 25 generations.
My ancestors recorded history
and I say recorded history.
We as my family lineage have experienced
colonization from the Spanish, the
Dutch, the Japanese, my grandparents
grew up in colonized, Taiwan speaking,
only Japanese didn't even learn how to
speak Mandarin until they were adults.
And then this recent the recent reason
why there is such tension with this
China, U S Taiwan triangle is because,
I was born in 1976 into a martial law.
A lot of people don't know that because
we look at Taiwan today and we don't
know because we don't talk about it.
That it's actually a young
democracy of only 30.
And without going really deep, I just
want to just be able to say without
understanding that it's not the fault.
Those in America, because I didn't
even learn any of this until I was
older and sought that information
out while I was in college.
But thankfully, it's available there
for those of us who want to research.
But the reason why we have not
heard about much about Taiwan is by
design is because China's economic
influence on the world also allows it.
Ability to silence.
It's criticism of itself by people who
are smaller, like an island of 23 million
people who just want to govern themselves.
Melanie: I have a question about that a
little bit, because when we talk about.
Students coming to learn here.
There's a certain spirit.
There's a certain reason people
want to study in America.
Including, including studying in
and democracy among people who more
or less have always known freedom
of speech, but that does not.
mean The same when you come from
an authoritarian nation, especially
when your citizenship is still there.
Can you talk a bit about
what post-graduation can look
like for students who study.
Christine: Oh, yes.
I'm on an extreme case.
It could look like jail time because
you were a university of Minnesota
student from China who tweeted.
Uh, satirical a tweet or comic about
your president Xi Jinping, and then
come to find out you were flagged.
And when you returned to China,
you were jailed for six months.
I mean, I'm just going
to get straight to it.
This is the reason why a lot
of people don't know that.
And again, Let's take it
back to a relatable place.
I'm the mom of a 16 year old
son who is Taiwanese American.
I would love for him to be able to be a
regular college kid in a couple years.
And that means experiencing the freedom
that our country affords him and not
having him be worried or afraid that he
may get inadvertently get an international
student from China in trouble.
Based on their friendship because
you've got a government that actually
closely monitors and keeps track of
their, Chinese students overseas.
I'm just going to stop there and let
you like really sink in about how.
We have no idea as Americans, that you
would think it would be that simple, that
international students, when they travel
and come and live and work here, part
of the joy of being a foreign student
is to immerse yourself in a culture.
And our culture has so
many options, right?
That's not the case.
Melanie: And I mean, you think about it.
It was what, a 20 year old kid, right?
Think about ourselves at 20 and what
it was like coming to our own as adults
experiencing a life sometimes for the
first time or, early in the early stages
outside of what our parents exposed us
to and expressing those things and not
really being, not only, not really being
able to do that, but also having to have a
concern about what your friends might be.
yeah, that's a very weighty obligation
for college life in general.
Christine: Imagine you're 18
and you grew up in a country
that has censored information.
All your life and you arrive at a
country that allows a freedom of access.
to whatever information
you want to access.
It's a shock.
Melanie: one of the functions of these
authoritarian governments, there was just
recently in March, a Brookings report
that talked about how China and Russia
were sort of piggybacking on certain
disinformation, because while they
were not buddies, they definitely had a
certain vested interest in certain stories
being uncertain, misleading stories.
So what is that like?
I mean, there are all, sorts of ways.
Authoritarianism can function, whether
it's through politics, through, family
dynamics through religion and there's
just this common thread of what happens to
you when information has been controlled.
And now you have access to it.
I think I'm still sort of a little
flooded, flooded by that thought myself.
But what is that?
What does that do for the
loved ones of students?
Who go away.
Am I going like too deep in the weeds
with this question, but What is that?
What is the concern like because we have
this idea of people being excited to come
to America, but what is that actually
like for a family who's, child is going
to America and they know what can happen.
What is that experience?
Like, if you can give us a
little glimpse of that.
Christine: Yeah, I can give you
actually a specific example.
Because of my history and cross
border us China relations by
way of business.
I have had the opportunity to
mentor young Chinese students and
recent grads over the last decade.
And this is why speak out
because they are unable to.
