Wednesday, April 9, 2008

San Francisco Chronicle: Why I will carry the Olympic torch

Many will scoff at this Olympic ideal and I understand why. As a longtime advocate of social justice, I'm familiar with the long list of failings attributed to the People's Republic of China from the days of its founding in 1949, including the simmering tensions in Tibet - especially because I just spent five months in Shanghai as a Fulbright scholar conducting research on the mass exodus that took place at the time of the Communist revolution.

As an American of Chinese descent, I grew up hearing constant critiques of the terrible Communist dictatorship. And because I am an open lesbian, my stay in China felt tenuous because, unlike America, which has anti-gay laws, China doesn't even recognize that we exist. Any of these might be reason enough to run as far from the Olympics as my middle-aged body can carry me.

But my time in China gave me another perspective. I observed firsthand the wide-ranging diversity and openness of viewpoints and cultural expression that now exists among China's 1.4 billion people. I met with hundreds of Chinese for my research and was struck by how outspoken and opinionated they are and, yes, even critical of their government.

Many of my conversations were with elderly survivors of civil war and revolution who have endured immense human suffering, from deprivation and humiliation to torture and death. Almost every one of them had family members or friends who had committed suicide before or during the Cultural Revolution that ended three decades ago. Yet, nearly all told me that they believe China is changing for the better and they are hopeful that Chinese society will continue to become more open.

Read the full article here.