My provocation will take the form of a self-criticism. I want to come clean about an incident that haunts me, which found me altering my plans for publishing a commentary due to concern over possible repercussions. Aware that I am a China specialist, you might think you know where this is heading, especially given the intentionally misleading title I’ve chosen for this piece. I’m not, though, going to confess to an act self-censorship carried out due to wanting to maximize my odds of continuing to get visas to go to the Chinese mainland. Instead, I’ll describe a time that I worried about how people living on this side of the Pacific would respond to a U.S.-China comparison that I was convinced some Americans would not appreciate.
Let me begin, though, with the issue of my not being banned by Beijing, since colleagues and friends periodically express surprise that I keep being able to get PRC visas. This is natural. They’ve heard that some people in my field have had trouble getting them. They know I’m interested in hot button topics, such as the events of 1989, which Beijing’s leaders think should be avoided or talked about only in very circumscribed ways. This leads to them to make some or all of the following assumptions about me: