Ordinary western people know about Taiwan

The three Ts - Tibet, Taiwan and Tiananmen

In the last few weeks it has become clear again how fragile freedom of expression can be in China. After rumors of a coup and the government in general circulated on the Internet, Weibo, the Chinese Twitter counterpart, and QQ, ICQ's little sister, were severely restricted and the comment function was blocked. Even if internet censorship is the order of the day, this massive encroachment on social media platforms came as a surprise and shock for many people, because the Chinese government is usually less brutal. Contrary to many prejudices, you can say and write a lot in China - as long as you stick to a few rules.

One of the main rules: Statements about the so-called three Ts in both written and oral form are completely taboo or should be made with great caution. If you broach them, it is usually followed by a rebuff and a change of topic, because very few people feel comfortable talking about it, regardless of their opinion. After all, you never know what careless comments can lead to. And that's not just a quirk of China; every society has its taboos and topics that should not be addressed.

High mountains, good food

One of the main strategies of the Chinese government is the depoliticization of explosive terms. "Tibet" is about a normal topic as a travel destination, but political statements about it have to be kept to yourself. Even the most enlightened Chinese refuse to discuss it. "Tibet is a province of China and very beautiful for tourism," is a standard reply phrase. Only rarely do other slogans about the evil Dalai Lama or demonstrations come up.

Tibet is just a place with high mountains to the public, and it is part of China without any discussion. Only if you insist too long as a Westerner will the inevitable defense speeches come at some point: how little Westerners would understand China and that one should not interfere. The Chinese media have carried out such aggressive propaganda against Western reporting and discussions on the subject that everyone feels attacked immediately when a Westerner starts it. With one-sided reporting, the western media often help to reinforce this defensive attitude.

It looks a little different with the word Taiwan. It is general propaganda that Taiwan is also a Chinese province - my language textbook always says "the Chinese province of Taiwan", while other provinces are mentioned without this explicit description. But many Chinese are well aware that this province is in fact politically, economically and socially very far from being part of the country.

With Taiwanese tourists growing in numbers, bragging about their national pride for its booming economy, political freedom, and visibly higher standard of living, even the most loyal to the party cannot turn a blind eye to reality. And the conflict has been simmering for far too long to heat up the minds excessively. Where a few decades ago there was still political zeal, one now perceives a feeling of "let's just bury the dispute". What most Chinese think of when they think of Taiwan: They have very good food there.

Tiananmen or the politics of silence

The biggest surprise for me was the use of the term Tiananmen. For westerners it is inextricably linked to the incidents at Tiananmen Square in 1989; the "Tiananmen Massacre" was then and is still present in the media as the Example of the authoritarian rule of the central government.

How amazed I was when I discovered that really many Chinese - including students - of the younger generation, apart from the place itself, have absolutely nothing to do with the name. Only politically enlightened Chinese know anything about the topic at all, and when they talk about it, then only behind closed doors and with great nervousness. The intimidation of those involved by the government must have been so great that this topic is completely hushed up and for many actually no longer exists. Territorial disputes or not, the mention of Tibet and Taiwan hardly causes any nationalistic outbursts in comparison.

But Tiananmen is a completely different league and the government has a different strategy because of it. Instead of aggressive propaganda, any discussion is hushed up and suppressed. The specific threat the government fears from its own people is considerable, and the message of the incident was clear: "Economic liberalization is okay, but don't get involved in politics!"

And this is also the message of the internet censorship of the last few days. Posts with the words Dalai Lama are routinely deleted from blogs, but in the event of internal party rumors and excessive participation of the civilian population in discussions that, according to the government, have nothing to do with them, entire networks are paralyzed. (To Yan, daStandard.at, April 5, 2012)