One South Korean Egloos blogger once wrote that she simply cannot comprehend the fact that contemporary Chinese staunchly believe and stand by their government when it comes to Tibet-even in this time of highly advanced  information technology. “Yes, I know the Korean government, too,  enforced the same type of control and propaganda over the people decades ago. But the Chinese have no right to make excuses. They can go abroad, they’re not like us back then.” Was her claim. In other words, exposure to outside perspectives and media (whether through the internet or going overseas) should be enough to “correct” an individual’s political standpoint. If she allowed non-Egloos bloggers to comment or if I wasn’t interested in preserving our mutual friendship I would have  replied, “Sorry, but I can’t agree with that. (and, hey, even the internet is censored in China.)” I am not trying to downplay the effects informational and personal exposure/contact with different perspectives can have; in fact, my years in Canada have affected me in terms of how I came to view human rights and social justice. I would have acquired a different viewpoint if I’d stayed in South Korea. At the same time, the experience is precisely why I understand changing ideas and thoughts, or trying to defy a concept or myth long imprinted in one’s mind is extremely difficult and occasionally painful-which is why people aren’t easily subject to change. Especially if the issue is a highly politicized one.

Before discussing overseas Chinese and Tibet, let me introduce a family account. This involves my parents, who temporarily resided in Illinois in the early 90s.  Once, they went to a screening held by one of the local Korean communities, a club based on the Jeolla province. Mother recalls being surprised that not only Koreans, but also some American professors and students showed up as well. The film was a documentary about the 1980 Gwangju Democratization Movement in Jeolla province,  showing graphic footage of civilians brutally beaten, arrested, and gunned down by the army and explaining how the government manipulated the Korean people from learning the truth. The incident was covered up by the then-military regime and distorted as a Communist rebellion by the media. This “myth” was so successful that many people, even now, believe the uprising was a Communist conspiracy and is one of the basis of deep inter-regional hatred and prejudice yet pervasive in South Korea.  Now after the screening, every Korean at the screening was completely taken aback by shock, shame, and to mask it, anger. As foreign students or immigrants they are always aware of their minority status, are socially vulnerable or feel victimized, and when attacked, are incliend to react aggresively as means of defense. Even a well-to-do, healthy, heterosexual white male might feel uneasy when a non-Western country he resides constantly depicts white men as criminals. Added to the aggressive protectionism is of course the political factor; how would you feel, if you’re suddenly told your country (or maybe somebody or some organization you dearly love, respect, or follow) did something extremely evil, like slaughtering people and doing everything to cover it up? And I mean totally out of the blue; you’re only informed of it now. I think most people will shut it out, deny it, declare the informer a liar or traitor, no matter the amount of solid evidence. The same thing happened when survivors of the Holocaust first came out with their accounts; the truth was just too terrifying to handle so many tried to deny it ever happened. Denial is an extremely powerful defence mechanism, and combined with effective political propaganda or lack of political interest can produce social unity and shared consciousness functioning upon a common social myth, and havily fueled by hatred. The point is that overseas Chinese are not so different from overseas Koreans in that Illinois screening room.

Of course, this does not mean that the truth will be forever buried; now everybody (sane enough) acknowledges the Holocaust, and the victims of sexual slavery in the Pacific War (known as the euphemism “comfort women”)  are finally gaining recognition. Last week 29 dissidents in China spoke out against the government’s propaganda campaign. Small yet significant movements as such can shape an environment where individuals are less afraid to consider alternative or conflicting perspectives. That’s where the possibility of change begins.