Iraq and a Great Leap for Chinese Intellectuals

Even before images of the first cruise missile strikes on Baghdad reached Chinese TV screens, the country's intellectuals were debating the US-led war against Iraq and the government's response. Commentaries in leading newspapers and on-line journals demonstrated a diversity of opinion seldom seen in the country's state-controlled media, and precipitated wider discussion in people's living rooms.

Most debates addressed whether the war was justified. Opinions were voiced in newspapers and in on-line forums such as the home page of the media school of Qinghua University, widely known as "China's MIT." It posted an anti-war petition with over 1,000 signatories, mostly academics.

Although this grassroots response adhered to the government's anti-war stand, it remains surprising in a country that discourages unscripted political discourse. So it was even more surprising to see pro-war sentiments expressed publicly, such as the petition that appeared in the Guangzhou-based weekly newspaper 21st Century World Herald . That petition voiced a taboo viewpoint: that "human rights are of greater value than national sovereignty."

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