On Michael Anti: Behind the Great Firewall of China
Recently a TED video featuring Michael Anti on China’s censorship seems to be making the rounds. I think Anti does bring some unique insights to the English speaking audience about China that we don’t generally see in Western media; hence I am providing his video below. However, I think Anti can also be a stubborn ideologue who insist on viewing the world through ideological blinders.
Below is a transcript of the video (in quotes) as well as my response.
In the past several days, I heard people talking about China. And also I talked to friends about China and Chinese Internet. Something is very challenging to me. I want to make my friends understand: China is complicated. So I always want to tell the story, like, one hand it is that, the other hand is that. You can’t just tell one side’s story. I’ll give an example. China is a BRIC country. BRIC country means Brazil, Russia, India and China. This emerging economy really is helping the revival of the world economy. But at the same time, on the other hand, China is a SICK country, the terminology coined by Facebook IPO papers — file. He said the SICK country means Syria, Iran, China and North Korea. The four countries have no access to Facebook. So basically, China is a SICK BRIC country.
Hats off to Anti for not piling on another simplistic caricature of China. China is indeed complicated. Unfortunately, as the speech continues, the astute listener / reader will realize that Anti brings his own set of preconceived caricatures of China.
In the introduction, one already get a taste of that. “China is not just a BRIC … but a ‘sick’ BRIC….”
BRIC is a bad place to start to learn about China. The nomenclature was coined in a paper by Goldman Sachs economist Jim O’Neill in 2001, joining mainstream business and economics lexicon starting around 2003. I suspect that the popularity of the term probably has less to do with substance and more to do with laziness. There is little commonality shared amongst BRIC nations. They share neither a common history, 1, nor language, nor economic nor political system. Why not simply look at China as China – instead of a BRIC, or a communist country, a totalitarian country, or some other preconceived abstraction?
As for China being sick, I think to rely on what Facebook – a private profit-seeking corporation – says to define norms is ass-backward. After all, Facebook is also heavily embroiled in many controversies. It has run into legal troubles the world over over. It has been accused of intentionally misleading the public and its investors regarding its IPO. It has been accused of partnering with the CIA to spy on its users, U.S. citizens included (see below). Just to name a few…
Anti goes on:
Another project was built up to watch China and Chinese Internet. And now, today I want to tell you my personal observation in the past several years, from that wall. So, if you are a fan of the Game of Thrones, you definitely know how important a big wall is for an old kingdom. It prevents weird things from the north.
Same was true for China. In the north, there was a great wall, Chang Cheng. It protected China from invaders for 2,000 years. But China also has a great firewall. That’s the biggest digital boundary in the whole world. It’s not only to defend the Chinese regime from overseas, from the universal values, but also to prevent China’s own citizens to access the global free Internet, and even separate themselves into blocks, not united.
Every nation – modern nation states, not just “old kingdoms” – build walls. Being able to control one’s boundaries is an essential right of the nation-state. The U.S. builds a “barrier” to its South to keep out economic migrants from Latin America. Both U.S. and Europe relies heavily on invasive border control policies – including ones that reach extraterritoriality – to stem the flows of immigrants.
What about information? Can it be that only totalitarian governments clamp down on information – hence China’s Great Firewall – and that modern, freedom-loving, democratic societies embrace all knowledge and hence does not have a need for such walls?
This type of thinking extolls form over substance, and misses seeing the forest for the trees. The West does not need a wall not because it is more free, but because it has a far more subtle and sophisticated system of monitoring and controlling information.
Norm Chomsky and Edward Herman has described how the propaganda system in the West works. 2 They describe a system how control of information access and control of capital, reinforced by market forces and basic human nature 3, has allowed the governments and a privileged elite in the West to control information.
It’s not just the market. Legally, the U.S. has also continually and openly updated its laws and policies to enable the government to legitimately tap into Internet communications (see, e.g., Patriot Act of 2011).
Technologically, the U.S. government (with many of its Western partners) has been invasively monitoring and controlling information since at least the 1970′s, with programs such as Echelon. In the Internet era, the U.S. government has had an active hand in helping to start 4Google, Facebook and other social media powerhouses and collaborating 5 with them to spy on a broad base of Internet users.
