Rain and wind washing all along the east coast. Insulated in the train, the travelers were more quiet than usual. I could only imagine, but not hear any sound of water - raindrops splashing on the window, river torrents below the bridge, and occasionally, a glimpse of the dark, roaring ocean. Some gloomy thought was brooding in my head. It no longer feels as gloomy now that two days have come to pass. But nevertheless it exists:
I have come to understand the predicament faced by advocates of liberal ideas in China today. On the one hand there is this protracted struggle with local repression and censorship. It is important to note that the GFW (Great Firewall) in fact could not cut off the flow of information at large, but merely worked to ensure that no stable references to information can last. The ephemeral nature of exchange and contention makes it less visible not only to people in China, but also to observers on the other side of the wall.
On the other hand, the talks of Communist China as an "authoritarian regime" & the frantic jingoism with which many Western mass media prophesied its doom only served to alienate a key group of Chinese constituency - the youngest, brightest, and most resourceful generation, coming of age at the turn of the millennium. This generation faces the daunting task of articulating its own vocabulary of politics, and it goes without saying that whether liberal or conservative opinions would prevail among them matters very, very much for China's future.
It is at this juncture that ideological hostility toward Communist China in Western media in fact *helped* its nemesis, the communist party, in pushing a large group of young Chinese into the habit of prioritizing realpolitik (China vs. the West) above all other forms of political life. A deep sense of marginalization by mainstream US society provides fertile grounds for conservative political stances to brew. While the CCP uses the Great Firewall to "protect its people from the Other," the West reinforced the wall by ostracizing mainland Chinese as an ignorant, ill-informed, and complacent people who dared not to fight for its own future. The wall, though more porous than it claims to be, thereby manages to perpetuate a quasi-Cold War logic by constituting the Other from both sides. It is thus no surprise that some of the most cynical comments on democracy and liberalism I've heard to this day all came from Chinese students who have been through college education in the US.
And so conservative political opinion has come of age in the community of Chinese, both at home and overseas. It attracts brilliant employees of the Wall Street and the Silicon Valley, and finds ready endorsement in the business community and beyond. It is a reassuring option to always have a "home country" to side with in the turbulent years as a foreign sojourner, and it makes the ugly realities of politics in the US and elsewhere easier to comprehend. In the end, persuading them to accept liberal ideas becomes all the more difficult: the burden is now on the liberal person's shoulder to have to prove that in some cases at least, liberalism's "universal values" hold a greater promise of flourishing and well-being than the other options, of which there are many: social-darwinism (or a more subdued version of pragmatism), nationalism/racism, ultra-leftist Maoism, and restoration of rigid "Confucian" ethics, to name but a few.
Time is slipping away from our hands, as more damage is being done every hour: old-time friendship turning sour by new stigma; social media exchanges pushing people to take sides by "likes" or "shares"; academic collaborations with "authoritarian countries" being severed on an ideological basis, etc, etc. Sometimes one wonders whether the spinning-away of our worlds these days really resulted from some secret conspiracy between the power-brokers. But the realist in your head says no, it does not even require any formal conspiracy; and the idealist aches, tremendously.