The 14% Student: Why Guanxi Kills My Soul

In my last post I talked about my experience giving final exams and grades to almost 1,000 students. I also mentioned that I had to fail 2/900 of my students. This is the story of the student who earned a 14%.

I have a student in Senior 2 who can’t speak English. He has been learning English since 3rd grade and he can’t speak more than two words. He’s a “cool kid”; he almost never wears his uniform to class and he cracks jokes while I’m speaking. Mostly I just ignore him, or if he pisses me off enough, I call on him to answer a question in front of the entire class and watch him fail miserably. (Teaching brings out the best in me?)

Eventually it came time for his class’ final exam. Like I mentioned in my last post, because I don’t have most of my 900 students’ names memorized, I made them write their English names on the board and stand in front of them so that I could match a name to a face for grading purposes.

Why is this important? Well, during class there was a group that went to present and had more names written on the board than there were people in that group. When I asked who the student was, Mr. ‘Too Cool for School’ said “oh, sick, sick, sick!”. I eyed him suspiciously, and let the group continue. By the end of class I realized that Mr. Cool Kid did not perform in any of the skits. Had he stood out a little less, I may not have noticed; but I definitely noticed him.

“What group are you in?”, I asked him after the skits were done. “OOOoooOO”, went the class. I eventually deduced that he was the “sick student”.

After class I pulled him outside for a chat. Since he doesn’t know any English, I had to speak to him in Chinese.

“Since you refused to participate in the skit and lied about it, I have to give you a zero.” I told him.

“Okay, okay, okay”, he nodded his head, patronizing me.

“No. I don’t think you understand”, I replied. “You get zero points. Out of 100. You fail my class.”

“Okay, okay, okay”.

“No. Not okay. You failed my class”

“Okay, okay, okay”.

“How do you expect to go to college if you don’t even try? How do you think you’re going to pass the Gaokao???”

“Okay, yeah, okay”.

I wanted to punch him in the face.

“You’re going to end up picking recycling out of garbage bins for a living”, I told him as I stormed off.

That day at lunch I was eating with Lynn, the student in question’s English teacher. I told her the story of how he blew off my final, and she wasn’t surprised.

“Oh, HIM. He doesn’t speak English.”, she replied.

“But how does he get away with not trying?”

“I don’t call on him in class anymore”she replied. “I just ignore him”.

“How the hell does he expect to pass the Gaokao if he doesn’t care about school??”

“Well, his dad owns a bunch of factories around the school so he doesn’t have to go to college.”

There it is. The painful truth.

“But… how does he expect to manage the factories???” I exclaimed. “He won’t know how to run them!”

“Oh, well he can just hire someone to do the work for him.” she replied.

“And his parents don’t care that he’s blowing off school???”

“I don’t know.” she answered. “Maybe his father didn’t do well in school and now he’s successful, so maybe they think that school isn’t important, especially English.”

And that, my friends, is the moment guanxi killed my soul.

For those of you that don’t know the term, “guanxi can be literally translated as “connections”, but it is much more than that. Guanxi describes the complex dynamic of personal networks and influence in Chinese society. Guanxi refers to the benefits gained from social connections, which are usually considered reciprocal. Guanxi can also be seen as a system of favors, the more you ask, the more you owe. Finally, guanxi is very important in business and hiring practices. It’s very common for employers to draw from close family and friends to fill positions.

The thing that really breaks my heart is that this student who doesn’t try, doesn’t care and basically laughed in my face, will be much more successful than most of the other 900 students I teach. I think of Vicky, a student who emailed me telling me her greatest dream was to go to America, but that she’d never be able to afford even a semester of study abroad because her family is poor. She wants to be an English-speaking tour guide so that she can meet people from around the world. I think of Jason, who’s biggest dream is to go to grad school in America, because undergrad is definitely not an option for him. How is it possible that all of their hard work, effort, goals, dreams and ambition will be trumped by guanxi in the end.

While “connections” are definitely important in America, and money opens almost any door, it’s hard to explain how guanxi is different. I guess the main difference is that it filters it’s way down to the smallest aspects of society. If you want a job after college, a good major, work experience and a high GPA will never be enough. While guanxi can open many doors, a lack of guanxi will slam doors in your face.

As much as I can’t stand the kid, the real person to blame is the father. By handing his son a future on a silver platter with no strings attached, he has single-handedly ruined his son’s education. By condoning bad behavior, he has created a person who will never work a day in his life, never strive to achieve anything, and will quite possibly run his father’s companies into the ground. While it sickens me to think of this student being comfortable and successful, I take pride in many of my other students like Vicky and Jason, who work hard to reach their goals. While I can’t make an impact on every student, and I will probably never change Mr. 14%*, I can inspire many of my other students to dream big, study hard and achieve their dreams.

*I gave the student a 14% because his group received a 56% for their script, which was multiple days late. The script was worth 25% and the skit is worth 75%, leaving him with a final score of 14%.

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I Think I Need A Teaching Assistant

At the end of November I was informed that I would have to give all nine hundred of my students final grades. My immediate thought was: “How the heck am I going to do that?!! I only teach each class once every two weeks and I definitely don’t even have 1/5 of my students’ names memorized!!” Thank GOD I spent hours and hours making a detailed roster for each of my classes with their Chinese and English names. I figured the easiest way to give them grades would be a final exam, but since it’s an oral English class, I wanted it to be an oral exam. I couldn’t do a traditional interview exam because I have 50 students in a 40 minute period, so I decided to adopt my Chinese oral final exam from college.

At GW, all of the students who take Chinese have to get together in small groups and write a detailed script that includes everything we have learned in the class thus far. We then memorize and perform the skits in front of the class for our oral final exam. It’s a lot of work, so I wanted to give my students plenty of time to get started.

Since my students sit in previously assigned groups, I decided the easiest way to execute the exam would be to have each group perform a 3-5 minute skit. I typed up instructions, and spent over half the period explaining what I wanted. The difficult thing was that many students had no idea how to write a script, so I had to give them an example. I spent a ridiculous amount of time telling them exactly how to format the script. I told them that they needed to write their English and Chinese names in the top left hand corner, with the title being their class number and group name. I also told them multiple times that the MOST IMPORTANT THING was to include all three units we learned, and make sure each student spoke about the same amount. I even made a list of the things we learned in each section to help them. Each group was given two sets of instructions, two example scripts, and I taped the instructions to the classroom wall. (I spent about two hours in the printing room… it was great).

Since I only meet with my students every other week, they have a study hall when I don’t come in. I told them that they should use their study hall time to write their scripts together, and that they would be due in two weeks. I told them that the scripts are due at the beginning of class, and then as a reward we would watch a Christmas movie! Just to make sure they all understood, I asked them clarifying questions like “When is the script due?” “At the beginning or end of class?” “When is the skit?” etc. When I was sure that the majority of the class understood, I felt we were safe to move on with the lesson.

Even though I was overly explicit about what I wanted, I was still pretty nervous. “What happens if none of them do it?”, I wondered. I can’t fail all of them…

After two weeks of explaining this final exam to 20 classes I was exhausted. It got to the point where I actually felt like my brain was going to explode. The students were all so confused, and instead of listening to me, they would talk over me, asking questions to one another. I wished I had a whistle to get them to be quiet, I but I relied on smacking the desk really hard to get their attention.

Eventually, it came time to collect the scripts from my first class. I walked into the room, asked them for the scripts, and instead I got a bunch of blank faces staring back at me. “Those are due now??”. My students tried to tell me they were confused and didn’t understand that they were due that day. Well that’s funny because it’s written in 25pt font at the very top of the instructions page in bold, It’s also posted on the wall of your classroom AND I talked about it being due today in your last class about 15 times, wrote it on the board and made you repeat it back to me before we finished class for the day. Really? You didn’t understand???! I. was. furious.

After I called them out on their blatant lies, they started making up random excuses like, “We have so much other homework!!”. Really???! You think that’s going to work on me? The person who just graduated college last year? The person who actually didn’t sleep in high school? I have zero sympathy. They had an entire free class period to do it.

“So you think my class doesn’t matter?”, I asked them in a cold, hard voice. “Because I teach you once every two weeks, you don’t have to do your assignment?”. “You understand that this is for your final exam right??”. I don’t think I’ve ever seen students that scared or ashamed in their lives. I would say I shocked myself as well, but I think deep down I knew I could be that scary.

Eventually after making them “lose face” to the point that some of the girls looked like they were going to cry. I told them that they could take the class period to do it, but that I would take 10pts off for it being late, just like I told them I would do… at least 5 times.

My next few classes were a bit better. I would say out of every class, maybe one group would forget. The main problem was that almost no one followed my example format, and most groups forgot to write their names on their papers. Also, most of the groups didn’t include the lessons that we had covered in class, which was the most important thing.

The inability of my students to follow directions was actually shocking. The instructions were there, right in front of them, and all they had to do was read them. But instead, most of my students copied preexisting stories, mainly Snow White for some reason.

My main issue with the scripts, besides their inability to follow directions, was blatant plagiarism. I had two different groups in two different classes copy the same Snow White story from the internet. I also had two different groups in the same class have almost exactly the same script. It turns out that they both copied it from the same source unknowingly. No wonder the students aren’t allowed computers. While I knew plagiarism was common in China, it is still really shocking to see it in action. If it were my high school back in America, these students would have been suspended. Here, I took off points for the scripts being late and made them re-write.

The biggest slap in the face was a group that turned in a typed script. At first I was impressed with them for typing it up, but then later that night, when I took a look at the script, I realized that they had literally taken an in-class reading from their regular English class, and used whiteout to cover up the book source at the bottom of the page. The next day I found them in class. I took off 10 points for it being late and another 20 for plagiarism and lying. I then gave them a long lecture about how they only would have gotten -10 if they had been truthful and admitted their script was late, but because they cheated and lied, the highest grade they could now get was a 70.

