US university reverses decision to remove Olympic protest posters

The president of George Washington University in DC reversed his earlier decision to remove posters from campus protesting the Beijing Olympics, which Chinese student groups said ‘incited racial hatred and ethnic tension’ .

The big picture: Universities in the US, Australia and elsewhere seek to protect Chinese students from rising anti-Asian hate crimes, while protecting speech and art that criticizes Chinese government oppression from censorship of some Chinese students on campus who view this criticism as racist.

  • Chinese international student groups sometimes use the language of social justice to silence critics of the Chinese government’s human rights record.
  • The incident also highlights the fears of pro-democracy Uyghur, Tibetan, Hong Kong and Chinese students in the United States that they will not be able to exercise their right to free speech.
  • “Some Chinese students in the United States often don’t realize that it is possible to be both victim and oppressor,” Maya Wang, senior China analyst at Human Rights Watch, told Axios.

Details: In early February, posters protesting the Beijing Olympics were displayed at several locations on the George Washington University campus, according to a statement from a group of students and Pictures posted on Twitter.

  • Posters show athletes wearing uniforms emblazoned with the Chinese flag pointing a gun at a bound and gagged Uyghur; pin a Tibetan; skating on a Hong Kong flag; riding a surveillance camera acting as a snowboard; and pushing a virus through the ice.
  • The identity of the person who put up the posters around the GWU campus is not known.
  • Chinese-Australian artist and political cartoonist Badiucao created the posters before the start of the Olympics and made them available for free download online.
  • “My art is always aimed at the Chinese Communist Party, never at Chinese people suffering from this regime,” Badiucao, who lives in Australia, told Axios.

What they say : In a February 6 statement posted on WeChat, the Chinese Cultural Association GWU said the students reported the posters to the police and the “unauthorized” posters were removed.

  • The posters “pose a potential risk to the personal safety of all Chinese and Asian students at George Washington University, including verbal and physical abuse,” the group said.
  • “The ideas expressed are not based on indisputable facts but rather on highly contentious political disputes,” the statement read. “This series of posters not only incites intra-ethnic hatred in China, but also inter-ethnic hostility and cross-cultural contempt.”
  • The Chinese Cultural Association did not respond to a request for comment.

The posters were then removed, but in a Feb. 7 message posted on the university’s website, GWU President Mark Wrighton said it was a wrong step taken in haste.

  • “As it is understood, I do not consider these posters to be racist; they are political statements. There is no ongoing university investigation and the university will not take any action against the students who displayed the posters,” Wrighton said. .

Context: In recent years, Chinese student associations in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom have bullied students and guest speakers who support Uyghurs, Tibetans and Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, according to a recent survey by ProPublica.

  • Official overseas Chinese student associations often have close ties to Chinese embassies and consulates, which often fund the groups and sometimes ask them to organize pro-Chinese Communist Party political activities.
  • The Chinese government also uses the language of anti-racism and inclusion to discredit discussions of its repressive policies. Uyghurs who criticize the Chinese government’s repressive policies, such as placing people who pray frequently in mass internment camps, have been jailed for “inciting ethnic hatred”.

Between the lines: “This group of students seems to be exporting Chinese government oppression and confusing a number of issues while referencing Black Lives Matter,” Wang of Human Rights Watch told Axios.

  • “Racism and discrimination against people of Chinese descent is very real,” Wang said.
  • “But some are exploiting this legitimate grievance and twisting it to say that any criticism of China is racism against the Chinese people and should not be raised in any form. It is quite dishonest of them to raise the oppression of African Americans , while completing the rejection of the oppression of Uyghurs, Tibetans and Hong Kongers”.

The university’s first response was also “disappointing,” Wang said, as he seemed to view official Chinese student associations on campus as representative of all Chinese students.

  • “I know many Chinese students in the United States who are afraid of these Chinese student associations,” Wang said.
  • “They don’t think these groups represent their views, they don’t want to participate in their activities because they feel bullied,” she added, but the students with different views don’t think it’s safe to form their own. independent associations for fear of reprisals in China.

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