An open letter to all CHAFF readers,
22 may 2006
An open letter to all CHAFF readers,
Last week, as some of you may have noticed, a group of 50 or so (mostly) Chinese students gathered outside the library on the Turitea Campus to protest the previous issue of CHAFF, which featured a covering page representing Chinese Communist leader, Chairman Mao Zedong, superimposed onto a woman¹s body (see CHAFF news page 7 for more details). During the course of the week, CHAFF has met and talked with Chinese students, with Massey, and with representatives of the international student community. We¹ve listened to their criticisms and talked with them extensively.
Acknowledging the offence and anxiety that has come as a consequence of our last cover, CHAFF made the decision to publish this formal editorial response to the (mostly) Chinese students who participated in the protests or were otherwise offended by CHAFF issue 10. Protesters, Chinese student representatives, and Massey International Student Director Bruce Graham have requested that CHAFF print a formal apology.
CHAFF understands that our satirical representation of Chairman Mao has caused deep hurt among Massey¹s Chinese community. CHAFF understands that for many Chinese, Mao is not a just political figure such as Helen Clark or George Bush open to satiric target, but a religious and spiritual figure who should be accorded a higher level of respect. We also understand that the figure of Mao is central to Chinese nationalism, and that an attack on Mao would be viewed by some Chinese as an attack on all Chinese people. However, we will not apologise for our Mao cover for the following reasons:
Over the course of the week, we have received a substantial number of letters, emails and phone calls from Chinese students and citizens both at Massey and around the country expressing their support, and indeed, many expressly encouraging us not to apologise. For that reason, we cannot apologise to the Chinese community, because it is evident that the Chinese community does not hold one single opinion on the matter.
We believe it is neither possible, nor desirable for there to be one single interpretation of Mao. While we recognise that in China today the figure of Mao is central to Chinese nationalism, Mao is also an international cultural symbol who signifies different things in different contexts. Indeed, Mao himself openly sought such international significance during his own lifetime. Mao is open to differing and clashing interpretations from both cultures outside of China, and from within Chinese culture itself as the many letters from Chinese students in this issue demonstrate. The point is that it is both possible and legitimate for a society to claim to represent Mao in their own cultural terms, without intending any disrespect to Chinese people.
The central reason are not apologising for our cover is because it was a political statement, not a racial one. We believe that a significant amount of the offence caused by the cover is due to confusion over this fact.
The political purpose of the cover was the same as all good satire: to provoke discussion and debate. When one single interpretation is used to define something whether it be a political system like democracy or communism; or a historical figure like Napoleon or Mao then institutionalised modes of thought start to take over. Satire is a way to get someone to view the world from a different perspective, and the ability to view the world from alternative perspectives is central to any free society.
Unless there is a constant contest over the significance of the things that give our world meaning, then a social boundary comes to define what can be said about a specific topic. Once we reach the limits of what can be said about something, it soon follows that we have reached the limits of what can be thought about something.
Where meanings become fixed; any kind of real freedom stops existing. CHAFF will provide an open forum for anyone who wants to contribute to the debate, whether this is in the form of letters, articles or whatever. In doing so, we believe we¹re fulfilling our role as student media. CHAFF would like to express our sincere regret that many Chinese students perceived the cover image as a cultural or racial insult. This was not our intention, and CHAFF has always and continues to be inclusive, representative and supportive of all students. - The CHAFF Team