The real joy came when some of my senior 2 students just didn’t turn in their scripts. This was the week that I had really bad food poisoning, so I gave a note to each Senior 2 teacher telling the students to put their scripts on my desk before the western New Year break. It took me a while to grade all of the scripts, but a few days after the break was over I realized that I was missing quite a few. I was then forced to find each group and tell them that their scripts were five days late, which means -50 points. Now these groups weren’t all in one class, they were spread out through all the different classes, meaning it was definitely the fault of the students rather than the teacher.

When I confronted the groups they tried to tell me that no one told them how to turn the scripts in. “Why didn’t you just ask your teacher? You see her every day.”, “How come every other group understood except yours? You didn’t think to ask them?”. The complete lack of initiative was astounding to me. Had I not come to harass them they never would have turned their scripts in. The crazy thing is that all of the students really believed they could convince me to change their grades. A few even left little notes on their scripts or on my desk trying to explain why they were late. While it was hard to discard their notes and give them all failing grades, their excuses were complete BS and everyone knew it.

Although I was pretty disappointed with more than a few groups, a lot of groups did turn their scripts in on time and did follow the directions… kind of. Some of the scripts even had me laughing out loud, like a group that had Superman and Superwoman saving Jack and Rose from the evil Japanese soldier and his translator… as well as a monster… while the Titanic was sinking? It concluded with Superwoman and the monster getting together.

After two weeks of script drama, it was finally time to see the skits. I made sure to make the rounds to all 20 of my classes and remind them that their skits needed to be memorized for our next class, and silently hoped and prayed for the best.

The main problem with skit grades was that I wanted to grade them individually, but I didn’t know any of their names. I solved this by having the students write their names on the board. Then I had them stand in front of their names while I wrote them down in a grade book and matched their faces to their names. This was pretty hard since a lot of my students (don’t judge me) look extremely similar and they all wear uniforms. I made little notes next to their names like “pink scarf”, “bangs”, or “no glasses” to differentiate. You know you’re in China when a defining characteristic is not having glasses.

Overall, the skits went pretty well. The only disappointing thing was that a very large amount of my students didn’t even attempt to memorize their scripts. They read their lines off the page as if they hadn’t even looked at their script since I had handed it back. If it had been my Chinese skit in college I definitely would have gotten an F, but I didn’t feel comfortable failing that many students, so I decided that if their scripts weren’t even partially memorized, the highest grade I could give them was a C. I also had a few students who literally only said one or two words in the skit, which was unacceptable, so I gave them C’s as well.

While it was extremely frustrating to see my students blatantly not try, I also had a lot of students who put in a lot of effort to memorize their scripts and even brought props! A few of my skits even made me laugh out loud, like the group that had a boy play Snow White. Let’s just say the “final kiss” was hilariously awkward.

Out of all the skit performances, the best student came from my last class. One of the students in his group was absent, so he decided to play both his part and hers. When the time came for “Helen’s” lines, he put a headband on his head and spoke all of the lines in a high-pitched voice. The entire class was doubled over in laughter. He was a real character and had more lines than anyone else combined. I gave him 100%. Bravo “Helen”, Bravo.

Overall, it was a very interesting experiment experience, and not one I may care to repeat next semester. Actually physically calculating the grades was extremely time consuming and I may or may not have gone crazy. The real issue was that many of the students changed their English names without telling me, so I had multiple grades that didn’t match the names on my roster. I was forced to go to each classroom individually and figure out who was who. Also, a few students were absent and their group didn’t think to let me know. At this point, I was so exhausted/ fed up that I just gave the absent students the average score of the rest of their group. 

While the oral exam idea was probably one of the most ridiculously ambitious things I’ve ever attempted, it did teach me a lot about the Chinese education system. An exam that would have been a piece of cake to implement in an American high school was almost impossible here. Chinese students just aren’t used to any testing format that differs from their constant Gaokao practice tests. While I thought having students memorize a written script would be easy since all they do is memorization, a lack of motivation produced a poor result. While all of the students in my class received grades, my grades don’t matter. All that actually matters is the Gaokao. Why bother memorizing a script when the only consequence is your main English teacher maybe giving you a hard time if you don’t do well. For a teacher, it’s frustrating and discouraging because I can’t measure my teaching success based off a test. However, I do take pride in knowing that my effort will pay off. I succeeded in implementing a testing system that is vastly different from any test these students have ever known, and I got even the shyest of students to stand in front of the class and speak English.

Overall, it didn’t completely blow up in my face and I was only forced to fail 2/900 students. In China, I’d say that’s a success.

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4 Reasons to live in a Tier 2 or 3 City in China

Below is a guest post written by Brandon King:

Brandon runs SmartIntern China Internships (website link), a company which pairs students and recent graduates with jobs and entry-level positions in Shanghai, China.

For me, the decision on which city in China to move to was pretty arbitrary- Shenzhen or Ningbo or Shanghai? Most city names were completely foreign to me, and after a round of research I realized that I was open to going, well, just about anywhere in China. It was a crapshoot in the best sense of the word.

After exchanging a few emails with a friend of a friend who lived in Shenzhen, and learning that it was just across the border from Hong Kong- making it convenient for the inevitable visa runs that are a part life in China- I decided that I would be moving to Shenzhen.

While Shenzhen is often considered a Tier 1 city in China, alongside Shanghai and Beijing, there wasnít much tier one-ness where I lived. Closer to downtown Dongguan than Shenzhen, I was living right next to what is referred to as an urban village, and days would pass without me seeing a foreigner other than the handful whom I taught with. I was in the middle of nowhere.

Turns out, there are a lot of advantages to this.

1) Language
Living in a 2nd or 3rd tier city provides you with the opportunity to dominate your Mandarin Chinese studies, as the English you’ll hear on a day-to-day basis might be only sporadic “hallooo’s” and “what’s your name?’s” from curious passerbys. Or is it passersby? Whatever, English is so confusing anyway. Being surrounded by Mandarin will be confusing and disorienting at first, but take advantage of it, because once you get to Shanghai, you’ll want more of it in your life.

2) Smaller, tighter expat network
In Shanghai or Beijing, itís easy (or at least not impossible) to find expats who share your interests. Into riding bikes or looking for another guitarist to jam with? You can find that with a bit of effort in China’s Tier 1 cities. In Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities, not so much. You simply can’t be that selective of the expats you hang out with. That guy with the eyepatch who is 25 years older than and who you have seemingly nothing in common with? Hey, this is Ningyuan dude, you don’t get to be picky. And that’s a great thing. Once you get past the superficial differences, you’ll be surprised at the commonalities you can uncover over a few beers.

3) Local immersion & contacts
Still, try not to spend all of your time hanging out with your foreign friend(s). Take the opportunity to speak Mandarin, however poorly, and get to know the locals. You’ll likely find the local community to be curious, generous, and gracious, so take the time to learn what they are all about. As your city will most likely lack a large amount of imported goods, you’ll also want to use this chance to sample what domestic China has to offer. Sure, Shanghai will give you all the comforts of your home country, but Xi’an, Tianjin, Chengdu all have unique character that can only be found there. After a few years in China, many people either return home or head to the bright lights of the big cities like Shanghai and Beijing. You might do the same, so treat living in a smaller city in China for what it is- a once in a lifetime opportunity to get to know a culture very different from your own!

4) More bang for your buck
In 2013, Beijing, Shenzhen and Shanghai were listed as the top-3 most expensive cities in China, while Beijing and Shanghai also made a list in late 2011 as the 7th & 8th most-expensive cities in Asia. Keep in mind that a lot of the things that go into this calculation (the sky high costs of international schools, for example) might not affect you, so when people complain that “Shanghai is as expensive as New York”, take that with a grain of salt. My company is based in Shanghai, and I can assure that, if you are committed to keeping costs low, you can.

That said, Beijing and Shanghai also offer plenty of opportunities to spend lots of money. If you want your dollar (or yuan) to go further, you are better off moving to a lower-tier city like Xiamen or Changsha, where virtually everything comes at a lower price tag.

To get you salivating, I’ve made a short list of some of the lowest costs things and experiences I have found in China:

  • A furnished apartment for 300 RMB a month in Shenzhen- You wouldn’t want to live here (trust me), but just know that it exists
  • 7 dishes of food and a few beers for under 100 RMB
  • Hours of foot massage for 50 RMB
  • A cab ride anywhere in town for 5 kuai (in rural Sichuan)
  • Of course, 24 ounce Tsingdao beers for 5 kuai in most cities

My genuine recommendation is, if you are just moving to China, go to a Tier 2 or Tier 3 city first. Your costs will be lower, you’re Mandarin will improve faster, and you’ll be further removed from your comfort zone. Spend a year in the middle of nowhere and then move to a more international city like Shenzhen or Shanghai. You’ll appreciate it more and also likely have a better understanding of China than those expats who moved straightaway to a Tier 1 city.

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Why You Should Date People Who Have Studied or Lived Abroad

I recently came across an article on GoOverseas.com titled Why You Should Date A Girl Who Studied Abroad.

While the article is specifically written for men, I think a lot of her points can be used to describe a wide variety of topics. These are the reasons why I not only tend to be interested in guys who either aren’t from America or spent a significant amount of time abroad, but also why I tend to search out friendships with those people as well.

For example, when people ask me why I chose to volunteer as an Exchange Student Orientation Leader at GW, the main reason was to meet people from all over the world. I spent a large amount of time with my new international friends senior year, because I found them interesting and exciting and I appreciated learning about their different world views.

