Last Wednesday, we sat in our room with another friend, talking about the previous night, Nov. 9. The day had been confusing and we were despondent, just like the rain that had been pattering incessantly.
As international Chinese students, we discussed issues that normally wouldn’t come up in class or other contexts of discussion.
While less than a third of Chinese and Taiwanese Americans voted for Trump, according to the Election Eve Poll, the dynamics in Mainland China are starkly different.
It is perhaps no longer news that Trump has a substantial following in China. With one of his best-known pledge to impose a tariff of 45 percent on Chinese products in the hopes of returning manufacturing to the U.S., the controversial President-elect’s reception in China has been polarized as well.
Some called him great, while others dismissed him as a clown.
According to an article published in the Chinese website of The New York Times, China’s state-run media has described Trump as “a big mouth,” “a maniac” and “willful.” He’s also frequently presented, in Chinese official media outlets, as an illustration of the dysfunctions and problems of Western Liberal democracy. The People’s Daily, the Chinese Communist Party’s primary news funnel, claimed that the U.S. election represents a chaos, tastelessness and turmoil avoided by contemporary Chinese politics.
On social media networks, however, Trump has gained a considerable number of followers and fans. As the NYT article summarizes, some of them are sympathetic to Trump’s anti-Muslim position, which echoes with the fear and hostility against Chinese Muslims among certain people in China after a series of terrorist attacks in provinces such as Xinjiang during the past few years.
Others embrace his message to expel undocumented immigrants and to prevent further immigration into America.
As for his policies on trade and China, many don’t think that they will eventually be carried out, or that they will actually have a tremendously negative impact on China. There are also those who simply enjoy watching the fireworks from a safe distance, believing that Trump’s America will make enemies at home and abroad, and consequently benefiting China.
This is not to say that there are no critiques or reflections about Trump and his election. As the article notes, many people in China are indeed critically and seriously thinking about these issues. However, the phenomenon of Chinese Trump supporters should not be overlooked and lightly dismissed.
Admittedly, Chinese students at Vassar, as well as the campus as a whole, are normally shielded from such views and may have very different experiences and understandings of the U.S.
As many realize, the result of this election has significantly demonstrated how much further efforts are needed to improve mutual communication between communities and better comprehend the reality of America, China and the world.
Eric Hong ’17 commented, “I think that students at liberal arts colleges like ourselves live in a certain kind of bubble. And it might be very hard for us to understand other people’s feelings and experiences.”
However, some students at Vassar are surprised, annoyed or disappointed to find out about certain reactions and views held by some of their peers–that is, international Chinese students studying at either Vassar or other U.S. universities and colleges.
“Some of my high school classmates, who are now going to top colleges in America as well, have showed limited empathy and willingness to understand those who felt hurt and disheartened by the election. It is very concerning for me to see such views coming from students who are receiving a liberal arts education, yet still unwilling or unable to reflect on and critique their own privileges and assumptions, and to acknowledge others’ experiences,” said an anonymous source.
Ruoyu Li ’19 recounted, “When I and a fellow Chinese student were walking past the protest signs in Main the other day, the other student was skeptical and uncomprehending of such efforts.”
Li continued, “I feel somewhat annoyed at and scared by some of the student’s remarks. It can be quite terrifying if people would just speak without first carefully considering how their words can be problematic in certain ways, if people just casually say something like ‘illegal immigrants are just supposed to be expelled.’ This unquestioning tendency to take things for granted can be quite scary.”
Li went on to express her hopes. “The most important thing is whether we are open to other logics, discourses, experiences and emotions; whether we try to understand others before making any claims. Oftentimes people make claims too quickly and think that is it. It’s also not enough just to understand others, we must further think about where justice can be found, what are the alternative ways of living, what [courses of action] are effective and in what sense. But I think many of my fellow Chinese students have failed to do so.”
Similarly, Sixing Xu ’18 has heard people at other colleges speak of participants in anti-Trump protests as “finding excuses to skip classes,” as “crying on the streets” and as “unable to face the reality.”
“I was very upset to see such comments. Yes, we do need to think about Trump’s election critically. But these students are privileged in many ways and this way of talking makes me feel quite uncomfortable,” said Xu.
Associate Professor of Political Science Fubing Su spoke of the issue from his academic background and personal experiences. “I think for many Chinese people who didn’t grow up in the U.S., the significance and magnitude of Trump’s racist, sexist remarks may not be as clear. But the anti-Trump protests and discussions we are witnessing now would likely make them realize and recognize that other kinds of voices and perspectives also exist, and lead people to reflect upon their own preconceptions.”
Su continued, “For international students from China, the present moment could be a good learning opportunity to better understand America. Coming from a relatively homogeneous society, many students probably have a lot to learn about the racial, gender, immigration and other kinds of discourses and experiences here. And then we also need to look back and examine China from these angles. I also think that it is now a good opportunity for Chinese students to examine democratic systems. Most of our education has told us that Liberal democracy is a mess, that it doesn’t work. But it is through the very functioning of this system that different voices in America are currently and having been engaging in self-reflections and self-critiques. This is exactly what China lacks.”
“I think all these ongoing dynamics could allow Chinese students to learn and grow,” he concluded.
Professor of Chinese and Japanese Peipei Qiu shared Su’s views. “Social engagement is one of the fundamental cores that a liberal arts education can teach us … [Whether] you realize it or not, no matter you care about it or not, you are always already a member of the global community … If someone thinks that these things are happening in America, and therefore shouldn’t concern them, and just laugh it off … But then you would have lost the most central part of your education.”
Ultimately, Qiu remains optimistic and hopeful. “If we could all hold a positive and active attitude to engage with each other and with the situation, then this could indeed have a significant impact on the global environment as a whole.”