Talking Politics with Chinese Parents

No.9

Hey everyone, 

My name is Afra Wang 王曌. I work as a content strategist and freelance writer in California. 

"Protect yourself. Safety first. Absolutely no protest. And please delete your most recent posts on WeChat." This was not the first time that my mom warned me for "good causes" during our video chat. 

Overseas young Chinese face unique obstacles in communicating with parents in China. Media censorship, cultural and generational gap, language differences and geographical distance have created two irreconcilable accounts of parallel reality for us and our family back home. Talking politics has become a particularly daunting task for many of us. 

To add insult to injury, WeChat, the primary communication tool in China, is a fragile asset where surveillance is ubiquitously practiced. Links I wanted to share with my parents often are “page not found” in China. The articles they sent to me are full of clickbaits and fake news. 

Later in Rock the Boat, we will share our experience about talking politics with parents in China. 


Best,
Afra


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Thoughts from our members and beyond on topics about the media industry, diversity and more.

In July, after having had rounds of heated political debates with family back in China, member Zhaoyin Feng 冯兆音 vented her frustration on Twitter, which has struck a chord with many. She shared the scenarios which I found familiar:

“Africans are here to spread HIV and to tarnish our Chinese blood.” “The CIA has instigated the Hong Kong protests and paid every protester.” “Joshua Wong is Vietnamese so he’s betraying China.” My jaw dropped when I went through the articles forwarded to me by my mother. The idea of giving up political discussions with parents has crossed my mind numerous times, but every time I remind myself: I am a journalist aiming to explain nuanced differences and to enhance mutual understandings. I can’t give up on communicating with my own parents.

My advice? Listen, listen and listen. Don’t act condescendingly. Try to understand their logic—their opinions are based on the information available to them. Point out the biases and limits. Present human stories to which they can relate. You despise black people? What about my friend whom you met in my commencement? To fight against biased information dehumanizing people, we need to put human faces back to them.

With the Hong Kong protests dominating the headlines, it has become the center of our recent family debates. Member Tianyu Fang 房天语 finds it fortunate that he and his parents can have honest discussions:

Misinformation reigns in the midst of the Hong Kong protests. I was fortunate to have rather open-minded parents who critically think about the news sources they read. We’ve talked about what was going on in Hong Kong right after my recent visit. While we may not always agree politically, it makes me happy that we are at least having honest conversations about these critical matters, based on credible facts. It is a privilege that many other Chinese do not have.

Member Tony Lin 林知阳 shares his tricks to reduce major political arguments with parents:

Chatting with them about individual cases, not systematic abuses; talking about grassroots resistance, not high-level oppression; evoking empathy for people like them, instead of using ideology-charged narratives is the way to go. If you sense the conversation is taking a turn for the worse, there’s always a last resort: let’s talk about the awful U.S. political system, to which they often exhibit a surprising amount of understanding…

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(Photo credit: Alex Wong @alexwongcw)

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Writer: Afra Wang; Editor: Zhaoyin Feng.

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