Similarly, one of my favorite aspects of my internship with the Alliance for Global Education was calling and emailing all of the applicants for their Beijing and Xi’an programs. I loved talking to these students and sharing my experiences and I even became friends and still keep in touch with some of them. I think that young people who choose to study abroad in non-traditional locations like China are very interesting and have a lot of the qualities described in the article above. One of the main reasons why I want to pursue a career in international education is to work with these types of students, and help them obtain their goals and explore the world.

As a foreign English teacher in China, I try to encourage these characteristics in my Chinese students as well. For me, my job is less about teaching them English are more about encouraging students to use an international perspective and help them learn about the world outside China- a world that a lot of them may never see. Not only do I want to improve my students’ worldview, I also want to improve their confidence; confidence in speaking English as well as confidence in their own creativity and self-expression.

Finally, I think the article above also serves as a good example for why people who study or live abroad make good employees. Intelligence, confidence, independence and a broad worldview are all things that potential employers (and apparently potential boyfriends) look for. Studying or living abroad, especially somewhere non-traditional, makes you interesting. If you can overcome challenges abroad, you can definitely overcome tough deadlines in an office. You backpacked around Asia on your own? You can definitely handle those spreadsheets. You gave a presentation in front of the class in a different language? You’ll be fine presenting at that important meeting. Finally, living internationally and having a broad worldview can help you think outside the box or help you relate to fellow employees or business partners with differing opinions.

There you go: 5 Reasons Why You Should Date/Befriend/Hire me someone who has lived or studied abroad!

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Political and Religious Internet Censorship in China and Iran

Last spring I wrote a thesis on political and religious internet censorship in China and Iran to graduate with special honors from the Elliott School of International Affairs at GWU. Since a few people have expressed interest in the research I did, I figured I’d post it here in case anyone else wants to sit down for an afternoon and read all 25 pages.

If you’re at all interested in the various kinds of internet censorship and how they’re implemented in different countries, I suggest you check it out. A lot of the academic information available about how internet censorship actually works is extremely technical and very confusing, so I’ve tried my best to describe it in a way that technologically illiterate people can understand. Also, if you’re interested in writing a research paper on this subject, I included my sources at the end so feel free to look them up.

Political and Religious Internet Censorship in China and Iran

Abstract

            In this paper, I will compare and contrast Internet censorship in Iran and China. While China is widely known for censoring the Internet for political reasons, Iran claims to censor its citizens’ Internet for religious reasons. Because Islam is inherently political, it is the duty of the Iranian government to protect its people from harmful and anti-Muslim sites and information. However, through this paper I argue that the Iranian government’s use of censorship is primarily political; the use of religion is merely a justification for political censorship. Currently, China is the leading country in Internet censorship technology, policy and practice. By comparing China, a secular country, to Iran, I intend to show that censorship is much more similar in these two countries than it appears.

Political and Religious Internet Censorship in China and Iran

In a world of ever evolving technology, it has become increasingly difficult for many leaders to censor and control the flow of information. The development of the Internet in the nineteen-nineties has created a cosmopolitan world in which people from across the earth can communicate and share ideas and information. The development of Internet technology and social media web platforms have lead to an increased desire for democracy in many areas of the world; however, some nations have worked to curtail the freedom of information flow by developing complex Internet censorship programs. While Internet censorship is a highly relevant topic in today’s society, it is mainly divided into two categories: religious censorship, seen in countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia, and political censorship, seen in nations like China and North Korea. While at first glance, censorship in these two countries seems to have vastly different justifications, the reasoning behind this censorship is much more similar than it appears on the surface.

While Iran and China both practice Internet censorship, the two are rarely compared or contrasted in today’s scholarly literature. By separating these two nations in academic discussion, it is easy to miss the political motives of Islamic governments in the Middle East. There is a tendency to categorize and compare censorship in Middle Eastern countries, because of their similar religious backgrounds. By comparing Islamic countries to one another, it is easy to miss important connections and similarities between seemingly religious censorship and secular political censorship. By comparing a secular leader in Internet Censorship to the Islamic country Iran, I will bring a new perspective to the academic discussion of Internet Censorship for political stability and gain.

In this research, I will use two fundamental international political theories: Realism and Idealism. If one were to argue an Idealist perspective, Iran and China’s differing religious and social ideologies would produce vastly different censorship philosophies. Iran, an Islamic state, would primarily censor information that damages religious values or infringes on religious social norms. China, as an authoritarian and secular state with a booming economy, would focus on censoring information that would infringe upon governmental authority or economic success. The lack of comparison of religious and secular nations in the academic discussion of Internet censorship works to propagate the Idealist perspective. The ideology of these two nations is vastly different; therefore, it is unlikely that their motives for Internet censorship are similar. In this paper, I will argue the Realist perspective. Iran and China are both competitive authoritarian regimes that work to keep power by maintaining legitimacy. Iran’s Ayatollah obtains legitimacy through Islam, while the authority of the Chinese Communist Party is legitimized through economic development. Any information that challenges these two authorities must be eradicated.

In my research, I have worked with a variety of data and information. First, it was important to understand the technology behind Internet censorship, through reading academic technological discussions comparing and contrasting differing types of Internet censorship. I also worked with scholarly articles to fully understand the political and technological realties of censorship in both China and Iran. I reviewed law documents to understand the laws justifying censorship in these two nations. Finally, I reviewed lists of blocked websites, as well as statistical information listing the number of citizens with access to computers and personal Internet. In this way I worked with qualitative and quantitative information, as well as primary and secondary documents.

To analyze my data I primarily used historical and comparative analysis. I examined both China and Iran in a historical context, focusing on the political and cultural changes since the invention of the Internet, as well as any relevant historical information that impacts the current political culture. In my research, I also used a comparative analysis, gathering similar types of information on the political realities and censorship practices of both China and Iran. Through these methods, I was able to examine the historical and political atmospheres of both China and Iran, while obtaining relevant information to compare and contrast Internet censorship in both of these countries.

While I designed my research to accurately compare censorship in these two nations, there are some limitations. The first is that governments are very hesitant to speak directly about censorship, especially motives behind why certain sites are censored. Secondly, it is difficult to know what percentage of citizens use virtual proxy networks to circumvent government restrictions. Since the use of these networks are illegal, there is no exact information as to how many people use VPNs. Finally, living in China for seven months has given me a very accurate idea of the level of restrictions present through internet censorship. I am very aware of which sites are blocked, and how the young Chinese generation feels about censorship in China; however, I do not have this same level of immersion in Iran.

In order to narrow my scope and topic, I decided to focus on a specific aspect of censorship, while comparing and contrasting two chosen countries. By focusing on Internet censorship, rather than censorship as a whole, I am able to study the unique characteristics and difficulties in censoring an aspect of society that is rapidly changing and necessary to economic growth. Also, by focusing my research on Internet censorship, I am able to narrow my historic scope. The Internet and personal computer are fairly recent inventions historically, which allows me to focus on how the development of Internet censorship has evolved over the course of the last twenty years. Finally, by comparing and contrasting two countries, rather than political and religious censorship, I am more able to focus my research on specific examples. I chose China and Iran as representations of a political reality. While Iran may not be representative of all Islamic nations that practice Internet censorship, I chose Iran as an example of an Islamic nation that claims to practice religious censorship, but may have reason to exercise political censorship in the interest of maintaining control. In this way, I can examine Iran’s recent political history and show that religious censorship may be used as legitimacy for political interests.

Upon hearing the term “Internet censorship” many people imagine strict government censorship systems seen in countries like China and North Korea; citizens lacking access to current news and social media websites imposed by the government. However, many Western countries also practice Internet Censorship. Before diving into the complex world of political Internet censorship in China and Iran, it is important to understand the basics of Internet censorship technology, as well as the different and complex ways in which it can be used. When academics, journalists, or Internet users discuss ‘‘Internet censorship,’’ they are usually referring to the inability of users in a given country to access a specific piece of online content (Zuckerman 71). While the definition of Internet censorship is very broad, it can be used in many different ways.

According to Christopher Stevenson, author of “Breaching the Great Firewall: China’s Internet Censorship and the Quest for Freedom of Expression in a Connected World”, one commonly used form of Internet censorship is censorship through laws, or banning material deemed inappropriate (534). The United States’ banning of child pornography is an example of this type of censorship. In the United States, it is common knowledge that it is illegal to upload any content relating to pornographic images, videos or information of any individual under the age of eighteen. Many citizens do not realize that this is a form of Internet censorship, albeit to protect the livelihood of minors. Australia also recently passed the “Broadcasting Services Amendment”, which bans X18 materials, sexually explicit materials involving consenting adults, from appearing on the Internet, while R18, content deemed disturbing or harmful to those under the age of eighteen, material must be limited to age-restricting websites (Stevenson 535). The banning of pornographic material and violent imagery is a form of Internet censorship practiced in many Western countries. In the case of Australia, the government does not search for prohibited content, and merely relies on public complaints (Stevenson 535). In this way, the censorship is considered retroactive, as opposed to proactive. A proactive form of censorship, seen in countries such as China, is censorship by active filtering (Stevenson 356). This implies that the government is actively searching for censored material.

In the early days of the Internet, most Web sites were managed by organizations that controlled the content posted on the sites, the server software that delivered Web pages, and the server hardware that ran the code. While some Web sites are still managed in this way, Ethan Zuckerman, a prominent figure in Internet censorship research and Harvard University, states that the vast majority of Web site developers rent server space from Web hosting companies or use free Web hosting services like Tripod.com or WordPress.com (Zuckerman 72). These OSPs provide services to millions of users; most of which would lack the means and technical skill to maintain their own Web servers. Sites that allow publishing in more complex community interactions, like Facebook or other social media sites, would be extremely difficult for even a sophisticated user to reproduce (Zuckerman 72). Under legal or coercive pressure from the local government, these companies can block content or reveal sensitive information about users.

