The CSSA-gate at McMaster has triggered an interesting online debate between members of the Chinese community at McMaster and the rest of campus. Many non-Chinese students mistakenly believe that the Chinese students who questioned the procedures and implications of the McMaster Students Union’s decision are brainwashed as their life before coming to Canada was behind China’s “Great Firewall”. Some of them seem to perceive such Chinese students to be victims of an absolute information barrier, which supposedly leaves them no choice but to accept the government’s propaganda. Therefore, it seems righteous to “enlighten” those Chinese students with patronizing questions or bombardment of pictures of historical incidents like the Tiananmen Square Protest. These gestures, although they may have good intentions, are pretty amusing to this new generation of Chinese students who were born and raised in China, including me. Let me explain why.
First, Chinese people have access to the largest ever-increasing reservoir of information and news on China — in Chinese. Such information not only comes from state-owned media channels, but also non-official channels, social media platforms, online chatting groups and other online platforms. Contrary to what many people in the West may believe, state-run news stories about China, although heavily censored, are in fact quite accurate when they do get published. Due to the rise of social media platforms as well as the anti-corruption campaign, it has become increasingly difficult and costly for government officials to cover up catastrophic or controversial stories. Therefore, most people, if curious enough, can get a pretty good grasp of what is going on simply by combining information from state media and other channels.
Second, while China’s “Great Firewall” does block a few websites, such as Google and Facebook, it does not block all Western media. In fact, Chinese people have access to a majority of Western media channels through state and non-state owned media. Some include the Associated Press, Reuters, Agence France-Presse, the Economist, CBC, The Globe and Mail and CNN. Selected news coverage on China and international affairs are translated into Chinese from tens of languages. In any country in the world, a larger blockade to absorbing foreign information is usually the barrier of a foreign language rather than the “Great Firewall”. Therefore, translated news stories offer a very informative picture of the world to the Chinese people.