A mob of angry Chinese students protested at Massey University yesterday after Chairman Mao was lampooned on the cover of the student newspaper.
Students likened the cover of Chaff, which this week satirises women's magazine Cosmopolitan, to the anti-Muslim cartoons circulated around the world in February.
Tempers flared outside Massey's library as about 50 Chinese Massey and UCOL students and a Chinese lecturer confronted Chaff staff.
Students said the issue is racist and the last straw, as many have also suffered verbal abuse on the streets of Palmerston North.
Tianxiang Mao said it was common for Asian students to be lambasted with racial slurs when driving.
"People yell `F-ing Asians' when we are in the car driving down the road. I don't say anything. What can I do?"
UCOL student Xing Tang said Chaff staff are ignorant of Chinese culture.
"Chairman Mao is like Jesus to us," he said on the verge of tears.
"We pay $20,000 in fees and a Musa fee (which funds Chaff) and this is how we are treated."
Student Ronnie Cao likened the cover to the anti-Muslim cartoons.
"This is discrimination against us."
It will have a huge effect on New Zealand's reputation, Mr Cao said.
However, compared with the United States, New Zealand is still considered a safe place for Chinese parents to send their children, he said.
Yang Chenglin said students are proud of their Chinese culture.
"Mao gave us independence. He's no more a killer than George Washington or George W Bush.
"He is the father of China - without Mao, there is no China."
Mao Zedong, or Chairman Mao, was the founder of the People's Republic of China and one of the most prominent figures in Chinese history.
He is also revered as a great spiritual leader and cultural symbol.
Students gathered in tight circles outside the library yesterday, signing a petition demanding an apology.
Students also want remaining copies pulled out of circulation.
Tensions flared as agitated students confronted Chaff editor Edrei Valath and news editor Matt Russell.
"It was an arbitrary decision to run the cover of Mao," Mr Russell said, adding it was intended as a joke.
"We were looking for a picture of Marx or Lenin and we couldn't use Castro because he had a beard and it just didn't work. I didn't think it would offend."
Mr Valath said students are "enraged for the sake of being enraged".
"It is ironic - in China, the students would have no forum in which to complain."
He said Chinese students studying here should be made aware a good sense of humour is part of Kiwi culture.
But students likened the situation to a racial slur expressed in Victoria University's latest student magazine Salient. The "Top Five Things to Be Wary of" rated the Chinese at No 5.
Dogs also featured in the same line-up, the students said.
Salient editor James Robinson said the Top Five column and the Chaff cover are both "culturally insensitive".
"We are getting hate mail by the minute," Mr Robinson said.
Salient has been in strife over the Top Five column and the item has appeared on a Chinese news website.
Massey University finance lecturer Fei Wu, who's Chinese, said students deserve an explanation.
"This shows no respect to our people.
"There are 1000 Chinese students here who spend a lot of money to study here and this is an insult.
"Students come here for a better environment to get away from class and culture differences. This doesn't solve the problem."
However, Chinese Massey student Tony Song said protesters were being "too sensitive".
"It's been done to the Queen before. I'm not offended at all. I was laughing."
Massey University international office director Bruce Graham said the Chaff cover is in "extremely poor taste". However, he accepted Chaff has editorial independence.
"This shows a lack of respect. Chinese students are an important part of the university's community."
Mr Graham has suggested to Chaff an apology is required
18 May 2006
By CAITLIN MCKAY