Visible and Invisible Walls

Here is my translation of the blog post:

"During a conversation with a mainland scholar, I mentioned a few overseas news reports and commentaries that are related to his research. He said he never read those before and asked me how I sourced them. I said from overseas websites. He said he couldn’t access them on his computer. I said he would need to use a proxy. He said he never bothered to install those programs, as it was too troublesome and those websites were not of much use.

I was quite shocked and asked him how he could ever come to read the many good articles on the other side of the Great Firewall. He asked why he would need to read those – reading articles written within the mainland was good enough for his research.

I was even more shocked. I can understand how an average netizen would shun the idea of installing proxy programs out of lack of technical skills or aversion to complexities. But how can someone who studies sociology not try, by crossing over the Firewall, to know the world better, or to see China from another angle, or to reflect on himself better?

As far as I know, more than a few scholars and professors are like my friend. Because of a man-made Firewall, these experts and professionals who would otherwise possess a broader vision have segregated themselves from the world outside the GFW.

In actual fact, relative to the ‘visible walls’ like national boundaries and the internet GFW, some ‘invisible walls’ are even harder to cross over. These ‘invisible walls’ are all around us and more often they are found deep inside our hearts.

Every time I cross over the ‘visible wall’ of Lowu Bridge to go to Hong Kong, I would usually leave a friends’ gathering around 11:00 pm to go back to my hotel, because I want to surf the internet. My friends would question why. I would tell them that it is because there aren’t any GFWs in Hong Kong and so I could enjoy my net-surfing freedom (in the mainland there are all sorts of firewalls and the downloading process is often full of obstacles). Therefore I would use every opportunity while on a ‘freedom tour’ to Hong Kong to surf freely on the internet and download a mass of things onto my computer.

Although friends living overseas know that the GFW exists on the Chinese internet. But few of them can really feel it. For ordinary netizens, of course they don’t need to feel it. But for those who study Chinese issues and who care about China’s current situation, they need to remember all the time that the Wall is very real.

When I ask my friends who study China whether they have learned to cross over the Wall to see China, they would say they don’t understand the question. The reason is that for them, that Wall does not exist – the Wall is only meant to impede mainlanders from accessing overseas websites and not meant to limit overseas netizens’ freedom of surfing mainland websites.

I would have thought that a few of my American friends who are China experts must know what I’m talking about. But when I discuss with them certain topics like democracy and freedom and asked whether they are aware of the Chinese people’s viewpoints, it turns out that we are hardly on the same page. The reason is that the information that they base their research on is sourced from overseas, i.e. from outside the GFW.

I am so surprised to find that so many scholars who are interested in Chinese issues are satisfied with ‘just standing outside the Wall’ and use their politically correct theories to comment on China. Of course I know the blooming flowers outside the Wall are beautiful. But just let those who are used to breathing the air of freedom climb over the Wall to see for themselves the buds of liberty that are being nursed inside the cage! I am sure they will feel embarrassed and uncomfortable.

Over a month ago, an American-Chinese professor was recommending some websites and essays to me, saying that those essays were much better than the ones I wrote. He asked me why I was not writing those kinds of essays and why my essays always seemed evasive. Then he said that many people would read my essays, but not he, because my essays were not up to standard in academic theory.

He then closed down his computer. I knew then that it was impossible to achieve any progress in our discussion on Chinese issues. He didn’t know that when he moved the mouse, he was in reality traversing a Wall and loitering freely in two different worlds. Neither did he know that the Wall that he so effortlessly traversed was in fact separating him from the 1.3 billion Chinese people. And those mainlanders were living in a real world that could never reach the heights of his so-called theoretical standard. Of course he wouldn’t even deign to traverse an ‘invisible wall’ to read those essays of ours that were below theoretical standard.

For mainland scholars, although real-life difficulties do exist in passing over the visible wall (like having to install proxies), those difficulties can nonetheless be overcome. But for those who are used to living in the free world, as they are not conscious of the wall that they presume does not exist, they become ironically barred by the invisible wall. No matter how superior their theories are, or how profound their views are on democracy and freedom, it would be very difficult for them to understand the real China, the real world and their real selves.

In reality, there are many more of these invisible walls all around us as well as inside us. After years of traveling far and wide within China, I have discovered that few countries are like China in the way the numerous invisible walls segregate groups of people in society, which has broken our hearts. The elite are separated from the ordinary folks. When the elite find their opinions not being accepted by the ordinary people and are displeased by it, instead of passing over the wall to understand those ordinary people, they start to sound like Beijing and blame the mass for being of ‘too low quality’; the rightists and the leftists have always been head-on enemies, with neither side willing to cross the wall to understand the other side. If you don’t take the initiative to understand other people, how can you tell that you truly understand yourself? All these years, we have been building up walls of hatred, walls of the elite, walls of bigotry and walls of lust for power…….

So I make a point of reminding myself never to let any wall, visible or invisible, to obstruct my view. As soon as I encounter a wall, I will climb over it, not just to see the world on the other side, but also to see more clearly the world on this side, and myself."