The title of this article is a little misleading. I know that you are going to talk about politics in China. Every foreign teacher does; it's inevitable. Your students will want to talk about politics during social talk. Your friends will want to talk about politics at dinner. You can talk about politics; it is not against the law. But before you 'tread those dangerous waters,' you need to be aware of some simple facts about how Chinese people view their political world.
When your students discuss politics with you, most of them are not giving you an opinion that they have formed by themselves. They are repeating to you what they have been fed by the Chinese government/media their whole lives. Expect to hear the same political ideology repeated over and over again. Trying to get through their ideology is like attempting to drive a broom handle through a brick wall.
Chinese people see China as their 'mother.' A student explained to me recently that "we can only trust our Chinese government because it has taken such good care of us." She went on to tell me that without the government, the Chinese people would be completely destitute. She and other friends of mine talk about the Chinese government in a very 'caring and adoring' manner. In other words, if you are saying bad things about the Chinese government, it is as if you are insulting every single Chinese person's mother.
Any information that you provide for your friends or students that come from sources other than the Chinese government will be instantly rejected as a fabrication and distortion of the truth. Most people in China do not seek other sources of information because they are told that information from the 'West' cannot be trusted. You may be well armed with information from a variety of places
Chinese people are easily offended by political comments directed at their government. When you are making negative statements about their government they will react as if the comments are being made about them. Whatever you do, make sure that you explain that your comments about their government do not reflect your feelings about the people.
It really is better to avoid discussing politics in your ESL classes because you never know who might be listening. Teachers have been reprimanded and even dismissed for talking about political issues such as Taiwan and Tibet. You would probably do well to avoid these topics altogether. It is wiser to discuss politics with close friends who can handle your opinion.
Use common sense and always respect Chinese culture. If you have to make political comments to your friends or students, make sure that you do not make them in an inflammatory manner. Always listen to what they are saying and engage them in a conversation that leaves everyone feeling like they learned something afterwards. It is also important to always observe closely how your students and friends are reacting and be ready to change subjects if necessary. It is to be hoped that in the future the political discourse in China will be more open, but until then, you need to use a great measure of sensitivity when broaching the topic of politics and government in China.