While censoring and blocking areas of the Internet seems simple, it requires advanced technology to implement efficiently. A simple way to circumvent government controls is to purchase a VPN, or virtual proxy network. While living in China, I was able to access many proxy network sites to purchase a VPN using China’s censored internet; however, these sites were only available when searched on Google.cn using English, as opposed to Chinese. After purchasing a VPN, a user can log into this virtual proxy network and the Internet will act as if the user is residing in a different country, usually the United States or the United Kingdom. In addition to proxy sites, there is also the issue of Internet user anonymity. It is extremely difficult to arrest dissidents online, as they can easily use nicknames or fake identities on the web (Rahimi 110). One way of circumventing this issue is by banning the use of fake identities in email, social media or chat room contexts. In China, Internet users must use government identification to create an email address or log on at a cyber café (Stevenson 539). However, this requires great oversight and technology. Some countries, such as Saudi Arabia, did not even grant access to the Internet until they had developed sufficient monitoring technology (Stevenson 536).

According to Stevenson, many scholars believed the invention of the Internet would lead to the destruction of oppressive regimes as their citizens gained access to new ideas and information (Stevenson 537). Therefore, for democracy-promoting nations such as the United States, Internet freedom is a very important issue. Clay Shirky states in his article “Political Power of the Social Media”, in January 2010, U.S. Secretary of Sate Hillary Clinton outlined how the US would promote Internet freedom abroad. She emphasized several kinds of freedom, including the freedom to access information, the freedom of ordinary citizens to produce their own public media, and freedom of citizens to converse with one another, such as the Chinese public’s capacity to use instant messaging without interference (Shirky 30-31). Just as Martin Luther adopted the newly practical printing press to protest against the Catholic Church, and the American revolutionaries synchronized their beliefs using the postal service that Benjamin Franklin had designed; Shirky claims that today’s dissident movements will use any means possible to frame their views and coordinate their actions (32).

In addition to Internet censorship, it is also important to understand the role of social media in today’s society. Since the rise of the Internet in the early 1990s, the world’s networked population has grown from the low millions to the low billions. Over the same period, social media have become a fact of life for civil society worldwide, involving many actors- regular citizens, activists, nongovernmental organizations, telecommunications firms, software providers, and governments (Shirky 28). Social media websites such as Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, and Google Spaces can connect people from all over the world, encouraging the flow of information and ideas. For example, Facebook allows a user to plan “an event”, which can be made private or public. Public “events” can be shared with anyone who is a Facebook “friend” of the creator. If the event creator chooses to allow event attendees to invite their Facebook “friends”, the event can spread indefinitely. In his article, “Political Power of the Social Media”, Shirky states, “Social media have become coordinating tools for nearly all of the world’s political movements, just as most of the world’s authoritarian governments are trying to limit access to it” (Shirky 30). The Egyptian revolution is a prime example of the use of social media to rally against the government, in which dissidents used Facebook to plan an anti-governmental protest. Therefore, it is important for many governments to limit access to social media and stifle potential dissidence. Shirky also states that Social media can compensate for the disadvantages of undisciplined groups by reducing the costs of planning and coordination. Because of this, larger, looser groups can now create coordinated action, such as protest movements and public media campaigns, that were previously limited to formal organizations (Shirky 35).

While many countries attempt to censor the Internet while maintaining a vibrant economy, China’s censorship policy is the most sophisticated and effective. According to Stephenson, China uses a “complex system of laws, technology, and human oversight” in their censorship policy and practice (Stevenson 537). The Chinese system has evolved from a relatively simple filter of incoming Internet traffic in the mid-1990s to a sophisticated operation that not only limits outside information but also uses nationalism and public morals to encourage operators of Chinese Web services to censor their users and users to censor themselves (Shirky 39). Because China’s goal is to prevent information from inciting political dissidence, the state does not need to censor the Internet comprehensively, it merely needs to minimize access to potentially harmful information. This explains why I was able to access sites to purchase a VPN in English, but not in Chinese; the Chinese government works to limit citizens’ access to blocked information, but is not concerned with foreign expats and international Western students.

The first Chinese Internet censorship law was passed in 1996, titled “Interim Provisions Governing Management of Computer Information Networks in the People’s Republic of China Connecting to the International Network” (Stevenson 537). The law and its amendments effectively prevents users from accessing any website or content that is not approved by the government. This includes any content that “divulges state secrets, subverts the government, opposes the state’s policy on religion, advocates cults or feudal superstitions, disrupts social order, or shows obscenity, pornography, gambling or violence” (Stevenson 538).  It also mandates that all Internet information services must be licensed or registered with the authorities. If these sites provide news, bulletin board, publishing or “other services”, site operators must record the IP address and domain name of all web content. Internet Service Providers must also record the amount of time users spend online, their account numbers, IP addresses, and dial-up numbers and retain this information for 60 days. If the ISP discovers prohibited information they must remove the content immediately and records of the event must be retained and sent to the appropriate authorities (Stevenson 538).

China is extremely specific when listing what information is acceptable for online display. According to Stevenson, as of 2005, any news or current events published online must be information released by an official government agency (539). As stated previously, Chinese users must also use government identification to create an email address or log on at a cyber café (Stevenson 539). This aids the government in tracking users who post politically sensitive, anti-governmental or otherwise censored information. In addition to mandating ISPs to censor information and divulge the personal information of users, China has also created a voluntary “Pledge of Self Regulation and Professional Ethics for China Internet Industry”, which requires Internet companies to censor information and refrain from posting illegal information (Stevenson 540). If these laws do not comprehensively censor the Internet, the Chinese government has also created a system in which citizens can report websites that contain illegal information (Stevenson 540).

In addition to laws, Chinese Internet censorship technology also greatly surpasses that of any other nation. In 1996, China developed a two-tiered Internet system. The first tier is available to the greater public outside China; however, to access the first tier, Chinese citizens must go through a second tier, which is controlled by the Chinese government (Stevenson 540). In this way, the Chinese government can directly control which sites of the first tier that citizens can access. This complex use of coercion and advanced technology to censor the Internet is commonly referred to as the “Great Firewall of China”.

The greatest difficulty China has faced in censoring the Internet is working with ISPs from outside the country, mainly the United States. If China cannot coerce the ISP to restrict information and report dissident users, the site is blocked. This is the case for many American social media and entertainment platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and WordPress. Google initially resisted the Chinese censorship system and China blocked access to the site in early 2002. However, in 2006, Google announced its own limited Internet search engine, Google.cn, that would be hosted in China. The site’s search results only display links to sites to in which the Chinese government does not object. To avoid collecting user-identifying information, Google.cn lacks e-mail and blogging capabilities seen in Google.com (Stevenson 543-544). Additionally, in April 2006, Skype admitted that the co-branded Chinese version of the Skype text chat product filtered users’ messages based on a list of banned keywords. According to Zuckerman, in 2008, Internet researcher Nart Villeneuve discovered that the TOM Skype software was not merely blocking keywords, but also surveilling users, and storing conversations in which specific keywords had been mentioned (Zuckerman 72). In June 2005, Microsoft was also accused of using similar techniques to block content on their Chinese language version of MSN Spaces. An attempt to start a blog titled ‘‘I love freedom of speech, human rights and democracy’’ in Chinese yielded an error message that translates as ‘‘You must enter a title for your space. The title must not contain prohibited language, such as profanity. Please type a different title.’’ (Zuckerman 73).

To account for the lack of social media sites in China such as Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube, China has created its own versions of these sites, titled Ren Ren, Weibo, and Youku. If one were to examine these sites, they are almost carbon copies of the American originals; however users must enter a government ID to create an account. Since these sites are government owned, the Chinese government can track and monitor any individual, as well as delete any unwanted posts or content. Because these sites provide interfaces in Chinese, they are easier to use than U.S.-based sites; while these sites engage in censorship to avoid government sanctions, most users will not notice the censorship until they try to post about sensitive topics (Zuckerman 74). If the only reason for a Chinese Internet user to seek out content from a banned site is political, it is much easier for an authoritarian regime to justify Internet censorship.

While China is easily the world leader in Internet censorship technology and practice, Iran originally held a much more open policy. For example, Iran was the second country in the Middle East, after Israel, to gain access to the Internet (Rahimi 102). According to Babak Rahimi, the author of “Ciberdissident: the Internet in Revolutionary Iran”, Internet use in Iran was first promoted by the government to provide an alternative means of scientific and technological advancement during the troubled economic period that followed the Iran-Iraq War (102). Contrary to expectations at the time, the Islamic Republic originally welcomed the Internet by allowing commercial and educational sectors to access it without interference. Whereas in China, Internet technology was largely developed by the state in the form of an intra-governmental communications network, Iran’s first experience with the Internet occurred within the university system (Rahimi 102). Between the academic sector and the help of ISPs, commercial industries in Iran have maintained an active presence on the Net (Rahimi 203). For example, the rapid growth of the Internet in the commercial sphere has contributed to the development of entrepreneurship and an increased middle class by providing an opportunity to invest in domestic markets (Rahimi 103).

