Let’s talk about the first amendment. I think it’s a fantastic thing. It let’s me fill up the internet with comlpete nonsense, and the occaisional good point. And it let’s the New York Times write things like this. The article you find, published online by The New York Times on June 13, 2014, reports the formal arrest of Pu Zhiqiang, a Chinese lawyer who is a well-known rights defender. According to the article, Pu has been charged with creating a public disturbance, and illegally obtaining citizens’ personal information. These charges are being brought against Pu because he met privately with other individuals a month before the 25th anniversary of the Chinese government intervention, and discussed the oppression that the Tiananmen Square protesters faced in 1989. Pu was involved in the Tiananmen Square protests as a student. Other attendees of the meeting that Pu attended are also in Chinese custody. These proceedings have caused outcry among right’s advocates outside of China, as it probably should.
This story can be read from two very different perspectives. The first is from the western perspective. In this world, we are used to having the right to free speech. Additionally, we have had limited exposure to government overpowering civilians, albeit mostly in the form of overbearing police officers, and things of that nature. Specific examples of this are the Kent State University shooting in 1970, and occupy wall street protestors being pepper sprayed by police officers in 2011. (Both incidents were minuscule compared to the death toll of Tiananmen Square.) In the west, when we are faced with this, it is considered outrageous, even when there are no deaths involved. This is because of the 1st amendment to the U.S. constitution. Westerners have right to express themselves freely, and they react to this right being threatened. Because of this, this news report of a rights activist being arrested and accused for discussing the Chinese government ending a civilian protest. The Tiananmen Square incident by itself is enough to trigger western free speech protection reactions. Add to that the Chinese government covering up the matter by arresting folks who are discussing it privately in their own homes, and the reaction is understandable.
However, when this story is looked at through the eastern point of view of the Chinese, the story makes more sense. The Chinese have a very long history, and that history has its high points and its low points. Prior to WWII, western cultures had set up several spheres of influence in China, which were essentially small colonies. After this period in Chinese history, which was brought to an during the first half of the 20th century, there was turmoil. In this communist state, the government ran by Mao Zedong, lead to a politically unstable environment. This environment lead to government censorship of the media, and this in it’s very nature, limits free speech of the Chinese people. This censorship remains in China to date. It also explains the story that is surrounding the lawyer Pu.
Despite the ramifications in the American legal system, when this story is viewed through the lens of the Chinese, it can be explained. And with this, we enter the gray area that lies between moral beliefs and cultural imperialism. I believe that the right to free speech, as outlined in the 1st amendment is fundamentally right, so my views are skewed towards one side. While I can see and acknowledge the many diverse things that make the Chinese culture an important part of the world and it’s history, I also think that a government that oppresses their people and limits their speech is inherently wrong. This is how my worldview affects how I read this story, and what I feel because of it. That is my perspective.
You may read this and feel something different. That’s your perspective. And this, this is the point. Every story can be told from many sides. The number of sides depends on the story. Not only that, it also depends on the person giving the analysis of the story. There might be a side to Pu’s story here that I have failed to shed light on, becuase I couldn’t think to look for it. Everything with a grain of salt. There’s a really great quote by Marcus Aurelius that sums this up. “Everything we read is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.” We all live in our own little worlds, and each of us has one unique view. We all view everything through a unique lens, that nobody else can see, but us. There are millions, actually, billions of perspectives out there. If you listen and look, keeping in mind that you’re hearing opinions and seeing perspectives, some things actually make more sense. Then again, some things make even less sense than they did before. Just try and imagine things from Mr. Pu’s perspective. Thanks for reading.