In light of all this, I find it only natural that China would want to build a wall. Many of the so-called “Free” Internet companies such as Google and Facebook appear to have been drafted as pawns in the U.S. global war for information domination. 6 Before China build up its market and media infrastructure, before its people gain economic parity with the West, 7 the power inequality being what it is, it is suicidal for China to simply submit its information space to the West.
As for the validity of describing the world’s Internet as a free, universal, global Internet and an oppressive Chinese one behind the great firewall, that’s a clear oversimplification.
The world’s internet has long been balkanized by nation. There is no free-for-all global Internet. Every nation (including advanced Western nations such as France as well as developing democratic ones such as India) retains the right to draft policies and laws in controlling and regulating content on the Internet the way it sees fit.
Today, even after its dramatic pullout of China, Google continues to receive and comply with regularly government requests the world over to remove content from its search engine results. Twitter now has a global system of controls that selectively implements censorship policies of governments around the world.
I may not agree with how the Chinese government handles “freedom of speech” issues in every case. But why should I defer to Google or Facebook or Twitter’s judgement?
Too many times, I find that the basis of accusations of a lack of freedom in China to be rooted more in discounting Chinese histories and circumstances than any substantive issues with “freedom” per se.
In Germany, Nazi books and neo Nazy parties are banned. In France, one cannot express one’s views on certain “genocides” without going to jail. In India, words that incite religious and communal tensions can be banned. Yet when China bans some words it deems harmful to peace and stability, it is deemed reflexively as oppressive and backward.
One can always bitch about this particular policy and that policy, wrapping one’s political preferences in the name of “freedom.” 8 Freedom this and freedom that: it’s really just politics all the way down. I hope the Chinese people don’t fall for that trap.
So, basically the “Internet” has two Internets. One is the Internet, the other is the Chinanet. But if you think the Chinanet is something like a deadland, wasteland, I think it’s wrong. But we also use a very simple metaphor, the cat and the mouse game, to describe in the past 15 years the continuing fight between Chinese censorship, government censorship, the cat, and the Chinese Internet users. That means us, the mouse. But sometimes this kind of a metaphor is too simple.
The cat and mouse analogy is indeed too simple … and not useful. Rule of law in general can indeed be seen as a cat and mouse game … by criminals, rapists, tax cheats, thieves, etc. Yet most people don’t trivialize the notion of rule of law as such. Whatever the faults with rule of law, most harbor the idea of law as a tool to foster justice and social harmony, not as a vehicle to be undermined and dodged.
Similarly, governance should not per se about cat and mouse. It is about balancing, drafting policies, experimenting. One may not always get what one wants living in a society. But when one doesn’t like some rules or policy, the solution is not to dodge and undermine – play a game of cat and mouse. Rather people should aim to deliberate with the proper authorities, and work together to bring about what’s best for nation, for the society.
Most Chinese I know view governance as an indispensable vehicle to develop the Chinese nation and to empower all her citizens. There is a huge disconnect between Anti’s world and reality.
So today I want to upgrade it to 2.0 version. In China, we have 500 million Internet users. That’s the biggest population of Netizens, Internet users, in the whole world. So even though China’s is a totally censored Internet, but still, Chinese Internet society is really booming. How to make it? It’s simple. You have Google, we have Baidu. You have Twitter, we have Weibo. You have Facebook, we have Renren. You have YouTube, we have Youku and Tudou. The Chinese government blocked every single international Web 2.0 service, and we Chinese copycat every one.
Ignoring Anti’s cheap shot on China, I want to stress that Chinese social platform is indeed different from that in the “free world.” China’s social media platform, such as weibo, is more than a Twitter and Facebook combined, a chimerical chimera that neither Twitter nor Facebook has succeeded in creating.
In important ways, Chinese social media can be argued to reflect the people more – to be more of the people. In a recent study on Twitter usage patterns, for example, a group of researchers noted:
To study the dynamics of trends in social media, we have conducted a comprehensive study on trending topics on Twitter. … we found that the content that trended was largely news from traditional media sources, which are then amplified by repeated retweets on Twitter to generate trends.