For most of its short history in Iran, the Internet has been free of control and regulation. Unlike other Middle Eastern states, such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Iran has encouraged the expansion of the Internet, and the state has actively participated in its development (Rahimi 105). According to Rahimi, there were several reasons for the absence of Internet control under Rafasanjani’s regime. The most basic reason is that the Iranian government simply has been unable to overcome the technical challenges involved; Iran is far behind China’s advanced technological censorship infrastructure. Secondly, the economic benefits, in tandem with the continuing privatization schemes encouraged by the government have remained a major factor contributing to the state’s reluctance to control the Internet (Rahimi 104). Rahimi also argues that, “In an attempt to alleviate political pressure while projecting an aura of ‘modernization’ and engagement with advancing global technology, both reformists and some conservative authorities have hailed the internet as an innovate medium to promote the Islamic Republic” (Rahimi 104).

In contrast to many other Islamic nations, the Internet is widely popular in Iran. Internet access, particularly in Tehran, has developed to a level of sophistication that exceeds that of some European nations. For example, Rahimi states that ParsOnline, one of the biggest Internet service providers in Iran, recently offered Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL) connections at 2 megabits per second, four times faster than that available to users in the United Kingdom (Rahimi 103). The Internet’s popularity has surpassed the initial expectations of IPM, Iran’s main academic service provider, who initially treated the Internet merely as a medium to exchange scientific ideas within the inter- university system. The situation was similar to the United States in the 1960s and early 1970s, when the U.S. Department of Defense and academic institutions placed computers in the exclusive hands of experts (Rahimi 103). However, within just a decade, the community of Internet users in Iran has enlarged beyond a small number of specialists within academic institutions and spread to the public.

One of the main contributions to this technological boom is Iran’s exponentially increasing youth population. Iran’s population has increased tremendously since the end of the Iran-Iraq war, and it is believed that currently more than 70 percent of Iran’s population was born after the 1979 revolution. While in most countries it has been the youth that has led the Internet revolution, no industrialized country has a demographic structure where the youth are so disproportionate to the rest of the population (Rahimi 104). By 2001, Tehran alone boasted 1,500 Internet cafes, making Iran one of the leading countries in the Middle East in terms of the number of Internet cafes per major metropolitan area (Rahimi 104). However, this growth in Internet access is not limited to the cities. As former university students return to their villages from urban universities, many introduce their rural families and friends to the Internet and it’s capabilities. In doing so, the rural areas have become exposed to the outside world to a degree that was previously inconceivable. It is this phenomenon in particular that has made the Internet revolution reach far wider and deeper than would otherwise be expected (Rahimi 104).

While Iran did not originally practice Internet censorship, political strife and discontent has lead Iran to employ many of the policies seen in China. During the revolutionary era, the Islamic Republic was greatly aided by the mass media. The use of audiotapes and short-wave radios were particularly effective at spreading the words of Ayatollah Khomeini, and were a major factor in the revolution’s success. The tapes both encouraged the propagation of the Shi‘a ideology that was the backbone of the revolutionary spirit during that era, and assisted political activists on the grassroots level, as young Iranians listened, recorded, and disseminated the tapes to their fellow revolutionaries to encourage dissent against the Shah’s regime (Rahimi 106). With the arrival of the Internet, dissidents can spread ideology and information with the click of a mouse; therefore, it is very easy for current dissidents to employ the same strategy that the current Islamic government used to come into power. This fear of another revolution in Iran has caused the Iranian government to employ many of the techniques used in China.

After the revolution of 1979, Iran has institutionalized two distinct categories of political authority: one being the elected Majlis (parliament) and the presidency; the other, an appointed branch whose main component is the clerical office of Velayat-e Faqih, a deputy claiming to represent the Hidden Mahdi, the Twelfth Imam of the Shi’a religion. In this system, the elected branch, and secular authority is subordinate to the appointed clerical elite, who claim to represent the ultimate source of authority (Rahimi 107). It was not until 1997 that the Internet began to emerge as a political threat to the regime, as Muhammad Khatami won over 70 percent of the votes in the race for president (Rahimi 106). Since then, many political dissidents have used Internet freedom of speech to advocate for policy and regime change. The protests during the summer of 1999 by Iranian students, exemplify the growing wave of popular discontent with the authorities. With the majority of the population backing the students and reform-minded intellectuals, the reformist movement, known as the May 23rd movement, created a distinct period in the history of revolutionary Iran, with the potential to undermine the authoritarian features of the Islamic Republic and replace it with a democratic one (Rahimi 107).

The fact that the Internet has been free of control for most of its development in Iran has given it a unique role in the current political situation. It has provided an alternative platform for which the reformist movement can challenge the government. While politics and freedom of speech are very constrained in Iran, the Internet has opened a new domestic arena of contestation, accommodating numerous dissident groups (Rahimi 107-108). The Internet has also become a powerful tool for grassroots democracy advocates, which have become synonymous with the Iranian student movement. During the summer of 1999, the internet played an important role in the uprising in which Iranian students mobilized against the conservatives in chat rooms, organized meetings, interacted and communicated electronically, as the state continued to close down public places of political interaction online (Rahimi 108).

Even with the adaptation of Internet censorship, many dissidents are easily able to circumvent limited government technology. In the more recent Green Revolution, in 2009, activists used every possible technological coordinating tool to protest the miscount of votes for Mir Hossein Mousavi, but were ultimately dismantled by a violent government response (Shirky 29). According to Shirky, the One Million Signatures Campaign, an Iranian women’s rights movement that focuses on the repeal of laws inimical to women, has been more successful in liberalizing the behavior of the Iranian government than the more confrontational Green Movement (Shirky 35). The use of the Internet allows these women to act within a political sphere that would not have been otherwise available.

It was not until 2003 that the Iranian government produced any systematic strategy to block Internet websites or filter content (Rahimi 104). However, the rapidly changing technology and advance of Social Media, has inhibited the government’s ability to censor accurately. Gregory Starrett, author of “Islam in the Digital Age: E-Jihad, Online Fatwas, and Cyber Islamic Environments”, suggests that a substantial number of Muslims use the Internet as a propagation and networking tool, to communicate and to conduct research; For some, it is an important way to bypass state censorship and access other media. He states that, “The Internet is used to disseminate and obtain decisions and points of interpretation on current events, and, for some individuals who are relatively unknown or treated as pariahs locally, to achieve fame in the larger ummah” (Starrett 97). In addition, Rahimi suggests that the expansion of the Internet amidst the ongoing conflict between reformist and conservative factions in Iran indicates its growing importance in Iranian politics. It has also demonstrated the Internet’s impact on the everyday life of the Iranian public, a phenomenon that could hasten the realization of democratic rule (Rahimi 101).

In addition to political dissidence, Iran has used the Internet to challenge Islamic social control. For example, the rise of “coffee-nets” have become an inexpensive way for the young to converse online, challenge the Islamic government and its oppressive imposition of moral guidelines for the separation of the sexes in everyday public places. Another related phenomenon is the 20,000 active internet sites and weblogs, online journals in which Iranians meet to chat about the latest news in their personal lives, politics, or sports; which enables young Iranians to express themselves freely and anonymously on various subjects (Rahimi 104). One of the most famous blogs is a former prostitute’s weblog, which details the underworld life of Iranian society. This blog demonstrates how Iranians are defying the moral code imposed by the Islamic government; these intimate online diaries offer insight into the lives of Iranian youth who have grown up under strict Islamic laws (Rahimi 104). In this way, the Internet has given a voice to many people, specifically women, who are constrained in everyday society by an Islamic moral code. Although Internet access providers are responsible for preventing access to “immoral” and anti-government sites, these legal constraints are difficult to implement. Many Iranian ISPs have operated relatively freely, at times even openly defying the state by offering “uncensored” or unfiltered services to the public (Rahimi 104).

With political dissent on the rise, Iran has been working tirelessly to implement an effective censorship system akin to its control of media and journalism. The implementation of broad censorship has been most evident since the 6th parliamentarian election in March 2000, when the conservatives launched a series of repressive measures targeting the reformist-dominated press. The conservatives banned news agencies and imprisoned some of those agencies’ leaders. The targeting of the reformist press generated resentment between the political factions within the state institutions, such as between the parliament and the Assembly of Experts, an Islamic branch that monitors and appoints the supreme leader (Rahimi 107). Since late 2001, the conservatives have worked to restrict Internet use in the same way that they have attempted to control satellite television. According to Rahimi, their aim is “not only to blot out the ‘immoral’ sites, transmitted from the West, but also political websites critical of the state” (109). On November 7, 2001, the Supreme Council for Cultural Revolution, a conservative dominated body, declared that ISPs must remove anti-government and “anti-Islamic” sites from their servers, and that all Internet service providers should be placed under state control (Rahimi 109). A year later, the supreme council ordered a new commission to create a list of illegal sites. At the same time, the Judiciary chief, Ayatollah Shahroudi, called for the “establishment of a special committee for legal investigation of internet-related crimes and offenses,” and proposed the creation of a new legal office to deal especially with Internet offenses (Rahimi 109).

With more journalists in prison and more newspapers banned than any other Islamic Middle Eastern country, Iran now leads in Middle Eastern censorship (Rahimi 110). Unlike other media forms, however, regulating the Internet is much more difficult. With some Iranian ISPs based outside of Iran, the clerical regime must employ Chinese tactics of creating its own social media cites that it can control. According to Sara Reardon, author of “Iran’s Halal Internet”, Iranian officials have talked about creating a “halal” Internet, a religiously acceptable internal network isolated from the World Wide Web. Its purpose, they claim, would be to provide national cybersecurity and promote Islamic moral values (Reardon 21). In this way, Iran’s Halal Internet would model China’s dual tier Internet. Reardon states, “The internal network will contain Iran-specific content and own-brand versions of popular services – a generic Facebook, say. The government would then throttle connections to outside networks […] rendering them unusably slow, forcing everyone onto the national network” (Reardon 21). Therefore, Iran will attempt to create an exact replica of China’s leading Internet censorship system. Comparing today’s Iran with the Iran of the nineteen nineties, this increased level of censorship is shocking. In this time period, the regime and religious beliefs have stayed constant; therefore, one can only assume that it is fear of political dissidence that has created this “internet crackdown”.

