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4.20.2008

student becomes a flashpoint in china/tibet debate

Amidst all the recent protests and clashing between pro-China and pro-Tibet demonstrators, Grace Wang, a Chinese freshman at Duke University, unexpectedly found herself as the flash point of international ire and rage—targeted by thousands of internet threats of gruesome violence and death, as well as vandalism of her parents' home in China. All because she tried to be peacemaker between the two sides of the debate: Chinese Student in U.S. Is Caught in Confrontation.

On the day the Olympic torch was carried through San Francisco earlier this month, she 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, traversing "the middle ground."

In the end, I don't think she was able to accomplish much in the way of understanding on either side... however, the real conflict for Ms. Wang would come the next day, when a photo of her appeared on an Internet forum for Chinese students with the words "traitor to your country" emblazoned across her forehead, her Chinese name, identification number and contact information were also posted, along with directions to her parents' apartment in the Chinese city of Qingdao:
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.
More here: New Freedom, and Peril, in Online Criticism of China. Obviously, Ms. Wang didn't expect the kind of craziness and international attention her actions would generate. And she sure as hell didn't think her parents, half a world away, would become the targets of retaliation: Student's home vandalized in China. Somebody apparently poured a bucket of feces on their apartment door. I mean, come on, who the hell does that? Her parents have reportedly gone into hiding.

Here's an opinion piece by Grace Wang in today's Washington Post on her ordeal: Caught in the Middle, Called a Traitor. She says it's been a frightening and unsettling experience, but she's determined to speak out even in the face of threats and abuse.