There is a culture of self
censorship that goes on.
So let me give you a specific
example when we were all in lockdown,
because this is very recent.
When we were all in lockdown
and clubhouse became a very fun place for
all of us to just express ourselves while
there was a 19 year old Chinese student
who was living and working here in living
here in Southern California, he shared.
Just the census report that, had
recently come out from China public
information, by the way that the
Chinese government released to everyone.
And he decided to do innocently a
clubhouse room, just talking about
what he thinks this report means.
And apparently it got a little bit
too opinionated for the listeners,
some of the listeners in the room.
To your surprise being quote unquote
doxed, being exposed having some students
or anonymous people who had heard about
your clubhouse room, finding out your
Instagram personal Instagram account.
And the worst part about it is a
couple of weeks later getting a
call from your parents in China,
because they had been visiting.
By the local police there, as a
result of them hearing that your
son has been causing trouble and
spreading, anti Chinese information,
in, in circles in America.
I mean, let me just let you sit on that.
This is an actual kid that
I had face to face coffee.
That for obvious reasons, I will not
say who he is, but this is happening.
And so a lot of times I feel
in the case of the student in
Minnesota, that was jailed for
six months or even in the case of.
The person who innocently wanted
to open a broom on clubhouse
and just talk about his country.
I think those are examples that
are being set and what it does.
What happens is it sets an example
for other Chinese students.
Say anything during my four years in
this country that allows for freedom
of speech and protest and access to
information that does not apply to me.
As somebody who sits back and
has a soon to be college age
kid, I have feelings about that
as we all should.
Christine: I don't even know.
I guess he wasn't just sit on it
because it is,
I mean, I'm thinking about that and
I'm thinking about, you know, how, in
my mind, those people that are here in
America, the citizens that live here, the
people that come from other countries,
whether it's to go to college or pursue
careers, and you envisioned that they
have the same experience, at least in.
The basics that we all have the
same shared experience of being able
to speak out on the things that we
want to speak out on, because you
know, this is America and the first
amendment is, it's huge, it's huge.
and that, that first amendment
applies to everybody.
So to hear that, that a young person who
just wants to have an open conversation
and that the government goes to
their parents, That is mind blowing.
Like I couldn't even imagine
what that must feel like.
that must be.
Christine: Imagine the
weight right now, you are
responsible as a young student in America.
You're responsible for the safety or the
reputation of your parents back in China.
Melanie: And we think about that.
It as foreign, as it sounds on
its face as Americans, we think
about how that is something that,
Even if it's wearing different clothes,
it still has the same thing on underneath.
And so we, when we, if we look at policing
in this country and what it's like, they
speaking out against the police, why
there are cops who are terrified to,
speak honestly on what it's like to be.
I mean, even if we just
look at it in that.
Very small container.
It's all the same thing.
The, even when the reasons are different,
even when it's, if it's rooted in
something political as opposed to
something religious, I mean, we can
think of religions that use those same
tactics, where if you speak against the
church, the first thing they do to get
you back in line is go to your family.
And so it's amazing how.
This is something there's that consistent
thread, even when there are different
reasons, there's always, it's going
to hit the same points every time.
And so we've talked a lot about
the how and the what, but we also
like to talk about the, what.
And you know, when we get into what
a call to action actually looks
like we have another opportunity
where we have our petition writer
on with us for this week's petition.
And that is Christine.
Christine: Full disclosure.
It was my first time.
So I'm kind of excited that it actually
So I do appreciate the
ability to go through this.
Would you like me to read it now?
Melanie: Yes, please.
So my very first petition,
Which you can text P D
S T A H to 5 0 4 0 9.
Is titled protect international students
in the U S from authoritarian government.
Pretty simple and straightforward.
I am writing about my concern for
international students studying in
America and ensuring that college
campuses are free of intimidation from
authoritarian governments specifically,
I would like college campuses in the
U S to protect the rights of weak.
Tibetan taiwanese and Hong Kong students,
when they are documented cases of Chinese
government influence and intimidation
of these groups on campus, I would
also like universities to ensure that
Chinese students studying in the u S.
