and Promote Democracy in China

One of the causes closest to Danielle’s heart is promoting freedom and democracy in the People’s Republic of China. She recognizes that the communist government is restricting the freedom of its 1.3 billion citizens and makes up her mind to create positive change. You can do the same. Even if you’re not elected president of China like fifteen-year-old Danielle, you can still have a meaningful impact on the lives of the Chinese people.

Like all activism, it’s important to educate yourself about the issues. With a curious mind and an Internet connection, you can learn a lot about the human rights situation in China, and discover the specific ways that people there need your help.

Here are some helpful resources to expand your knowledge and point you toward deeper learning:

Because the great majority of Chinese people do not speak English, Danielle learns Mandarin to be able to connect with them directly. If you put in the effort to learn Mandarin (or another Chinese language) yourself, you’ll be able to not only communicate with Chinese people, but also understand Chinese culture more deeply.

Your best options for learning Mandarin include:

  • Immersion programs. The most effective way to learn a new language is to put yourself in an environment where it’s all around you. There are opportunities for students of all ages to travel to China and learn Chinese by immersion with native speakers. For example, the China Institute runs programs 6 for high school students to spend a summer learning Mandarin and staying with a Chinese host family. If some of your school friends are also interested in studying Mandarin, the institute can also work with your school to organize 7 a special trip for you and your classmates.
  • Online courses. Maybe you don’t have the time or money to travel to China for an immersion program, or your parents say you’re not ready to go. Luckily, there are many courses you can take for free online, and allow you to study Mandarin at your own pace:
  • ChinesePod 8 is a language-learning platform that’s designed for mobile devices, and focuses on learning words and phrases that will be useful in conversation right away. ChinesePod has thousands of self-contained lessons that you can study in whatever order you like. If you’re too busy with school and other commitments to take a more formal course, you can probably find a few minutes a day to use ChinesePod on your phone or tablet while you’re waiting in line, riding in the car, or eating lunch. For a monthly fee, you can also work 1-on-1 with a Chinese tutor.
  • Coursera offers a great 6-hour Mandarin 9 course for beginners that can teach you the basics and get you ready for more advanced courses later. This is much like the start of an introductory Chinese course you could take at college.
  • Chinese Learn Online10 is a system designed to take you from a beginner all the way up to a fluent speaker. In contrast to the self-contained lessons of ChinesePod, Chinese Learn Online uses progressive lessons, which you study in sequence and which build on each other to help you develop a deep mastery of Mandarin.
  • Beijing Language and Cultural University11 offers formal Mandarin courses with 1-on-1 personalized instruction. These courses are not free, but are pretty affordable, and can give you the feedback you need to perfect your pronunciation and command of the language.
  • Rosetta Stone. One of the world’s most popular and trusted language-learning systems is available as easy-to-access software lessons.12 They’re one of the more expensive options for learning Mandarin, but you can download a free trial to see if it’s a good fit before you commit to paying for it.
  • Local Classes. Many community colleges now offer Mandarin classes, taught by experienced language teachers. These are sometimes free, and or usually have very low prices. They often allow curious and motivated students in high school, or even younger, to enroll. A growing number of cities also have classes or camps, such as these in New York13 just for kids who want to learn Mandarin.

The Communist Party of China gets much of its power by shaping and censoring the information that citizens can access. Journalists in China face strict censorship, and government-run news agencies put out propaganda designed to make the leaders look good and hide their failures from the public. As a result, many people there don’t fully understand how the government is limiting their freedoms or what democracy is like in Europe or the United States.

There is an unwritten, and largely unspoken, covenant between the communist-controlled government and the people that the government will provide economic growth and the people will essentially stay out of politics. The government has indeed provided enormous economic growth, so this pact has worked for the most part. Many observers, including this author, believe, however, that in order for economic growth to continue at the same rate as in recent decades, there will need to be a liberalization of access to information and democratic decision making.

Although the government mostly blocks Internet access to Facebook, Twitter, and Google, there are other ways you can form relationships with Chinese people. By making these direct contacts, you can be an independent source of information.

Some of the best ways to communicate directly with Chinese people include:

  • Travel to China. The best way to meet Chinese people and form lasting relationships with them is to travel to China. If your family goes to China for a vacation, try to learn some Mandarin beforehand so you can start conversations with people outside the major hotels and tourist areas. An even better opportunity for connecting with Chinese people is to participate in educational programs like the China Institute.14 There, you not only meet Chinese students your own age, but stay with a host family. These often become lifelong friendships. The goal is not to directly proselytize in China, but, hopefully, as more Chinese citizens see the freedoms enjoyed by other countries, they will encourage change from within.
  • WeChat. The most popular messaging service in China is an app called WeChat.15 It isn’t very good for meeting strangers, but if you get to know some people while you’re in China, it’s a great way to have conversations with them after you come home. Additionally, they can introduce you to their own friends via WeChat, and you can get a wider range of contacts that way.
  • Matching Services. Decades ago, pen pal services connected students in different countries so they could exchange letters by snail-mail. Today, sites like ConversationExchange.com16 pair you up with Chinese people for conversations via email, text chat, audio, or video. You can find lots of partners this way, and talk to people of diverse ages, genders, and geographic locations in China.

