Why Joe Tsai’s Chinese History Lesson Doesn’t Hold Up

by Cameron Coyle


I don’t care that Joe Tsai’s net worth is valued around $9 billion.

Nor do I care that he graduated with a doctorate from Yale University or that he now has majority ownership of the New Jersey Nets basketball organization.   

What does bother me as it pertains to Tsai is that he firmly believes Americans need a deep cleansing of Chinese history before they express their first amendment freedoms here in the United States.

A few days after Rockets general manager Daryl Morey fired off a tweet that sent shockwaves across the world, Tsai went into a deep dive on the Chinese psyche which should give Americans reason to pause in their support of the Hong Kong protestors.

In his Facebook post dated October 5 Tsai wrote:

“The problem is, there are certain topics that are third-rail issues in certain countries, societies and communities.

Supporting a separatist movement in a Chinese territory is one of those third-rail issues, not only for the Chinese government, but also for all citizens in China.”

For those not familiar with the term “third rail” what Tsai is referring to is a hot-button, politically-charged issue that is considered off limits and those who those who broach the topic could invoke serious consequences.  

In essence, Tsai takes the position that there’s only one side worthy of supporting and that’s with the Communist Chinese government. This is a dangerous stance on the part of Tsai instructing Americans not to side with the Hong Kong protestors or “separatists” by claiming they’re not informed on the issues.

From here, Tsai references the Opium Wars of the 19th Century, the Qing government and the consequential Boxer Rebellion starting in the late 1800’s, and Japan’s invasion of China in 1937 which left as many as 20 million Chinese dead.  

“I am going into all of this because a student of history will understand that the Chinese psyche has heavy baggage when it comes to any threat, foreign or domestic, to carve up Chinese territories.

When the topic of any separatist movement comes up, Chinese people feel a strong sense of shame and anger because of this history of foreign occupation.”

One could only assume that the Second Sino-Japanese War from 1937-45 which left millions of Chinese dead is similar to how many European Jews felt in the years following the Holocaust during that same time.  

Nearly 80 years later, there’s an antisemitism that still exists, not only in Europe, but also here in the United States.

However, the protests and demonstrations in Hong Kong don’t quite measure up to a foreign occupation of a Chinese territory. The resentment of the people of Hong Kong stems from their direct opposition to an extradition bill that would have allowed criminal suspects to be extradited to maintain China to face punishment.

You can imagine the outrage. 

Not only does Communist China have a poor record as it pertains to human rights, but their judicial and legal system is coated in corruption that leads to heavy prison sentences and even execution.

The people of Hong Kong, the majority of which don’t even identify as Chinese, simply want to be left alone and want China to respect the “one country, two system” arrangement after Hong Kong was turned over from British colonial rule in 1997. 

These “Hong Kongers” feel their rights and liberties are being threatened and they simply want to be left alone. They currently enjoy the freedom of speech and the freedom of assembly like we have here in the U.S., which is why the wave the American flag in defiance.

However, those basic laws expire in 2047 and there’s a deep fear among the youth in Hong Kong they will one day be subjected to China’s oppressive government.

None of what has taken place in Hong Kong this summer would constitute a domestic threat to carve up a Chinese territory, like Tsai wants you to believe.

“The one thing that is terribly misunderstood, and often ignored, by the western press and those critical of China is that 1.4 billion Chinese citizens stand united when it comes to the territorial integrity of China and the country’s sovereignty over her homeland. This issue is non-negotiable.”

On a personal level, I wish Americans felt as united regarding the sovereignty of the United States and with that the construction of a border wall to maintain that sovereignty. 

But I’ll debate Tsai all day long that China’s sovereignty is not being remotely challenged by Hong Kong protestors. Tsai, like the Chinese government and the Chinese people who oppose American freedoms, appear overly sensitive that the people of Hong Kong are simply expressing a voice of their own unlike those who live under the Communist regime.

“By now I hope you can begin to understand why the Daryl Morey tweet is so damaging to the relationship with our fans in China. I don’t know Daryl personally.

I am sure he’s a fine NBA general manager, and I will take at face value his subsequent apology that he was not as well informed as he should have been. But the hurt that this incident has caused will take a long time to repair.”

As hurtful as it may seem, what Tsai doesn’t seem to understand that the freedom of speech in the US applies to speech that runs in direct opposition to his core values. 

I’m sure many Chinese people would privately say they support the American way of life, the freedom to voice their opinion, and the freedom to live independently. 

After all, isn’t that why Mr. Tsai now calls America home?