While Iran is working to create a national Halal Internet system, it still pales in comparison to China’s Internet control. Last year Iran shut down Google services, including Gmail, in response to an anti-Islam YouTube video that has caused violent protests. When ordinary citizens could not access services they had come to rely on, they protested until the government relented and restored Gmail. To prevent such a backlash in the future, Iran would have to provide an alternative email system that can rival Gmail (Reardon 21). Trade embargoes have also made it difficult for Iran to import electronics, especially devices that can track or spy on people; However, Chinese firms have recently begun to sell this equipment to Iran (Reardon 21). While many Chinese citizens are unaware of Virtual Private Networks, VPN’s are common knowledge in Iranian society; Therefore, Iran will need to develop technology to block access to VPN sites (Reardon 21).

Iran’s desire to model its Internet censorship after China, has also given Iran similar legitimacy problems to those seen in China today. When oppressive regimes shut down popular sites like Facebook and YouTube, it can hinder political protests, but also alerts ordinary citizens to censorship they may otherwise not have noticed (Reardon 21). Ethan Zuckerburg calls this the “Cute Cat Theory” of Internet censorship, in which specific tools designed to defeat state censorship, such as proxy servers, can be shut down with little political penalty, but broader tools that the larger population uses to, for example, share pictures of cute cats, are much harder to shut down” (Shirky 37). This “Cute Cat Theory” can easily be seen in China, in which all young Chinese citizens are aware that they are not able to access Facebook, Youtube and Twitter, and believe this level of censorship is unfair. While they are somewhat content with the Chinese equivalents, the idea that the international version has been taken from them creates a crisis of legitimacy for the government. The condition of shared awareness creates what is commonly called “the dictator’s dilemma”; in which increased globalization forces a state accustomed to having a monopoly on public speech to account for anomalies between its view of events and the public’s (Shirky 36). Shirky also argues that if a government were to shut down Internet access or ban cell phones, it would risk radicalizing otherwise pro-regime citizens or harming the economy (37).

Authoritarian governments stifle communication among their citizens because they fear, correctly, that a better-coordinated populace would constrain their ability to act without oversight. However, the “Cute Cat Theory” and “dictator’s dilemma” are prime examples of how censorship can cause increased political strife. When the government of Bahrain banned Google Earth after an annotated map of the royal family’s annexation of public land began circulating, the effect was to alert far more Bahrainis to the offending map than knew about it originally (Shirky 39).

Similarly, many scholars and activists agree that the Chinese government today is in more danger of being forced to adopt democratic norms by middle-class members of the ethnic Han majority demanding less corrupt local governments than it is by Uighurs or Tibetans demanding autonomy (Shirky 35). For example, the Chinese anticorruption protesters of the devastating May 2008 earthquake in Sichuan were parents, particularly mothers, who had lost their only children in the collapse of shoddily built schools, the result of collusion between construction firms and the local government. Before the earthquake, corruption in the country’s construction industry was an open secret. But when the schools collapsed, citizens began sharing documentation of the damage and of their protests through social media tools (Shirky 36). The Chinese government originally allowed reporting of the post-earthquake protests, but abruptly began censoring the protests when it became clear that the protesters were demanding real local reform and not merely state reparations. According to Shirky,

“From the government’s perspective, the threat was not that citizens were aware of the corruption, which the state could do nothing about in the short run. Beijing was afraid of the possible effects if this awareness became shared: it would have to either enact reforms or respond in a way that would alarm more citizens. After all, the prevalence of camera phones has made it harder to carry out a widespread but undocumented crackdown” (Shirky 36).

If Iran continues to follow in the footsteps of China, the Islamic leadership may face an increased crisis of legitimacy.

Overall, it is overtly apparent that Iran’s censorship of the Internet is political, rather than religious. While implemented by an Islamic government, both Iran and China, censor the same types of information. Even content centered gambling and prostitution, seemingly religious, is also censored in China, where the majority of citizens are agnostic or atheist. By specifically targeting dissident movements and reformist journalists, the political nature of Iran’s censorship is apparent to Iran’s citizens, creating a “crisis of legitimacy” for Islamic Iranian leaders, and a call for democracy in Iran. Because of this, it is important that when discussing censorship, Islamic and secular countries both be included in the academic discussion, otherwise, it is far to easy to miss important similarities that may define the overall nature and origin of the motives for censorship. If Western nations wish to help promote democracy in countries such as Iran, it is pertinent that they not only examine the situation of censorship through a religious lens, but a “realist” power ploy perspective as well.

Works Cited

1. Ethan Zuckerman, “Intermediary Censorship,” in Access Controlled: The Shaping of

Power, Rights, and Rule in Cyberspace, ed. (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2010) 71. Print

2. Rahimi, Babak. “Cyberdissent: the Internet in Revolutionary Iran.” Middle East 7.3

(2003): 102.

3. Reardon, Sara. “Inside Iran’s “halal” internet.” New Scientist 216.2886 (2012): 21.

4. Shirky, Clay. “Political Power of Social Media-Technology, the Public Sphere

Sphere, and Political Change, The.” Foreign Aff. 90 (2011): 28. Print.

5. Starrett, Gregory. “, :Islam in the Digital Age: E‐Jihad, Online Fatwas, and Cyber

Islamic Environments.” History of Religions 46.3 (2007): 268. Print

6. Stevenson, Christopher. “Breaching the Great Firewall: China’s Internet

Censorship and the Quest for Freedom of Expression in a Connected World.” Boston College International and Comparative Law Review (2007): 531. Print.

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My Husband Won’t Let Me Eat Ice Cream

Last Tuesday I acquired a Chinese husband…. just kidding.

Last Tuesday morning I received a text from Lora, “All the English teachers will have buffet this evening. Would you wait at the school gate at 4:30pm?” Okay? Thanks for the couple-hour heads up Lora.

In the afternoon while I was skyping my parents I got another text. “We may start a little earlier for it is rush hour. Can you come to the office at about 4:00. Miss Lin the teacher sitting in your row will drive you to buffet.” 20 minutes later, before I could even respond , I got another text. “Sorry Mr. Wang will drive you because Miss Lin decided not to drive there.” Couldn’t she have just told me when I was in the office? Does it matter who drives me? Apparently it’s a huge deal.

Eventually at 4:00 we all left for the restaurant and, as promised, Mr. Wang drove me, along with another teacher Catherine. As we approached the restaurant Catherine said “I wonder if there’s ice cream here?! My husband won’t let me eat it at home so I have to sneak it”.

“What?!” I exclaimed. “Why??”

At first I thought that she would say it had something to do with him not wanting her to gain weight, but her answer surprised me. “The cold foods are bad for a baby”.

Of course, the “baby”, or should I say lack of baby. Catherine told me earlier this year that she was only teaching one class because she had an “abortion” over the summer. Eventually I found out that she meant was miscarriage. It was a bit awkward having that conversation the first time I actually hung out with her, but I find Catherine pretty relatable because she’s one of the only female English teachers that doesn’t have kids, and her English is pretty good.

Now about this ice cream situation; Chinese people believe that cold stuff is bad for you. They only drink warm water and will not let you touch anything cold if you’ve been sick. While I’ve gotten used to, and actually enjoy warm water, sometimes I think they take this “cold” thing too far. 

“Not only will they not let me eat ice cream” she said, “My mother-in-law won’t even let me eat crabs!!”. While that might seem weird to you guys back home, crab is a big deal in Ningbo. “They even make me eat the medicine to help me have a baby.”

As the conversation continued, Catherine explained that she was under a lot of pressure to pop out a baby for her family, mainly her husband’s family. With the One Child Policy, she is their only hope for a grandchild. While I know that if for some reason I can’t have kids there’s always modern medicine or adoption, I know that it’s much less common in China.

While I feel really bad for Catherine and the intense amount of pressure she’s under, I felt much better after watching her stuff her face with crab and ice cream at the buffet. You go girl. Eat what you want.

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Celebrating the New Year in Beijing

My first full day in Beijing, I woke up, dragged myself to Miller and Valya’s hostel and drank their tea while I waited for them to finish getting ready. We grabbed an early lunch at a small restaurant near the hostel, and it really reminded me how much I miss Beijing’s hearty food after eating Ningbo’s seafood and cafeteria slop day in and day out.

DSC_0242After lunch the three of us headed to the Temple of Heaven, which I had previously visited when I studied abroad in Beijing two years ago. It was fun to show them one of my favorite tourist sites in Beijing, and get some good pictures with my DSLR. I really like the Temple of Heaven because it’s very well maintained, unlike a lot of other historical sites such as the Forbidden City, I also love the bright colors and interesting architecture of the temple buildings. Finally, a lot of locals like to visit the Temple of Heaven to dance, sing, practice Tai Chi or play with their grandbabies, so there’s a lot of good people watching. While we were there, we spotted a woman teaching an older man how to Egyptian dance. Of course I joined in!

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That evening we went to the Silk Market because Miller and Valya had previously bought clothing to be tailor-made, and needed fittings. I decided to create my own custom blazer to go with my two black pencil skirts. After almost an hour of casually bargaining, I spent about 415 kuai, or $68. It was a very nice fabric, and I even got it lined with a beautiful, deep red, detailed Chinese fabric, so if I roll the cuffs the red peeks out. While at the silk market I couldn’t resist getting a few silk scarves. I had previously bought silk scarves for my mom and I on Taobao (Chinese Ebay), but these were much better quality. I managed to get the first, a bright red scarf, for 60 kuai ($10). At a second shop I bought the same scarf in a different pattern/color, as well as a thicker scarf lined with cashmere for 150 kuai total. I basically stole them from her.

