Duke Student Targeted for Mediating Tibet Protest Duke University undergraduate Grace Wang attempted to referee a heated interchange on campus over the Tibetan independence movement, leading to fierce denunciations of Wang and her parents by ethnic Chinese in the U.S. and in China.
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Duke Student Targeted for Mediating Tibet Protest

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Duke Student Targeted for Mediating Tibet Protest

Duke Student Targeted for Mediating Tibet Protest

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You remember recently, the Olympic torch made its way through San Francisco, and it was met by scores of protesters. Some were criticizing that China was supporting the government of Sudan, and some were saying that China oppressed Tibet.

Sympathy protests were held on a lot of college campuses. Our story is what happened to Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. The Free Tibet crowd was far outnumbered by hundreds of Duke's Chinese students. Here's some tape from that event.

(Soundbite of crowd chanting)

PESCA: In the middle was 20-year-old Grace Wang, a Duke undergrad from China. Her family lives in China. Grace tried to talk to members of both factions, and at one point, she wrote "Free Tibet" on the back of a student, and then tried to get him to engage in dialogue with the pro-China crowd.

But there was no dialogue, just diatribes after the fact, as pictures of her went up on the Internet and they spread into China, and Grace was labeled a traitor. Her parents have had to flee their homes for fear of reprisals. So Grace, let me say hello to you. Thanks for joining us today.

Ms. GRACE WANG (Student, Duke University): Thanks for having me.

PESCA: So I sketched out the background, and my first question there is about the pro-China crowd. Who were they made up of?

Ms. WANG: A lot of Chinese scholars, students, graduate students, like, from either Duke or UNC, but they were organized by DCSSA, Duke Chinese Students and Scholars Association.

PESCA: And would you say most of them, you probably knew a lot of them. Are they Chinese citizens, or Chinese-Americans, or all sorts of people, or who were they in general?

Ms. WANG: From the people I know, I'm pretty sure they are Chinese citizens.

PESCA: And there are hundreds of Chinese among all the universities there in the area in North Carolina, in North Carolina State and Duke, there are hundreds of Chinese citizens who are students.

Ms. WANG: There are so many visiting scholars.

PESCA: Wow. And the Free Tibet students, who were they?

Ms. WANG: Most of the students are members of Human Rights Coalition. So they are not, like, experts of the Tibetan issue. They just care about human rights instead of Tibetan independence.

PESCA: And could you give me an estimate of the size of each of the two groups? They weren't even close in size, were they?

Ms. WANG: Yeah, they were not. Well, the pro-China side was quoted, like, 400 to 500. And the Tibetan side was probably like 12.

PESCA: Twelve people?

Ms. WANG: Yeah.

PESCA: So when you went out there, did you go with being part of either side in mind? Or did you just want to see what was going to happen?

Ms. WANG: I was just there and wanted to see what's happening. Actually, I don't support Tibetan independence.

PESCA: If you don't support Tibetan independence, why did you write "Free Tibet" on that one student's back?

Ms. WANG: I would say that "Free Tibet" means a lot of stuff. Free Tibet is just like Free China. Tibetans don't enjoy the same freedom that the Chinese - Han Chinese would enjoy. A lot of Tibetan children, actually, they don't have the equal amount of opportunity to get educated, while the Chinese government would probably say that the reason that they don't have obligatory education as the other Han Chinese is because they don't want to.

No, they do. I can't imagine anyone who doesn't want to do that. It's just like they should be given the same opportunity to get involved into the civil activities that anyone, as a Chinese citizen, should enjoy.

PESCA: So tell me what happened? You mentioned - well, we mentioned before reprisals. Tell me what happened when your picture got out over the Internet and into China.

Ms. WANG: I was very shocked. Actually I felt like I almost got a heart attack, actually, the first minute when I saw it.

PESCA: What was it? What did you see?

Ms. WANG: Picturing me as a traitor on one of the most notorious of Chinese websites.

PESCA: Because they had pictures of you, and they wrote the word "traitor" on your face? Is that what happened? Is that what they were doing with pictures?

Ms. WANG: Yeah, yeah. It's a really bad first impression to tell anyone, you know. They introduce me to people as a traitor, and the Chinese people don't have a whole lot of information, and it's really easy to be misguided by this.

PESCA: For it to get out there, someone had to approve of it, right? It's not like anyone can just post any picture and have it be disseminated in China. There are censors who essentially OKed that picture.

Ms. WANG: Well, if the government is not inciting this, they have acquiescence to this. Chinese parties, official TV website, cctv.com, they called me as the "ugliest overseas Chinese ever."

PESCA: And what about your parents? I said they had to flee their home, I read that. Is that still the case?

Ms. WANG: Yeah, yeah.

PESCA: What have your parents said to you? Have you talked with them since this happened?

Ms. WANG: Well, I tried to email them because, well, nothing is absolutely safe. I tried to email them because I can think out what to write again and again and again before writing down one line. So I try not to call them because, you know, I know that whether or not I use whatever way to contact my parents, the Chinese government is going to censor it anyway.

So they're going to know the content of the conversation. So I try to talk about something else while referring to their safety. But I also asked them what really happened, and they refused to answer. But when I ask them, you know, do you guys really want political asylum? And they wrote me a really long letter saying that you are a Chinese citizen.

Never ever betray your country. I think they are writing that letter to the Chinese government, but also, I think my parents don't want to leave China because they feel really attached to the lands and to the people. You know, they know China so well and they love China just as much as I do.

PESCA: Has all your conversation with them been through email? Have you had any phone conversations?

Ms. WANG: I don't think phone conversations would be safe at all, so I wouldn't even try that.

PESCA: So here you are. You're 20. You're an undergrad...

Ms. WANG: And I don't know where they're hiding. I mean, where can I call them?

PESCA: Right. So here you are, you're 20 years old, you're in a foreign country thousands of miles away, your community has abandoned you, your country has abandoned you, and it's pretty dicey or uncertain about what your parents actually think. Who's there for you, Grace, right now? Who's looking out for you?

Ms. WANG: God. God is with me, and well, I think I have my conscience. I know that what I'm doing is right and I know that some Chinese people are supporting me from all over the world.

And even at Duke, I mean, a lot of people are actually - I have more friends than people who are condemning me after this event. You know, I have to find my inner peace. I have to find - I have to free myself when I'm put into this difficult situation.

PESCA: All right. Well, Grace Wang, we want to thank you for being on the BPP. Thanks a lot for joining us, Grace.

Ms. WANG: Oh, thank you so much for having me.

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