U.S. first lady Michelle Obama practices tai chi with students at Chengdu No.7 High School in Chengdu in southwest China's Sichuan province last week. Pic: AP.

A Tiananmen survivor says First Lady failed to grasp the reality of China 

American First Lady Michelle Obama’s “good-will” tour with her family in China last week wasn’t good for the Chinese: a number of people (some aren’t even dissidents) were detained, kidnapped, assaulted or put under house arrest. Yet, Mrs. Obama self-censored herself on the topic of human rights during the entire trip and seemed blind and mute, despite worsening abuses in my motherland. As a Tiananmen Massacre survivor who voted for Barack Obama, I’m utterly disappointed.

With her mother, two daughters and hundreds of Chinese police, Mrs. Obama was busy playing ping pong and Tai Chi, jumping rope, practicing calligraphy, hiking on the Great Wall, watching pandas, sampling Chinese and Tibetan food. She did work a bit – delivering two speeches to students.

On March 25 she spoke to students at Chengdu No. 7 High School about the American fight against racism and offered this subtle message about the power of ordinary citizens: “They held peaceful protests and marches. They called on government officials to change those laws, and they voted to elect new officials who shared their views.”

Perhaps she didn’t know when she landed in Chengdu that about a dozen ordinary local Chinese citizens were kidnapped by police in the streets. The Chengdu-based NGO, 64 Tianwang Human Rights Affairs Center, reported a few were brutally beaten and put in detention. The victims were villagers, petitioning the government over the loss of their homes and farm land through forceful demolition and government land grabbing.

On March 24, a young tour guide collapsed as police kicked and beat him severely to clear the terra-cotta warrior museum before the Obamas showed up. As she wandered among those cold clay figures, perhaps she didn’t know they are symbols of an ancient totalitarian regime, the Qin Dynasty, whose first emperor burnt books and buried scholars alive.

Perhaps she also doesn’t know that the current Communist regime is much worse. Why was she so demure and subtle, so Chinese? She could have been more American and she could have done so much more.

In a speech at Peking University on March 22, Mrs. Obama said: “It is so important for information and ideas to flow freely over the Internet and through the media. Because that’s how we discover the truth, that’s how we learn what’s really happening in our communities, in our country and our world.”

I hope she knows the truth of China, Tibet, East Turkestan (Chinese: Xinjiang), Hong Kong, Taiwan and Southern Mongolia (Chinese: Inner Mongolia). She failed to mention the case of Cao Shunli, a Peking University alumnus. Six days before the Obamas landed in Beijing, Cao, a legal scholar, died after six months’ detention. She had been kidnapped by the police from the Beijing Airport last September, where she was to board a flight to Geneva for a United Nations human rights workshop.

Nor did Mrs. Obama say a word about Xu Zhiyong, a legal scholar who led the peaceful New Citizen’s Movement and called on officials to disclose personal assets. He was recently sentenced to four years in prison. Xu’s two-month-old daughter hasn’t met her father because she was born after he was detained. History has been repeating itself: my artist father was in detention before I was born during the Cultural Revolution for criticizing Mao Zedong in his personal diaries.

In 2012, I voted for Barack Obama. I admired the Obamas for their tenacity and courage. It was my first time to vote in America, and I cherished the moment. Many Chinese died for demonstrating for this basic right. I was lucky to have survived that massacre in Beijing nearly 25 years ago. To this day, any texts or pictures of that tragedy are banned in China.

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