When you’re talking with people who live in the People’s Republic of China, you don’t need to criticize their government to promote democracy. In fact, such direct criticism would probably make them feel uncomfortable, and might get you in trouble. Instead, you can best promote democracy just by forming an honest human connection with them. As they learn more about your life and the political freedoms that you have, they may start to see through their government’s propaganda, and ultimately start demanding political change.

It’s hard for any one person to match Danielle’s change-making powers as a superheroine, but groups of people working together can amplify their impact. Several organizations work tirelessly to document and expose human rights violations in China and to promote freedom and democracy. If you support these groups and encourage other young people to get involved in their work, you can achieve results beyond what you could do on your own.

The best of these organizations includes:

  • Human Rights in China,17 an organization that supports pro-democracy activists within China and brings international attention to Chinese voices advocating greater political freedom.
  • Human Rights Watch,18 one of the world’s top watchdogs monitoring human rights abuses and violations of civil liberties. They work to get reliable sources documenting offenses by the Chinese government, which can build international support for Chinese pro-democracy movements.
  • Freedom House,19 which does research and advocacy about threats to freedom and democracy around the globe. They report on how the Chinese government uses censorship, arrests, and intimidation to undermine the free press and prevent citizens from getting accurate information.

You can support these organizations in several ways:

  • Education. You can hold an education session at your school to spread the word about the struggle for democracy in China. Show videos of talks by Chinese activists, invite guest speakers who have lived in communist China, or write letters to elected officials urging them to support China’s democracy movement more strongly.
  • Fundraising. You might organize a fundraiser at your school or in your local community. This could be donations tied to an education session, or something like a bake sale or car wash that donates the proceeds to the organization.
  • Volunteering. If you’re old enough, you can intern for pro-democracy organizations, or volunteer for them. Volunteering may include contacting people on the organization’s behalf to solicit donations, handing out printed information about the work it does, or assisting at events that raise public awareness.

When twelve-year-old Danielle gets 100 million Chinese people into the streets on short notice for her dance celebration (celebrating her Middle East peace agreement), she demonstrates to China’s communist leaders that they no longer have complete control over what their citizens do. Once the people see that they can organize for fun purposes like dancing, they realize that by acting in unison, they can promote important democratic reforms.

In real life, true democracy might be achieved in China because of a similar innovation. The Arab Spring revolutions of 2011, although the results were mixed, occurred as a result of Facebook and Twitter, which allowed activists and protesters to share information and make plans in real time. What the Chinese people need is a platform that gives them accurate and reliable information about what is going on in their own country and around the world—and that allows them to coordinate communication and sharing ideas. The communists have created a “Great Firewall of China” to censor the Internet and keep tabs on citizens. You can help create ladders to climb over the wall.

If you know computer programming, you can start to create new democracy-promoting tools yourself. If you haven’t studied how to code yet, it’s easy to learn! See the entry “How You Can Be a Danielle and Learn to Program Computers from a Young Age” for more information on how to do so.

There are plenty of areas where there’s need for a Danielle-style innovator to help people in China reach democracy:

  • Getting around censorship. Due to government control of the Internet, it is currently difficult for the average person in China to access social media sites like Facebook, and censored news sources like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. A creative new platform might be able to let Chinese users access wider sources of information.
  • Sharing information. In order for democracy to work, citizens need to be well informed. One of the main goals of the communist government is to keep its citizens in the dark about what is really happening in their country. There’s need for technology that makes it easier for people to share accurate information, photos, and videos without interference by the government.
  • Organizing large groups. Authoritarian governments fear mass protests more than almost anything else. Technology that makes it easier for people to organize protests in a decentralized way and react to government crackdowns would make it harder for the Chinese Communist Party to suppress the pro-democracy movement.
  • Reducing isolation. Because so few Chinese people speak English, and so few foreigners speak Chinese, there is a big natural barrier to integration with the outside world. If a platform integrated AI-assisted translation into ordinary communication, it would give Chinese people much greater access to ideas from democratic countries. This would naturally make it much harder for the communist government to stay in power.

See how many more innovations you can think of!

For more information, please see the following entries in the companion book A Chronicle of Ideas: A Guide for Superheroines (and Superheroes): Kuomintang, Mao’s Long March, Mao Tse-Tung, Forced Collectivism, China’s One Child Policy, Tiananmen Square, President Hu, The Seventeen-Point Agreement, The 1959 Uprising, One Country, Two Systems Policy, Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, Chinese Communist Party, Chiang Kai-Shek, Chairman of the Communist Party of China, Mandarin, Zhongnanhai, Ming Dynasty, Forbidden City, Deng Xiaoping, Shanghai, Power From the Barrel of a Gun.


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