Contrast this with a recent study on Chinese micro blogging patterns, for example, where a group of researchers noted:
We found that there is a vast difference in the content shared in China, when compared to a global social network such as Twitter. In China, the trends are created almost entirely due to retweets of media content such as jokes, images and videos, whereas on Twitter, the trends tend to have more to do with current global events and news stories.
Chinese micro bloggers laugh and play, demand justice, argue with each other on all issues of the day, and hold officials to account. By contrast, Western micro bloggers are elitist and conformist.
So, that’s the kind of the thing I call smart censorship. That’s not only to censor you. Sometimes this Chinese national Internet policy is very simple: Block and clone. On the one hand, he wants to satisfy people’s need of a social network, which is very important; people really love social networking. But on the other hand, they want to keep the server in Beijing so they can access the data any time they want. That’s also the reason Google was pulled out from China, because they can’t accept the fact that Chinese government wants to keep the server.
Google pulled out of China because it does not want to subject itself to Chinese laws and regulations. It’s about preventing a private for-profit company from having your cake and eating it, too – i.e. doing business in China but not adhering to its laws and regulations. Anti is wrong about Google’s problems in China: it’s technically not about where the server is. The Chinese government doesn’t actually care where the server is per se. It is after all not interested in running or “keeping” any computers. It however does demand that any company that does business in China adhere to Chinese laws and regulations. 9 As a normative matter, those who actively subvert Chinese government and society in China should not get an automatic free pass simply because they use foreign tools and software.
Anti goes on:
Sometimes the Arab dictators didn’t understand these two hands. For example, Mubarak, he shut down the Internet. He wanted to prevent the Netizens [from criticizing] him. But once Netizens can’t go online, they go in the street. And now the result is very simple. We all know Mubarak is technically dead. But also, Ben Ali, Tunisian president, didn’t follow the second rule. That means keep the server in your hands. He allowed Facebook, a U.S.-based service, to continue to stay on inside of Tunisia. So he can’t prevent it, his own citizens to post critical videos against his corruption. The same thing happend. He was the first to topple during the Arab Spring.
But those two very smart international censorship policies didn’t prevent Chinese social media [from] becoming a really public sphere, a pathway of public opinion and the nightmare of Chinese officials. Because we have 300 million microbloggers in China. It’s the entire population of the United States. So when these 300 million people, microbloggers, even they block the tweet in our censored platform. But itself — the Chinanet — but itself can create very powerful energy, which has never happened in the Chinese history.
2011, in July, two [unclear] trains crashed, in Wenzhou, a southern city. Right after the train crash, authorities literally wanted to cover up the train, bury the train. So it angered the Chinese Netizens. The first five days after the train crash, there were 10 million criticisms of the posting on social media, which never happened in Chinese history. And later this year, the rail minister was sacked and sentenced to jail for 10 years.
And also, recently, very funny debate between the Beijing Environment Ministry and the American Embassy in Beijing because the Ministry blamed the American Embassy for intervening in Chinese internal politics by disclosing the air quality data of Beijing. So, the up is the Embassy data, the PM 2.5. He showed 148, they showed it’s dangerous for the sensitive group. So a suggestion, it’s not good to go outside. But that is the Ministry’s data. He shows 50. He says it’s good. It’s good to go outside. But 99 percent of Chinese microbloggers stand firmly on the Embassy’s side. I live in Beijing. Every day, I just watch the American Embassy’s data to decide whether I should open my window.
Anti obviously subscribe to the narrative of the Arab Spring as a triumph of people power, harnessed through social media. But then, there are also narratives that cast the Arab Spring in more subversive light (see, e.g., this RT report, or this independent report). I’ll leave it to historians in the future to write the real story. Regardless of their pronouncement, I find it comical today to hear people confound Arab Spring and China together.
The Arab world is the Arab world – with its own unique histories and social, cultural, and political circumstances. China is China. The the Arab Spring arguably arose most fundamentally because of the decades of economic mismanagement and malaise by many Arab leaders. China over the last 30 or so years had pursued its own brand of economic development. It is silly to go about pontificating about China based on what is happening in the Arab world.
As for Beijing’s air, the truth is that neither the Chinese nor U.S. government readings is perfect, and neither is inherently superior or more accurate than the other. Anti’s politicizing of science is cheap. I am glad that the Chinese government is hard at work with scientists on the ground to make concrete improvements in its measurements. More importantly, the government is working unceasingly to improve air quality throughout the city.
