On February 10th, a small group of college students arrived in the U.S. for the second annual Northwest Debate Tour. The month-long tour includes visits to six Oregon and Washington universities and will give these Chinese students the opportunity to engage in democratic
free speech by discussing topics that are censored in their home country.
Four students from Xi'an Jiaotong University, Wen Wang, Shenggang Li, Zhe Xu, and Xiaoyu He, all qualified for this opportunity last May at a debate tournament in Xi'an, China. The debate tour is an extension of IDEA's recent efforts to encourage discussion in Asia through several tournaments and events, where IDEA has encouraged the discussion of prohibited issues about Tibet, Taiwan, Tiananmen Square and Internet censorship.
"The debate tour emphasizes the fact that the notion of free speech in China and the U.S. are so different," said Robert Trapp, Willamette University Professor and IDEA-US Executive Director. "People are nervous in China about criticizing the government, specifically about these issues. With this in mind, IDEA has continued to push the envelope in bringing debate and free speech to China."
Over the years, IDEA has learned how to debate censored topics safely, but that doesn't mean the topics have been toned down. In fact, these debaters qualified for the tour by debating the topic, "The People's Republic of China should forswear military force in Taiwan." Here, debaters will be able to discuss topics that are normally taboo, with other students their age.
"Mandarin debate focuses more on philosophical and theoretical topics, while English debate focuses more on immediate effective policy-making. The challenges of authority of political entity is not popular in Mandarin debate," explained Yang Ge, the IDEA trainer who will be chaperoning the tour. "I hope [the students] could sense and understand the differences between east and west in the way of thinking, the perspectives, the characters, and the way of debating, so they could sort out their limitations and improve themselves."
During the tour, the Chinese students will debate with other university students and enjoy sightseeing at every stop. They will also participate in two university debate tournaments and a public debate. Their tour includes visits to the University of Puget Sound, Western Washington University, Northwest University, Pacific Lutheran University, Linfield College, and Willamette University. On March 1st, debaters will complete their tour and return to China.