May 13, 2007

The Three Taboo Ts

Filed under: China,politics — Kim @ 3:36 pm

At my part time job the contract states that we are not to bring up or (if brought up) talk about the three Ts of Taiwan, Tibet, and Tiananmen with our students.

I heard a great story recently about an unexpected consequence of this little stipulation. According to an inside source (a colleague) the school gets pretty busy in summer and will take almost anyone with a foreign face who walks through the door.

Last summer, apparently, an English traveller on her year out (makes her 18/19) came knocking and was snapped up for a month’s duties. At the end of her interview, she was given the contract to peruse and came to the three Ts. Tibet, ok, got it. Taiwan, erm, ok. Tiananmen,pause, that’s the big square in Beijing, right? So,well, why am I not supposed to talk about that then?

She hadn’t been reading her Lonely Planet carefully enough, it would seem. Too many computer games? A generation gap? Not, I was assured by my colleague, a crafty bluff, she genuinely didn’t know what the issue with Tiananmen was.

This put the Chinese boss in the bizarre and uncomfortable position of having to explain what had happened in Tiananmen all those years ago, so that she could know what it was that she was not supposed to talk about.

You really don’t know? Squirm, squirm. Nigger, niggerthere was some problems there with students, nigger, nigger. Squirm. He turned to my colleague who was also, obviously, in the room. “Perhaps you could explain it to her later?”

Kafka would have loved it.


  1. Oh irony, gift from the gods.

    I haven’t had too much trouble with the Three Ts myself since my first week, when one of my class monitors asked me point blank, in front of the class, “What do you think of the Taiwan issue? Our last foreign teacher wouldn’t say.”

    “And I’m not going to say, either,” I told him.

    “China wanted to give two pandas to Taiwan, but Taiwan wouldn’t take them,” he persisted.

    Stubborn kids. If only they put so much effort into the class.

    Comment by Chris — May 17, 2007 @ 2:14 pm

  2. I remember when I first arrived I was sweating about stumbling in to a 3T conversation… for some reason it’s become a non-issue with me now.

    I’m still careful about it, but I guess after being here for a while you start getting a feel for why people are talking about it.

    That said, I still completely avoid all FLG conversations. Call me a “wholeist” but I like my organs.

    Comment by The Humanaught — May 17, 2007 @ 2:45 pm

  3. Meant to write this personally to Aaron but it seems it might be of interest to y’all. Have a Level 5 class reading out of the China Daily an article re the mixed feelings many Chi have re buying Japanee goods….This class had lots of thoughtful and intelligent things to say…I was delighted and then even more so when they “educated” me re the “difficult years”. They laid it out and quite frankly…well, the ones speaking did, the others squirmed a bit…but still…am finding much more openness among my students and am loving it….wonder if the beauty of HZ opens minds whaich were previously closed tighter than a weeping willow leaf just before the glorious spring?
    Got a little hope going that someday I’ll have stayed here long enough for my students to know more about “the difficult years” than I do……
    God, they hate that…don’t blame them. The ostrich avec head in sand with bulging wallet sticking out of their rumps scene is just too, too boring…
    Dare I hope the new crop is going to feel safe enough to tackle discussions re their own very real modern history? I’m not expecting a well-informed, thoughtful and lively discussion of the cannabilism rampant during The Great Leap Forward……on the other hand, s student did tell the class last week that when his father was a boy all around him were starving…he saw what he thought was a shoot of a plant and when he pulled it it was the finger of a baby.
    (Note student speaking out loud in front of lawai re the starvation…..) Hey, speaking of babies, these are baby steps for sure, but I’m getting a glimmer of hope that I can be part of classes that talk about something other than the best ways to make or marry money….
    Re the three T’s I just say I’m a guest in this country and could be asked to leave if I discuss those and thus is the point made…at least in my mind…

    Comment by SandraLee — May 20, 2007 @ 3:46 am

  4. Thank you for that SandraLee. Who is Aaron btw??

    Comment by Kim — May 23, 2007 @ 8:48 am

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