The nice thing about hanging around a bargaining market for so long is that people see how well you bargain, and don’t waste their time with high prices on you when they know you know how much the item really costs.

After the Silk Market we took the subway all the way to Wudaokou, where I lived this summer. I took them to La Bamba, one of my favorite restaurants in the area, to get burritos for dinner. I also had a special card that got us rail drinks for 10 kuai ($1.60) after 10pm. Afterwards I took them to my favorite bar/club in Wudaokou called Sensation, for ladies night where Valya and I got three free drinks each (we shared with Miller). We spent a while dancing and making fools of ourselves with random Chinese people, but headed home early because we were exhausted from the day.

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Tiananmen

Tiananmen

The next few days we visited a few other sites around Beijing: Tiananmen Square, Sanlitun Villiage and a hutong neighborhood. Hutongs are Beijing’s traditional housing, which consist of a courtyard surrounded by a few small houses. In the past, most families fit the entire family in one small house that is probably about the size of my dorm room Freshman year of college. If they had a large extended family, each nuclear family would live in one small house.

Currently, the hutongs are still inhabited by Beijingers, most of which are poor. The housing is subsidized by the government, and most of the hutongs aren’t very well-kept. Hutong houses also don’t have bathrooms, so residents must use the public bathrooms DSC_0525off the main alley roads. In the past, Beijing was entirely made up of hutongs, but when Mao came into power he had most of them torn down. Now only a few neighborhoods remain. Some are protected by the government, but more and more hutong neighborhoods are being torn down every year. I had previously visited the Houhai hutongs when I studied abroad, but we decided to visit a different hutong neighborhood I had never explored. The hutongs consist of one extremely crowded street full of food stalls and small shops, while the real houses are located on the side alleys. While I had been to the touristy street earlier this summer, I never explored the alleys in this area. If you want to explore you can either wander the alleys on foot where you’ll find hidden coffee shop gems and small markets, or you can pay for a rickshaw ride, where you can see a vast area in a short about of time, and take a bunch of pictures. Exhausted, we opted for the rickshaw ride, and I got plenty of good photos on our hour-long tour.

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Overall I had a great time in Beijing. It was a much-needed vacation after a terrible month. In a few days I’ll be heading off to Vietnam and Malaysia for the Lunar New Year! The only things standing between me and my trip are 900 students to grade. I feel like a college professor in desperate need of a TA.

To see all my photos from Beijing click HERE!!!!!

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20 Things That Change After Living in China

This post is from a blog Wander Onwards by a girl about my age living in China named Vanessa. Her blog became wildly popular after she wrote a controversial post titled 23 Things to do Instead of Getting Engaged at 23, that circled around Facebook and was even featured on the Huffington Post. A lot of her posts are pretty funny, and one of my favorites is a buzzfeed-esque article called 20 Things that Change After Living in China. I can relate to pretty much all of these things, so definitely check it out for a good laugh.

20 Things That Change After Living in China

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My Spontaneous New Years Trip

This year, the Chinese government gave everyone Wednesday January 1st off for the Western New Year. Since I work at a boarding school, the administration wanted to give the students Thursday and Friday off as well, so that they could go home to their families. But, since I also work at a public school, we’re required to follow the government holiday schedule. To make up the difference, we had classes the weekend before the New Year to make up for taking Thursday and Friday off. Since I had been in the hospital, the school didn’t make me teach, thank god- not that I could have done anything besides show a movie anyway because I had also completely lost my voice.

The only problem with my holiday? No one else had one. While I’ve traveled by myself twice (once to Guangzhou this summer and once to Hong Kong for my visa in September), I don’t really like it. Some people really enjoy traveling by themselves because they can do whatever they want, go wherever they want and see whatever they want to see. I think traveling by myself is fine. It kind of makes me feel like I live in that place, which is an interesting feeling. But because of my location, I’m already always by myself anyway. I live by myself, I eat most meals by myself, I go grocery shopping by myself, I watch movies by myself, I wander around the city by myself, I take long cab and bus rides with myself- I’m ALWAYS by myself. After a rough month of missing Christmas and getting food poisoning, I needed a vacation. So where to go?

My first thought was Nanjing. It’s only a $30, 2 hour train ride away. I have a friend studying in Nanjing, and a few AYC acquaintances, so I got in touch with everyone I knew to see if they wanted to hang out. My friend studying in Nanjing was in the middle of studying for his finals, my orientation AYC friend was traveling, and I never heard back from my other acquaintance friend (his VPN was broken so he couldn’t see my Facebook message). Awesome, so I can go to Nanjing and maybe have someone to meet up with.

Tuesday afternoon after the Talent Show, I was trying to figure out what to do. I was still feeling a little sick, so I figured I would rest on Wednesday and leave for Nanjing on Thursday. Then suddenly I got a text from my orientation friend Miller who is in Hebei province. He and Valya, the other foreign teacher at his school, were staying in Beijing  the week. Since they work at a college, they had already finished classes for the semester and were staking it out in Beijing to avoid the horrible administration that was purposely making their lives a living hell because Miller decided to leave a semester early and go back to America.

The two of them texted me and urged me to come to Beijing and show them around. I felt conflicted. I’ve lived in Beijing twice, and it’s a very long and expensive train ride to get all the way up north… But after a horrible month, a fun weekend with friends was exactly what I needed.

I’ve been in a rut in Ningbo. I live in the middle of nowhere, and it’s such a hassle to meet up with friends. I also feel like because I live so far away, most people have bonded with the other AYC teachers near them, and I’m stuck in the middle. It’s always a giant ordeal every time I want to go anywhere, and whenever I meet up with the other AYC teachers in the city or in Beilun I can’t help but let my jealousy overshadow the fun I’m having. I hate being that “Why me??” person. I try to remind myself how much I’ve grown this year, but it’s been really hard. I don’t want to feel angry and jealous every time I visit my friends, and I didn’t come all the way to China to sit in my room and watch TV on my computer every night because there’s nothing else to do near me. I needed a vacation. I needed to remind myself of how much I love China, and that I can easily get a job in Beijing and be happy next year. I needed to take a trip to my “China home”.

The next morning I woke up at 9am, slightly hung over from my one large draft beer. I guess food poisoning will do that to you. I hung up the socks I had washed the night before at 2am (because I realized I would have no socks for Beijing) and went back to bed for another hour. Around 10:30, I forced myself out of bed and started packing for five days in Beijing. I grabbed my Rick Steves Travel backpack and stuffed all of my students’ scripts (for their final exam skits) into a tote bag. The goal was to get on the last train at 2:45 to Beijing. It was a 7-hour train and would get in around 9:30.

I left a little before noon and hailed a taxi with people already inside (it’s illegal but it’s impossible to find cabs on my street when you need them). After dropping the other people off, the cab driver headed in the direction of the train station. As we approached the station, I started to grab my backpack… but the cab driver drove right past the street. What?!!

“Isn’t the train station back there??”, I asked the cab driver.

“You want to go to Ningbo South Train Station right??” he asked.

“No? The train station is called Ningbo East Train Station. You aren’t thinking of the bus station are you? I want to go to the train station.”

“Yes, Ningbo South Train Station.”

“No… There’s only one train station in Ningbo and it’s called Ningbo East Train Station… It’s back that way.”

“No, no, no! There is no train station back there.”

What? I’d been to that train station multiple times. Where was he taking me??! I decided to call Lynn.

“Lynn! I’m with the taxi driver going to the train station but he keeps saying he’s taking me to the Ningbo South Train Station? I want to go to the Ningbo East Train Station??”

“Oh!” She exclaimed. “We have a new train station now, it opened this week.”

What?. Really, China??!

Ningbo South Train Station was much further away than I expected, and I started to worry I wouldn’t get a ticket. So much for being close to the train station… Now I’m officially far away from everything. Thanks Ningbo, thank you so much.

Eventually we got to the train station and it was very fancy! Not only was spotless and 10X the size of the old train station, it was also much more organized. Our old train station was a dump. It was way too small, and barely had enough seats for half the people there. The floor was dirty, stained concrete and the smell of the bathrooms wafted into the main room. There was A McDonald’s and a small convenience store. The new train station had multiple restaurants and shops and was sparkling clean… although they didn’t sell ramen, which was frustrating.. so I grabbed a muffin, potato chips and a large yogurt for dinner.

Getting a ticket was extremely stressful. I stood in line for almost an hour. At first I realized that the line next to mine was a whole line of cutters.. as in it was an entire line of people cutting into my line at the front. When the woman in front of me realized  this, she hopped over into a different line and I joined her. A security guard walked around the crowd multiple times and not once did he tell the line of people cutting to disperse. Really? The new train station really needs some metal bars near the front to stop people from cutting in. Eventually I made it to the front and tried to buy my ticket.

“Ticket purchase is downstairs”, the woman said. “This is for people who have bought tickets online”.

What??!! I didn’t even know there was a downstairs. “I’ve been standing in this line for an hour!”, I exclaimed. “Please, my train leaves in an hour and a half, please let me buy a ticket here!!”. She grabbed her manager and the two of them took pity on me and let me buy my ticket. Thank god.

The train ride to Beijing was pretty uneventful. I got on the bullet train that runs from Ningbo to Beijing. Apparently there are two bullet trains: one that goes from Beijing to Shanghai and one that goes from Beijing to Ningbo; This one goes through Hangzhou and skips Shanghai. Good to know. I took the opportunity to get a few snapshots of the scenery out my window before we got to Hangzhou and the entire train filled up. I think I may have been the only person on the entire train that rode the whole way from Ningbo to Beijing, because flying isn’t that much more expensive. Most people either fly from Ningbo or take the train to Hangzhou or Shanghai and fly from there.

