Chinese Delegates Go Ballistic at Model UN Event

Proud and nationalistic Chinese are increasingly vocal overseas. Often, though not always, they get away with bullying others on key issues
Photo: J. Michael Cole / TT
J. Michael Cole

A delegation of Chinese students at the Harvard Model United Nations held Jan. 29 to Feb. 1 made a dreadful discovery when they cracked open this year’s conference handbook. What they saw was so offensive that they made a scene, and several members of the group (the adult supervisors, as it turns out) ended up being expelled from a meeting. Two words were at the heart of the kerfuffle: Taiwan and country.

There is something about Taiwan that sometimes brings out the very worst in many a Chinese overseas. Time and again, Chinese young and old have gone haywire at academic settings whenever someone dared to argue that Taiwan may actually be a country rather than a province of China, as Beijing claims. When that happens, they just snap. They scream, storm out, threaten, gang up on others, and intimidate whoever stands in their way, including school authorities.

This is dispiriting for at least two reasons: It demonstrates that exposure to Western ideas and a liberal education is insufficient to bust the nationalistic doctrine that was drilled into young Chinese from a very young age; and it gives the whole body of Chinese, many of whom are much more open minded on the Taiwan “question,” a bad reputation.

A full account of the incident from the perspective of one of the Chinese participants is available (in Chinese) here. To make a long story short: During the first HMUN2015 meeting, which took place at the Sheraton Hotel in Boston on the evening of Jan. 29 , the head of the Chinese delegation discovered that the conference handbook contained the word Taiwan in its list of “international participants by country” (some of the participants were from the Taipei American School). Immediately, the Chinese side requested that the “error” be corrected. Taiwan, they said, is not a country and it isn’t a UN member. As such, the handbook should be modified to read “country or region.” The Secretariat refused, however, and the dispute continued the next day, with the Chinese side accusing the organizers of having a “poor understanding” of international relations. The situation continued to deteriorate until the organizers asked security personnel at the hotel to remove some members of the Chinese delegation and threatened to call the police. “Your presence makes us uncomfortable,” they said.

In a Jan. 31 e-mail message to the Chinese delegation, Ruth Kagan, Secretary-General of HMUN2015, explained why changes to the handbook were not necessary:

Harvard Model United Nations publishes in its conference handbook the country of origin as reported by each delegation without modification. The inclusion of Taiwan is not meant as a political statement by the conference, nor does that listing represent the views of the Harvard International Relations Council.

Again, the conference handbook is copyright property and cannot be reproduced, in whole or in part, in print or electronically, without written permission.

Furthermore, although Taiwan appeared in the list of countries by participants, it did not figure in the actual UN conference (according to one of the students, the Taiwanese were assigned the Holy See, which has no voting powers). Still, this did little to persuade the Chinese students, who argued that while they do not seek conflict with their “Taiwanese compatriots,” the mention of Taiwan, which is “clearly not a sovereign state,” was an “inexcusable mistake” on the part of the organizers.

HMUN2015 then tried to meet the Chinese halfway. In an e-mail dated Feb. 1, Louisa Carman, Under-Secretary-General for Administration, wrote:

Hello, we hope you have enjoyed your experience at HMUN! I just wanted to let you know that if you would like stickers that say “by Country and Region” to add to your delegates’ handbooks you may pick them up at Delegate Services until 12pm today. I hope that this improves your experience. Please fell free to let me know if you have any further questions or concerns.

That didn’t satisfy the Chinese delegation either.

“Still no apology, no statement,” one of them wrote before embarking on a diatribe against American democracy and freedom of expression, which were a sham because the Chinese had clearly faced discrimination. The Chinese were the victims of discrimination because the Secretariat refused to allow them to discriminate against the Taiwanese. So much for logic.

Beyond doubt the organizers of HMUN2015 acted sensibly in the situation. They refused to be pressured by hotheads, and they pushed back just enough to maintain their integrity. If only we could see this more often!

Now the real question is, what will the handbook say next year? The Chinese have long perfected the art of whittling away at other people’s resistance until the latter change their views without noticing it. Will the Secretariat, perhaps wanting to avoid a new round of confrontations, simply give in to the Chinese students’ demands and use the designation “country and region” in their handbook? Or will they do the right thing and stick to their guns? Stay tuned!

(Updated 2015.02.06 10:01 am)
(Second Update 2015.02.11 9:24 am)


J. Michael Cole is editor in chief of Thinking Taiwan, a senior non-resident fellow at the China Policy Institute, University of Nottingham, and an Associate researcher at the French Center for Research on Contemporary China (CEFC) in Taipei.


中國學生在模擬聯合國會議上暴跳如雷 (Trans. by William Tsai)






HMUN2015會議的秘書長Ruth Kagan在1月31日寄電子郵件給中國代表團,說明會議手冊為何不需修改:




隨後HMUN2015試圖作出讓步。大會副秘書長Louisa Carman在2月1日寄出電子郵件:






96 Responses to “Chinese Delegates Go Ballistic at Model UN Event”

April 16, 2016 at 5:51 am, Jeff Liang said:

Taiwan and main land China are all part of R.O.C. Republic of China, period, Young Chinese and Chinese who call themselves Taiwanese should learn their history right. Do not deny your root just because you were not in the history making.


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