Why is Chinese social networking, even within the censorship, so booming? Part of the reason is Chinese languages. You know, Twitter and Twitter clones have a kind of a limitation of 140 characters. But in English it’s 20 words or a sentence with a short link. Maybe in Germany, in German language, it may be just “Aha!”
But in Chinese language, it’s really about 140 characters, means a paragraph, a story. You can almost have all the journalistic elements there. For example, this is Hamlet, of Shakespeare. It’s the same content. One, you can see exactly one Chinese tweet is equal to 3.5 English tweets. Chinese is always cheating, right? So because of this, the Chinese really regard this microblogging as a media, not only a headline to media.
And also, the clone, Sina company is the guy who cloned Twitter. It even has its own name, with Weibo. “Weibo” is the Chinese translation for “microblog.” It has its own innovation. At the commenting area, [it makes] the Chinese Weibo more like Facebook, rather than the original Twitter. So these innovations and clones, as the Weibo and microblogging, when it came to China in 2009, it immediately became a media platform itself. It became the media platform of 300 million readers. It became the media. Anything not mentioned in Weibo, it does not appear to exist for the Chinese public.
Much of this is true. Chinese social media platforms are tailored (optimized) for Chinese characters. Also true: Chinese characters can also be a very efficient medium in conveying information. And also true: the Chinese Internet continues to be an ever more important medium by which Chinese gather, share, debate, discuss news and information.
But also, Chinese social media is really changing Chinese mindsets and Chinese life. For example, they give the voiceless people a channel to make your voice heard. We had a petition system. It’s a remedy outside the judicial system, because the Chinese central government wants to keep amiss, the emperor is good. The old local officials are thugs. So that’s why the petitioner, the victims, the peasants, want to take the train to Beijing to petition to the central government, they want the emperor to settle the problem. But when more and more people go to Beijing, they also cause the risk of a revolution. So they send them back in recent years. And even some of them were put into black jails. But now we have Weibo, so I call it the Weibo petition. People just use their cell phones to tweet.
So your sad stories, by some chance your story will be picked up by reporters, professors or celebrities. One of them is Yao Chen, she is the most popular microblogger in China, who has about 21 million followers. They’re almost like a national TV station. If you — so a sad story will be picked up by her. So this Weibo social media, even in the censorship, still gave the Chinese a real chance for 300 million people every day chatting together, talking together. It’s like a big TED, right? But also, it is like the first time a public sphere happened in China. Chinese people start to learn how to negotiate and talk to people.
Anti seems to have a disdain for the Chinese system. Even in recognizing that platforms like Weibo has energized and empowered many an ordinary people, perhaps in ways more profound that micro blogging affects Western societies, he seems to want to trivialize the entire phenomenon as something infantile.
For example, he said that with the advent of Internet, finally “Chinese people start to learn how to negotiate and talk to people.” What is he talking about? Chinese people have been talking, discussing, bickering, arguing, deliberating for thousands of years…
Also, in my opinion, there is nothing wrong with having an extra-judicial system such as a redress system. I will write a post about rule of law soon. But laws is at best a limited and imperfect way to administer justice. An extra-judicial practice – such as the redress system carried out publicly for thousands of years in China – can enhance justice today and is not a bad practice for China to carry over into the Internet age.
As for local officials, local officials are also not all “thugs,” as Anti with a smirk pronounced. In the U.S., it seems everyday news that officials here and there are indicted with crimes of some sort (see, e.g., indictments of Mark Adams and indictment of Fidelis Ogbu and Neacacha Jyner). Does that mean all U.S. officials should be called “thugs”? When one recently democratically elected presidents of the U.S. (Bill Clinton) is convicted of obstruction of justice (a criminal offense), are we now justified to smugly refer to all democratically-elected presidents as “thugs”?
