Letters to the Editor

Pires Misunderstands China Letters

In the last issue of the Tech, Miguel Valença Pires G has labeled the response of the MIT Chinese student community to recent cartoons as “a type of attack,” raising a question “what chance do more basic human rights stand?” However, the author misunderstands the response of Chinese students and I do not agree that it is a type of attack. Moreover, I doubt that the author even knows what basic human rights means, especially to people living in China.

First, it seems that Mr. Pires considers the response of the Chinese students as a violation of the human rights of those who have published anti-China cartoons. I have a complete different view from Mr. Pires.

Let us start with this definition of human rights given by the United Nations: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood”.

For the Chinese student community, the recent cartoons offended their dignity, and hurt their feelings (to understand why this is the case, one has to at least know some

Chinese culture and history). As a response, what they did was simply to use their rights, submitting letters to The Tech to express their different viewpoints about the current issues and clarify the misunderstandings that some cartoon authors may have.

The words they chose were very peaceful and the facts they cited were objective. In those letters, I did not see any single word that could be categorized as “a type of attack” and I do not think they hurt anyone’s feelings.

The Chinese student community is protecting their dignity using their rights without offending other people’s dignity. If Mr. Pires persists in saying that this is “a type of attack” and an overreaction, then I would like to ask Mr. Pires’s advice on two questions: Should the Chinese student community have just kept its mouth shut? How do we distinguish between overreaction, underreaction, and a reaction of the right amount?

When people are talking about human rights, there is no denying that China is still behind most developed countries, like all other developing countries. When it comes to basic human rights, we need to look at the right to food, the right to education, the right to medical care, and the right to work, because these rights are crucial and indispensable.

If you have never lived in a country that has more than 70 percent illiteracy and millions of people suffering from starvation and diseases like China a half-century ago, you would find it difficult to understand how important these basic human rights are to the Chinese people.

Fortunately, China has improved these basic human rights dramatically in this half century: illiteracy decreased to less than 10 percent, life expectancy reached 73, not to mention that no one in China now suffers from starvation.

To maintain the right to food, an American spends about $3000 a year, which is about twice as much as the GDP per capita in China. The Chinese government has to maintain the basic human rights of its people using only half the amount of money that Americans put toward food.

Isn’t this a great achievement for a huge developing country? Wouldn’t this make China qualify to host of the Olympic Games?

Judging China in black and white terms, neglecting China’s achievements on improving basic human rights, and viciously distorting Beijing’s intention of hosting the Olympic Games can hardly be regarded as friendly gestures toward the Chinese community at MIT and everywhere in the world.

The 2008 Olympic Games is being held in Beijing starting August 8, 2008, with the opening ceremony commencing at 08:08:08 p.m. There are six eights in the date and time. ‘Eight’ and ‘six’ are good numbers in Chinese culture, meaning wealth and harmony, respectively.

Hosting the Olympic Games is not to show off, but to deliver a message to people all around the world who really care about China the Chinese people, that wealth and harmony are two characteristics of a society that China is going to be in 20 years, if not shorter.

Criticism of Olympics Has Role

In response to the letter from Jamie B. Edwards ’08 on May 2, the United States and the global community should not back down in criticizing China for human rights violations. Mr. Edwards is correct that the U.S. has had many despicable incidents in its history that we would rather forget today. But I think his claim that the US should “think twice about scolding the Chinese” is flawed.

It is far worse to remain silent in the face of human rights violations, even in an attempt to avoid hypocrisy, than it is to for a people with its own flawed record to stand up for human rights. If the US had always ignored human rights for the sake of avoiding hypocrisy, many of our best moments in history would never happened.

If the northern states had decided not to fight the Civil War because they had once permitted slavery, the slaves would never have been freed. If the US had decided not to fight the Nazi invasion of Europe in World War II because we had once invaded and destroyed Native Americans, the Nazis would never have been defeated. And again more recently in Kosovo, in Somalia, and in the first Persian Gulf war, the US has stood up, despite its own flaws, for good and just causes.

I recognize that pure altruism did not motivate all of these actions, nor were all of these actions totally morally executed, but I believe the fact remains that on the whole, the US has made many just decisions in defense of human rights.

I agree with Mr. Edwards that our history is imperfect. We have made many mistakes. But if we allow our mistakes to hold us back from doing what we have learned is right, then we doubly wrong all those whom we have wronged in our past.

We cannot rely on perfect leaders, because there are none. We must do the best we can, with open minds and open eyes, and a good memory. And that is why we should not today restrain ourselves from criticizing China and other nations that may violate human rights.