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Human rights in China

Freedom, traffic jams and homesickness: Chinese exile Qiao Mu’s not-so-shattered American dream

Beijing tabloid mocks academic for his comments on the inconveniences of everyday life in the US

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 December, 2017, 10:04pm
UPDATED : Friday, 15 December, 2017, 3:39pm

A self-exiled Chinese academic has hit back at a nationalist Beijing tabloid’s attempts to mock his move to the United States, saying he was homesick but the US gave him the freedom to criticise the authorities.

Qiao Mu, a former Beijing Foreign Studies University professor and a fierce critic of censorship, began tweeting about his difficulties in adjusting to his new life soon after moving to Washington with his daughter in September.

Qiao is one of several high-profile liberals who have left China as Beijing has tightened its grip on society and the media.

In the past three months, he has tweeted about his everyday life and experience as a newcomer, including comments about expensive parking and traffic jams.

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“I’ve been in the US for three months and it’s quite different to my previous impressions and popular stereotypes in China. There is social aid but a general level of welfare for the public is lacking. Highways with toll charges are everywhere. Living standards are higher than in China but they come with greater pressure too,” Qiao tweeted.

“Many people can’t afford medical care, a house and a car. Main roads linking the city and suburbs are often congested during peak hours and on holidays.”

Nationalist tabloid Global Times took aim at Qiao on Thursday, suggesting his “American dream” had been shattered by living there.

“Isn’t the US the dreamland for all intellectuals active in public debates?” the newspaper said in an article.

“He is not singing praises for the United States now that he has seen its defects and problems.”

Qiao responded on Thursday, saying his criticism of the United States should not be equated to praise for China or the Chinese government.

“I’m documenting the inconvenience of living in the US rather that commenting on US politics and freedom. I came to the United States mainly for the freedom it offers ... especially the freedom to criticise [the government],” he tweeted.

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“My income, car, housing and life in the US is so much better than in Beijing but my recent arrival has triggered some homesickness.”

Chinese authorities have tightened controls over civil society since Chinese President Xi Jinping came to power five years ago. Among those targeted have been labour rights activists, human rights lawyers, feminists and outspoken intellectuals.

Before he moved to the US, Qiao said he had been sidelined at Beijing Foreign Studies University for his criticism of censorship, Chinese media and propaganda on foreign media.