But also, the cat, the censorship, is not sleeping. It’s so hard to post some sensitive words on the Chinese Weibo. For example, you can’t post the name of the president, Hu Jintao, and also you can’t post the city of Chongqing, the name, and until recently, you can’t search the surname of top leaders. So, the Chinese are very good at these puns and alternative wording and even memes. They even [use] names of — you know, use the name of this world-changing battle between the grass-mud horse and the river crab. The grass-mud horse is caoníma, is the phonogram for motherfucker, the Netizens call themselves. River crab is héxiè, is the phonogram for harmonization, for censorship. So that’s kind of a caoníma versus the héxiè, that’s very good. So, when some very political, exciting moments happened, you can see on Weibo, you see another very weird story happened. Weird phrases and words, even if you have a PhD of Chinese language, you can’t understand them.
Many people in the West make a big deal of the use of phonogram in Chinese Internet – allegedly to avoid censorship. But how important is censorship really in the big scheme of things? I will write a post soon on a recent study from Carnegie Mellon titled “censorship and deletion practices in Chinese social media” that carried out the first large-scale study of censorship practices on Weibo. The report seems to damn the Chinese government pretty hard. Interestingly, when I followed up with the authors personally on the math, it turns out that little of the anecdotal conclusions drawn can be pronounced with any statistical confidence. It appears that censorship – when it happens – appears to be quite limited – so limited that millions and millions of data points obtained over three months failed to reveal (with any statistical confidence) a pattern.
I find it interesting that so many people want to gloss over how dynamic the Chinese social media is and to focus instead on a few isolated cases of government censorship.
Truth is, if we want to talk about esoteric theory of freedom, why not talk about the U.S. government itself? The CIA’spartnership with Facebook, Twitter, and Google theoretically gives the government unprecedented ability to shape the public opinion. But the net is even wider than that. There appears be many fake accounts in Chinese blog sphere such that many of the so-called voice of Chinese Netizens quoted in Western media are not actually Chinese, but U.S. pawns mouthing Western propaganda – VOA style. 10
Of course, I am not in a position to judge the actual depth and involvement of the U.S. government in Chinese blog sphere. But I do believe that unless you immerse in Chinese blog sphere, you do not have a real picture of the perspectives of Chinese netizens. Merely reading a few “quotes” embedded in sensational stories of Chinese “censorship” in Western media is not going to do it.
But you can’t even expand more, no, because Chinese Sina Weibo, when it was founded was exactly one month after the official blocking of Twitter.com. That means from the very beginning, Weibo has already convinced the Chinese government, we will not become the stage for any kind of a threat to the regime. For example, anything you want to post, like “get together” or “meet up” or “walk,” it is automatically recorded and data mined and reported to a poll for further political analyzing. Even if you want to have some gathering, before you go there, the police are already waiting for you. Why? Because they have the data. They have everything in their hands. So they can use the 1984 scenario data mining of the dissident. So the crackdown is very serious.
Again I can neither dispute nor refute Anti’s claims. But I do take issue of Anti piling on the worst fears he can conjure up about the Internet on the Chinese government.
Generally, it was fashionable in the early days of the Internet to think of the Internet as an unstoppable force of Freedom; however, as people begin to appreciate more the pervasive and persistent nature of the Internet (data about everything, everywhere is logged; someone can always mine such data later for something interesting), it is now fashionable to fear it as a force of Great Control. I tend to see it pragmatically as the dual nature – the yin and yang – of social media. It’s not anything special about the “Chinanet,” Anti notwithstanding. In fact, if you fear the Chinese government turning social media into an all-seeing eye of Big Brother, you should fear equally the U.S. You should fear even more the private, for-profit companies who profess to be guardians of your freedom.
And about 1984: yes George Orwell’s 1984 is a powerful story about how a government can go bad. But just as after watching a horror movie, a child might see a killer or monster at every corner or in every shadow, we should not let fictions like 1984 – however sensational – dictate our worldview. Seeing evil in every government action, every law, every technology, every policy is counter-productive, not productive.
But I want you to notice a very funny thing during the process of the cat-and-mouse. The cat is the censorship, but Chinese is not only one cat, but also has local cats. Central cat and local cats.
You know, the server is in the local cats’ hands, so even that — when the Netizens criticize the local government, the local government has not any access to the data in Beijing. Without bribing the central cats, he can do nothing, only apologize.
