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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

Chinese Student in U.S. Is Caught in Confrontation

April 20, 2008

By SHAILA DEWAN
The New York Times
April 17, 2008

DURHAM, N.C. ­ On the day the Olympic torch was carried through San
Francisco last week, Grace Wang, a Chinese freshman at Duke University,
came out of her dining hall to find a handful of students gathered for a
pro-Tibet vigil facing off with a much larger pro-China
counter-demonstration.

Ms. Wang, who had friends on both sides, tried to get the two groups to
talk, participants said. She began traversing what she called “the
middle ground,” asking the groups’ leaders to meet and making bargains.
She said she agreed to write “Free Tibet, Save Tibet” on one student’s
back only if he would speak with pro-Chinese demonstrators. She pleaded
and lectured. In one photo, she is walking toward a phalanx of Chinese
flags and banners, her arms overhead in a “timeout” T.

But the would-be referee went unheeded. With Chinese anger stoked by
disruption of the Olympic torch relays and criticism of government
policy toward Tibet, what was once a favorite campus cause ­ the Dalai
Lama’s people ­ had become a dangerous flash point, as Ms. Wang was soon
to find out.

The next day, a photo appeared on an Internet forum for Chinese students
with a photo of Ms. Wang and the words “traitor to your country”
emblazoned in Chinese across her forehead. Ms. Wang’s Chinese name,
identification number and contact information were posted, along with
directions to her parents’ apartment in Qingdao, a Chinese port city.

Salted with ugly rumors and manipulated photographs, the story of the
young woman who was said to have taken sides with Tibet spread through
China’s most popular Web sites, at each stop generating hundreds or
thousands of raging, derogatory posts, some even suggesting that Ms.
Wang ­ a slight, rosy 20-year-old ­ be burned in oil. Someone posted a
photo of what was purported to be a bucket of feces emptied on the
doorstep of her parents, who had gone into hiding.

“If you return to China, your dead corpse will be chopped into 10,000
pieces,” one person wrote in an e-mail message to Ms. Wang. “Call the
human flesh search engines!” another threatened, using an Internet
phrase that implies physical, as opposed to virtual, action.

In an interview Wednesday, Ms. Wang said she had been needlessly vilified.

“If traitors are people who want to harm China, then I’m not part of
it,” she said. “Those people who attack me so severely were the ones who
hurt China’s image even more.”

She added: “They don’t know what do they mean by ‘loving China.’ It’s
not depriving others of their right to speak; it’s not asking me or
other people to shut up.”

In a flattering profile in 2006, Ms. Wang was described in a Qingdao
newspaper as believing she was “born for politics.” She writes poetry in
classical Chinese, plays a traditional string instrument called the
guzheng, and participated in democracy discussion boards back home, she
said.

Ms. Wang said she was not in favor of Tibetan independence, but she said
problems could be reduced if the two sides understood each other better.

Since riots in Tibet broke out last month, campuses including Cornell,
the University of Washington and the University of California, Irvine,
have seen a wave of counterdemonstrations.

When Ms. Wang encountered the two demonstrations last week, the Chinese
students seemed to expect her to join them, she said. But she hesitated.

“They were really shocked to see that I was deciding, because the
Chinese side thought I shouldn’t even decide at all,” she said. “In the
end I decided not to be on either side, because they were too extreme.”

Daniel R. Cordero, a member of the Duke Human Rights Coalition and an
organizer of the pro-Tibet vigil, said he was handing out literature
when Ms. Wang came up and pointed to the counterprotesters.

“She was like, ‘Why are you focusing on the Duke students? Let’s have a
dialogue with these people,’ ” he said. “And I’m thinking, oh come on,
seriously, that’s not going to help anything.”

Some of Ms. Wang’s efforts to mediate were met by insults and
obscenities from the Chinese students.

“She stood her ground; she’s a really brave girl,” said Adam Weiss, the
student on whose back Ms. Wang wrote “Free Tibet.” “You have 200 of your
own fellow nationalists yelling at you and calling you a traitor and
even threatening to kill you.”

At Ms. Wang’s behest, he ultimately spoke to some of the Chinese
contingent, finding, he said, that “we could compromise and say we all
wanted increased human rights for all Chinese, and especially for Tibetans.”

Sherry, a Chinese graduate student who declined to give her last name
for fear of being harassed, had a less heroic view.

“She claimed she wanted to make communications between both sides, but
actually she did nothing before that night. She didn’t communicate with
any organizers and actually was just performing,” Sherry said. But she
called the backlash against Ms. Wang “horrible.”

“There are a few students that are very angry at her,” she said, “but
there are many others who try to protect her, try to speak for her.
Actually, the majority didn’t think she did so wrong to be treated like
that.”

She said Ms. Wang had squandered some sympathy when, in an article in
The Duke Chronicle, she blamed the Duke Chinese Students and Scholars
Association for helping to release her information through its e-mail list.

This week, three officers of the association explained in an open letter
that the mailing list was public and called the verbal attacks on Ms.
Wang “troubling and heinous.” Her personal information and other
offensive posts were removed “once they were brought to our attention,”
the letter said. Student groups criticized the association for allowing
them to be posted at all.

Zhizong Li, the president of the association, referred most questions to
the university but said that only about a third of the pro-China
demonstrators were association members. Duke has just over 500 Chinese
students.

Ms. Wang, who has retained a lawyer, said pulling her personal
information off the Web was not enough. “I will be seen as a traitor
forever, and they can still harm my parents,” she said.

But for a woman under threat of dismemberment, she seemed remarkably
sanguine ­ even upbeat.

“My parents are very tolerant to me,” she explained. “They were really
disappointed in me for a long time, and I persuaded them to think
differently.

“If I can change my parents, I can probably change others."
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