Join our Mailing List

"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Olympic flame shines on one Chinese woman and burns another

April 29, 2008

A wheelchair user is praised for protecting the torch in Paris, and a
student is vilified online after landing in the middle of a debate over

By Ching-Ching Ni
From the Los Angeles Times
April 28, 2008

BEIJING — As the Olympic flame continues its tumultuous journey around
the world, the lives of two young Chinese women whose brief gestures
during the torch relay were captured on video have emerged center stage
in the black-and-white world of Chinese public opinion.

One is Jin Jing, a one-legged former fencer in a wheelchair who, with
her tiny body, defended the torch from pro-Tibet protesters trying to
snatch it from her on the streets of Paris. The images of her action
have been disseminated on the Internet, and she has been elevated to
national hero status and dubbed an "angel in a wheelchair."

The other is Wang Qianyuan, a newly arrived student from China at Duke
University in North Carolina who turned up in the middle of a videotaped
shouting match during a pro-Tibet campus rally on the day the torch
passed through San Francisco. She is now viewed as a traitor.

The tales of the two women, who have become well known beyond their
imagination, illustrate the sweep of cyberspace and the deep emotions
here over issues of national pride.

"Chinese people all over the country salute you and thank you Jin Jing!
Those who want to split our country will never succeed," reads one
Internet chat-room message.

"This traitor hurt the feelings of the entire Chinese nation. She
deserves the death penalty!" another chatter wrote, referring to Wang.

In Wang's case, the flaring tempers facilitated by the ease of
communication among an Internet-savvy generation have elicited a sort of
mob mentality. Even the Communist Party is now trying to curb the
outrage for fear it could spiral out of control. But Beijing should not
be surprised by what is happening, some observers say.

"This just shows that Chinese people have lived too long in a world with
unbalanced information," said Zhou Xiaozheng, a sociologist at People's
University in Beijing. "After listening too long to only one side of the
story, we have developed zero tolerance for a difference of opinion.

"In this mind-set, you are either on our side or you deserve to be
stepped on forever."

For Wang, 20, it has proved a rude awakening. When she moved to North
Carolina for her freshman year, she thought she had escaped limits on
speech and actions.

"I never expected something like this would happen to me in the States,"
Wang said in a phone interview. "If they can shut me up, it will be just
like another Cultural Revolution. People who try to speak up will be
labeled as traitors. It's just a vicious cycle."

So what did the slender, ponytailed woman do to create so many enemies
that within hours videos and pictures were posted on the Internet with
the word "traitor" across her forehead, along with her telephone and
personal identification numbers and directions to her home in China?

According to Wang, she merely sought to encourage dialogue between
hundreds of flag-waving Chinese students and a couple of dozen pro-Tibet
demonstrators carrying pictures of the Dalai Lama who were shouting at
each other.

To critics who believe that Tibet should remain part of China and that
the Dalai Lama is bent on splitting off the Himalayan region, Wang was
betraying her motherland just by standing on the side of the students
holding the Tibetan flag. It didn't help that she also wrote "Save
Tibet" on the back of a fellow student. Wang said she did so on
condition that the student would talk to the other side.

"I think the Chinese and Tibetan sides were both very emotional," said
Wang, who hopes to study psychology and economics. "The Olympics can
come and go. Those problems and issues will remain. I just hope people
can start to think from a different perspective."

Scott Savitt, a visiting scholar at Duke who had spent many years
working in China, said, "I watched her do this and the Chinese part of
me is saying this is bad; she should stop.

"Then I thought: She's in America. This is the education process. She's
doing what she's supposed to do."

On the other side of the world, Wang's parents are paying the price for
their daughter's freedom in America.

Since their personal information was exposed on the Internet, they have
gone into hiding. An Internet photo shows what appears to be a bucket of
feces on the doorstep of their home in the eastern Chinese city of Qingdao.

Angry netizens even accused Wang of working with the CIA to sell out her
country in exchange for a permanent residency card. A strongly worded
apology letter, said to be from Wang's father, a Communist Party member,
appeared on Chinese websites begging forgiveness. "Wang Qianyuan will
always be our daughter," it read. "She wants to tell everybody in this
clear-cut political issue she is wrong. . . . Please give her a chance
to make amends."

Wang, who has been in touch with her mother by phone, strongly denies
the authenticity of the letter.

"My mom said it's definitely not him," Wang said. "My father would never
do something like that without consulting me."

Jin, on the other hand, has been bombarded by a different kind of
spotlight. Since returning home to Shanghai, she has been treated as a
superstar, mobbed by fans and reporters, racing from one public
appearance to another.

The 27-year-old lost a leg because of a tumor when she was 9. At 20, she
joined the Shanghai wheelchair fencing team, but she no longer competes.
She later worked temporarily as a hotel telephone operator but has since
struggled to find a job that can accommodate her special needs. Since
she returned from Paris a hero, job offers have been pouring in from
businesses and government agencies.

"I haven't decided on anything yet," Jin said in a phone interview. "I
am not a hero. I am just a protector of the torch."

Yet even in her case, anger has mixed with pride.

Jin's fans have initiated a global hunt for the man believed to have
attacked her in Paris and have focused their suspicions on a Tibetan
immigrant living in Salt Lake City. The immigrant, who said he was the
victim of a case of mistaken identity, said he was not in Paris, but did
acknowledge going to San Francisco to support the Tibetan independence
camp. He has received death threats, he said, and has moved to a hotel
for security reasons.

"Even if he's not the one who attacked Jin Jing, his claim that China
lacks freedom of religious and freedom of expression will make him the
scapegoat for the real attacker," one chat-room participant wrote.

France is also the subject of fury because the most confrontational and
embarrassing leg of the torch relay played out there. Many ordinary
Chinese plan to boycott the popular French supermarket chain Carrefour
and French-made goods, especially during the coming May Day holiday.

As damage control, French President Nicolas Sarkozy issued a letter of
apology to Jin last week and sent a top envoy to China to kiss her hand
in public and invite her to return to Paris for a proper visit.

But the French might need to kiss a lot more than one hand to restore
public goodwill here.

"Personally I have already stopped using French cosmetics, and I know
all the Chinese ladies in my company are doing the same," one Chinese
blogger wrote. "I know the boycott thing might be childish and immature,
and it does no good to both sides in the long run. But other than that,
we have no better way to express our outrage and disgust."
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665
Developed by plank