I feel safe to learn and experience
the full rights of a democratic
society that this country offers
them during their time here.
Suggestions include, but are not limited
to a review And update of university
anti-harassment policies, provide
international students with resources and
access to anti-censorship communication.
So perhaps they can express
themselves freely, create a curriculum
opportunities and scheduled talks that
inspire safe learning environments
for international students.
And so that's it I also claim the
key word because that is an awesome
thing that resists bot allows for
those of us who really want to become
active and the a monthly donor.
So if you take.
Taiwan now 2 5 0 4 0 9.
It will take you to my page that has
this petition and I'm going forward.
Any other petitions that I support?
And so make sure you follow, make
sure you follow that is awesome.
And I appreciate how direct.
Your caller accident is I think
sometimes when we can talk about, And
then things seem so insurmountable,
Christine: I mean the call
to action, actually, Mel is
the awareness, like I mentioned.
And when we want to talk about
power structures that we all know,
you know, absolute power corrupts.
There's a reason for that phrase.
Let's look at the universities That are
benefiting from donors and full tuition
payments of international Chinese students
and the Chinese government programs
that support them, which is creating
an environment that perhaps is being
the reason or part of the reason why
groups such as this I've spoken to feel
unsafe to speak out or be themselves.
Let's follow the money.
That was another episode
that applies here to.
Melanie: Always it's again, we, when
we start dealing with these oppressive
structures, it's always, we always
have some of the same themes, even
when it's not right on the nose.
You're like oh yeah, it's the same.
I, Um, want to thank you, so
much, so much, cause I know
this was a heavy lift and
it's a lot of information
when we start digging into
oppression, especially when we
when we live, I'll say under the
guise of freedom because I have a
very good, a very good friend who
says, and I've quoted before the
structures are as strong or as trash as
the people who uphold and defend them.
So if we're dealing with people who are on
the side of, right on the side of, what's
equitable, then we get that
when you don't, you don't.
So I appreciate this conversation
and look forward to more
conversations like it, because.
This is the world we live in.
So this won't be the only time
we talk about something similar.
before I lead us out, I want to
give you both the opportunity to
talk about any, give your parting
thoughts and let the folks know
where they can find you first, Susan.
Susan: My parting thoughts are,
that this is a topic I definitely
want to learn more about.
and to have a better understanding of
how, what happens on the other side of
the world absolutely does impact me.
Um, And I just wanted to
mention, I did find that.
A very good article written by
Abe Shinzo for project syndicate.
And it's a very good beginner
primmer to understanding the
conflict between Taiwan and China.
So, and that helped me a lot.
So it's again, it's project syndicate,
and it's an article is dated April
12th of this year by . So I encourage
everybody to go out and look at that
because it really broke it down in,
in terms that I could undertake.
And took this huge topic and made
it digestible for me so that I
could better understand what was
happening where I'm going to be again.
I said it last week, you know, we're
coming up on elections and just getting
out there, getting people to register,
make sure that they're registered,
they haven't fallen off the rolls.
Make sure your signature matches,
make sure your signature matches.
So your ballot doesn't get rejected.
So that's what I'm working.
Melanie: Thanks so much, And remember
if you want to make sure that you're
registered tech to vote 2, 5 0 4 0
9, and we can check it out for you.
So thanks Susan.
And last but not least Christine.
Thank you, Mel.
My parting thought would
just be of gratitude for.
Having the space to talk about an
issue that, like I said, universities,
don't like to talk about the media
doesn't really like to mention.
And definitely authoritarian
governments are hoping you, you
don't mention, so to be able to have.
To be able to raise
awareness is very important.
And especially like I said, going into
API heritage month, it's so important.
For us as a group Asian Americans have
always been stereotyped as not being
very vocal, and especially not vocal
about being a stand for other people.
And so I just wanted to.
Set an example of many others that
are out there in our generation
who are trying to be more vocal
and I'm grateful for platforms like
this that give us the ability to do
Melanie: thanks so.
And thank you.
If you want to follow Susan, you can
follow her on Twitter at twin thing too.
T O O you can follow Christine
at Christine loop and you can
follow me at the gates of mouth.
The O is zero because I
like to make it complicated.
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