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College Students: Promote Human Dignity, Boycott Study Abroad Programs in China

By Stephanie Zawada
May 4th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

With China's assaults on human dignity, and our federal government's refusal to speak out for the rights of the Chinese people, students need to be a voice for the innocent people of China by postponing study abroad programs in China until the government joins civilization and respects human beings.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Stephen Schwarzman, CEO of Blackstone Group, a private equity firm, is funding and facilitating a $300 million scholarship program for Chinese and American students to study at the "MIT of China": Tsinghua University. His move to foster international immersion between the U.S. and China isn't novel, and while studying abroad to gain cross-cultural diplomatic and collaborative skills is always beneficial to a student's personal and professional development, China's abhorrent and unabashed human rights violations makes the establishment of this fund a step in the wrong direction.
 
In 1933, citizens of the U.S. and the U.K. boycotted German-made products, in response to Nazi assaults on Jewish shops. Obviously, the boycott did not curb the Nazis, but it did send a resounding message about respecting private property throughout the world. Americans stood by the Fifth Amendment: that a government does not have the right to deprive an individual of "life, liberty, or property, without due process of law". During the Cold War, America led the 65-nation boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics in protest to Soviet expansion. Americans boast a proud history of using diplomatic sanctions to alert the international community of crimes against the innocent, and students who study abroad have the duty to promote the United States as a just nation.
  
Fast-forward to 2011, when the U.S. State Department's Human Rights Report documented allegations of organ harvesting from within Chinese prisons. Over 100 members of Congress, believing that the State Department was withholding evidence, petitioned Secretary of State Hilary Clinton to publicly confirm or deny these practices to no avail.
 
Exactly who are these prisoners marked for mutilation?
 
During the 1990s, the Falun Gong belief system spread throughout China, and the growing religious following became a threat to Marxism. Soon, practitioners were imprisoned in concentration camps. This year alone, ChinaAid published a report stating that sentencing for professing Christianity has increased by 125% since 2011. Even journalists whose reports criticize the regime are imprisoned.
 
Aside from organ harvesting, what else goes on in China? Women who are pregnant without state permission are hunted down and forced to undergo abortions. In 2009, the U.S. State Department published data revealing that 500 women commit suicide in China on a daily basis. Along with their signature stadium executions, China has also introduced mobile execution vans, which the Vice Chairman of the Criminal Affairs Committee of All-China Lawyers announced as "progress for China".
 
But what does any of this have to do with studying abroad? Promoting the current Chinese government via study abroad programs does not give priority to the rights of innocent, imprisoned Chinese citizens over international relations or student experience.
 
As Rabbi Stephen Samuel Wise of New York said about the Nazi boycott, "We must speak out, if that is unavailing, at least we shall have spoken." With China's assaults on human dignity, and our federal government's refusal to speak out for the rights of the Chinese people, students need to be a voice for the innocent people of China by postponing study abroad programs in China until the government joins civilization and respects human beings.
 
Whenever you shop at a store in the heat of a controversy over an opinion held by one of that store's executives, you're signaling to people that you tolerate the opinions held by that executive. When you buy local, or purchase organically-grown food, or choose to bike to school, you're sending a message to everyone around you. Investing your money or time into something says, "I believe in this." When you study abroad in a country, you agree to respect and not violate the laws of that nation. As the old Latin proverb goes, "Silence implies consent." Traveling to a country as a student implies, without verbal or written expression, that you tolerate China's policies against innocent men, women, and children.
 
As next year's study abroad acceptance letters are starting to roll in, I'd like to challenge you to think critically about where you choose to gain your international experience, and whether you've placed gaining a professional edge over promoting human dignity.

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