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While I was on the train, I called and booked a hostel near the one Miller and Valya were staying at, because their hostel had no room. Like I said, the trip was not planned.

I eventually got into my hostel a little after 10, and spent the evening in Miller and Valya’s hostel across the street, drinking red wine and Chinese tea.

Previously, I would say the most spontaneous thing I’ve ever done was plan a weekend in Shanghai the night before. While I was studying abroad in Xi’an, my friend Margo and I realized that the next weekend would be our last chance to go to Shanghai. The only problem? We were currently on a field study trip in Xinjiang. We literally got home, and in one day we booked a flight and a hostel and left at 6am the next morning.

While that was pretty spontaneous, I think this trip beats my weekend in Shanghai because we at least decided to try to go to Shanghai a few days before our trip while we were in Xinjiang, and then bought our plane tickets and booked our hostel the night before. This time I didn’t decide to head to Beijing until the night before, I didn’t book a train ticket in advance and I booked my hostel a few hours before I showed up.

While I like to consider myself pretty adventurous, I think I tend to have “planned adventures”. I like to map out my travel plans and book everything ahead of time. But every once and a while a little spontaneity is good for you.

Unrelated: Does ANYONE know what these metal spires on top of the houses near Hangzhou are? Literally almost every house has them. TV satellites? Russian-style decorations?

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WHAT ARE THEY??

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Happy New Year!

After my bout of Christmas food poisoning, I started to feel a little better on Monday, so I taught my afternoon classes. While my voice was still pretty much gone, I was at least able to show the first third of Elf, which the students really enjoyed! In the afternoon, I stopped by the office to grab my students’ final exam scripts (I’m making them perform a skit) that they wrote as homework. Immediately, I found myself surrounded by the teachers. “We will do a pull and tug competition. Will you join us??”. I told them I was still feeling pretty weak, but that I would come watch. All of the teachers headed downstairs and outside to the parking lot. We all watched the male teachers battle it out in four groups. Even the principal participated, which I thought was funny.

When it was the women’s turn, I was accosted by a large group of teaches. Apparently one of the teachers on team four was sick and they needed me to participate. I had eaten pretty much nothing for five days, and I was wearing high-heeled boots for our faculty picture, which we had taken earlier that day, but they still forced me to participate. One of the other teachers switched shoes with me, and they stuck me in the front of the line.

Chinese people play tug of war a little differently then we do. They start in a very low, squatted position, and use their body weight to pull backwards. I started in a medium squat and was told by at least eight people that I needed to start lower. But in my opinion, it’s better to start a little higher and then use all of your momentum from your arms and legs to pull backwards into a lower position. Whatever it was, my strategy worked and it was almost too easy for my team to win. All I had to do was pull really hard and within 30 seconds we beat the other teams. We played four rounds in total, each lasting less than a minute. I was congratulated by almost everyone, and the other teams complained that it wasn’t fair, because I was obviously the most athletic person in the competition. There were 16 people on each team, but I may as well have counted for five people… at least. The winners all got prizes which included laundry detergent, toothpaste, hand lotion and small towels. I’m not even halfway through my first thing of laundry detergent, so I sense that it will be gifted to the next foreign teacher.

That night, I met with my Speech and Acting students to practice for their performance. My voice was still gone, so I had to use a microphone to speak to my rowdy students. My class and I decided that we would start off singing to traditional Jingle Bells music, and then we would randomly switch to a catchy, techno version we found on some Chinese music website. I told them that if we did the techno version, we would obviously have to dance. This did not go over well. Most of the students were excited about the upbeat music, but could not do any of the simple dance moves I suggested. It was pitiful. Eventually we decided on the boys waving scarves in the air in a fist pump maneuver, while the girls ran around them in a circle. Then the girls would do a “dosey-do” where they linked arms and skipped in a circle. We practiced for about an hour straight until it was acceptable.

The next day, I skipped my classes at the primary school in the morning because I still had no voice and I was absolutely exhausted from the day before. Around noon, it was time for the New Years performance to start. I arrived just as the talent show was starting, and was given a stool near the front. I was handed a brochure and that’s when I saw my name.

“What is this? I told you guys I lost my voice and can’t sing!” I exclaimed to Lora.

“We think you should have a try”, she said. “The students are very excited to hear you sing.”

“But I physically can’t sing.” I said, “When I try to sing, no sounds come out. I sound like a dying bird”.

No matter how much I tried to convince the other teachers, they didn’t believe me. I had been chugging warm water all day in the hopes that my voice would come back, but as of that morning, I still couldn’t sing.

“Okay give me a minute. Let me try to see how it sounds and I’ll tell you if I can do it or not. If I can’t, I’ll go onstage and dance with my students.”

I ran out of the crowd and into the hallway of the teachers building. I hid myself behind a stairwell and attempted to sing my song “Winter Wonderland”. The low notes were okay, but a few of the higher notes were definitely strained. Since I have a higher-pitched voice, normally the high notes are pretty easy for me, but at that moment I felt like one of those raspy singers that can only sing at low octaves. I decided to give it a go, even though my singing voice was nowhere near what I would deem acceptable for me to get up and sing in front of the entire school.

Soon it was time for my Speech and Acting students to perform. Due to the urging of my students, I finally agreed to get onstage and dance with them during the techno Jingle Bells, so I patiently waited on the side of the stage. The students started their song, and to be honest, no one was really paying attention, but when techno Jingle Bells started and I ran onstage, the crowd went WILD. The students screamed “WHOAH!!!!” and whipped out their cameras. What can I say? I’m always down for a dance performance.

After I ran offstage, I took a second to calm my breath and take a few sips of water before I had to sing. Oh man… I would be lying if I said I wasn’t freaking out about my half-lost voice. When I walked back on stage the crowd went wild, and all of the teachers had their phones out to record my song. Oh Jeez! I started singing and it was.. okay. I had the raspy thing going for me, but the higher notes were pretty strained. Thank god I had decided not to use music, because I was able to sing my song a half-octave lower than normal. After I finished, the students burst into applause and cheered as I walked off stage.

Some of my students after our Jingle Bells performance

Some of my students after our Jingle Bells performance

Afterwards everyone congratulated me on my beautiful song. “Well… If you say so”, I thought. Personally, if they liked my singing they probably have pretty low standards. I really wished my voice had returned though, because then my song may have been decent. Well.. there’s always next time, and knowing my school there will be a next time.

As a “thank you” for singing, the school gave me two giant bottles of olive oil. I’m excited to try them out once I finish off my giant container of Chinese cooking oil! Maybe the olive oil will be bit healthier.

One interesting thing I noticed about the talent show, was that it was almost entirely singing performances. There was one or two musical instrument performances, but the stars were all singers. The only exception was our school’s Gymnastics Team (which should be called the dance team), who are an award-winning group. The school is even building a dance studio on our campus for them to practice! Apparently their coach went to the PE college in Beijing, which is apparently a huge deal. They told me that maybe I can do a ballroom dance performance with him at the end of the year talent show. We’ll see how that goes. They’ll probably just make me sing again.

IMG_4931After the talent show, I hopped on the bus and headed down to the city to grab dinner and celebrate the New Year with my other AYC friends. A few of us went to a Korean restaurant and had Korean BBQ. It was my first REAL (non-packaged) meal since I got sick, so I was really excited. I’m sure all of the pork was much-needed protein for me. After dinner we headed to Laowaitan to find a bar and celebrate the New Year. On the way, we came across a bunch of people releasing lanterns. While this is normally reserved for the Chinese New Year, a bunch of people decided to do it for the Western New Year as well.

We stopped for a minute and watched people light them, and I decided I could not waste this opportunity. I found a man selling the lanterns and bought one of myself. The idea is that the lantern represents your hopes and dreams for the new year, and you’re sending your wishes into the sky. The group of us set it up and borrowed a lighter from a friendly Chinese couple. After a few minutes it was ready, and we released it into the sky! One of my friends took a video, but I can’t figure out how to get it off of Facebook, so I’ll work on that for you all.

The lantern rose into the sky very quickly and we watched until we couldn’t see it anymore. I’m glad my hopes and dreams didn’t crash into a tree and burn up, like some of the other people’s’.

After saying goodbye to my lantern, we walked the rest of the way to Laowaitan and met up with the Beilun teachers at a new bar that had just opened the week before. It was owned by a few foreigners and it was packed with older expats. They were having a drink special, $15 for all you can drink beer and rail drinks. I was one of the only people that didn’t participate because I didn’t want to push it after my food poisoning, but I was a little sad to miss out on the red champagne they served at midnight for everyone with the drink special. At least I got a sip.

That night the Beilun teachers invited three other expats teaching English that they met living in Beilun. A part of me was very excited to meet more people, but another part of me was extremely jealous because it’s impossible to meet any expats where I live. I had a great time nonetheless, and I even stole a pink light-up bow headband for part of the night.

Photo from Sam

Photo stolen from Sam

Overall, it was definitely necessary to have a good night after my horrible week of food poisoning. I’m really glad that I was well enough to go out and see everyone, and I even made it past midnight, which I wasn’t expecting. Finding a cab home was pretty rough though, and it was a bit awkward arriving back at my school after 2am… but the security guard was very nice about it. It’s New Years, and it’s not like I was waking anyone up since I was literally the ONLY person at the school anyway.

Next post: OFFICIALLY the most spontaneous thing I’ve ever done in my life.

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