So these three years, in the past three years, social movements about microblogging really changed local government, became more and more transparent, because they can’t access the data. The server is in Beijing. The story about the train crash, maybe the question is not about why 10 million criticisms in five days, but why the Chinese central government allowed the five days of freedom of speech online. It’s never happened before. And so it’s very simple, because even the top leaders were fed up with this guy, this independent kingdom. So they want an excuse — public opinion is a very good excuse to punish him.
But also, the Bo Xilai case recently, very big news, he’s a princeling. But from February to April this year, Weibo really became a marketplace of rumors. You can almost joke everything about these princelings, everything! It’s almost like you’re living in the United States. But if you dare to retweet or mention any fake coup about Beijing, you definitely will be arrested. So this kind of freedom is a targeted and precise window.
There is a lot of innuendos and speculations here that I won’t get here. But I want to address two points.
First, I don’t understand why Anti seem to feel so indignant when people are not allowed to indulge in rumors such as fake coups or of the racy details of criminal cases involving high officials and their families. If we care about real deliberation: shouldn’t freedom of speech be about informing – not misinforming – the people? Should people not be expected to have at least the patience to wait for official investigations and facts instead of demanding to live in up-to-the-minute rumor mills? (Some might object, arguing the real modus operandi is to cover up, betting that people’s attention will shift after a few months of “investigation.” But if things are really so easily forgotten, are they really important issues – or on the same note, can those same “forgetful” people – who require information to be spoon-fed – be trusted to make any rational judgement?)
Second, it’s interesting to see the cat and mouse theme resurfaces in yet another way – this time between central and local government as well. Here Anti seems to intone that central government is actually really evil, but gets away with being so labelled by laying all the blame on the local government.
Perhaps there is some truth in this. I don’t know. But I feel in some ways, this is the basis of all politics.
When one digs deep enough, may one come to see that the root of law is not justice, but the semblance of justice? At the root of democracy may not real people power or accountability, but a semblance of people power and accountability?
So Chinese in China, censorship is normal. Something you find is, freedom is weird. Something will happen behind it. Because he was a very popular Leftist leader, so the central government wanted to purge him, and he was very cute, he convinced all the Chinese people, why he is so bad. So Weibo, the 300 million public sphere, became a very good, convenient tool for a political fight.
But this technology is very new, but technically is very old. It was made famous by Chairman Mao, Mao Zedong, because he mobilized millions of Chinese people in the Cultural Revolution to destroy every local government. It’s very simple, because Chinese central government doesn’t need to even lead the public opinion. They just give them a target window to not censor people. Not censoring in China has become a political tool.
For a while, it’s fashionable to say pervasive the Chinese government carried out censorship. More recently, it’s more fashionable to pronounce how subtle and sophisticated and targeted Chinese censorship is. For example, a Harvard study published in June, 2012 (original link) concludes:
Contrary to previous understandings, posts with negative, even vitriolic, criticism of the state, its leaders, and its policies are not more likely to be censored. Instead, we show that the censorship program is aimed at curtailing collective action by silencing comments that represent, reinforce, or spur social mobilization, regardless of content. … [T]he leadership … allow[s] the full range of expression of negative and positive comments about the state, its policies, and its leaders…. [L]ooking bad does not threaten their hold on power so long as they manage to eliminate discussions with collective action potential—where a locus of power and control, other than the government, influences the behaviors of masses of Chinese people. With respect to speech, the Chinese people are individually free but collectively in chains.
So China used to be an unforgivingly oppressive society. But today, China has become a society that offers high levels of individual freedom … albeit with little collective freedom?
If so – what’s the fuss? I say, China has merely come to look like the West!
Many thinkers have noted that while individuals in the West may be “free,” collectively they are not. In Unconscious Civilization, for example, Saul discusses how people who are presumptively free can come to toil unconsciously slavishly for an oligarchy in the grip of a stifling “corporatist” structure (dominated by business managers and technocrats) and a dysfunctional democratic structure (marked by segmentation of society into competing interest groups). In the Propaganda Model, Herman and Chomsky discussed how a presumptively free people ultimately submit to living in sterile oceans of information (propaganda) as they relent to market forces and become passive receivers and consumers of information. Through the iron law of oligarchy, Robert Michels explains how representative democracy inevitably becomes but a façade (I like the term “mass opiate” better) that legitimizes the rule of an elite (i.e. an oligarchy).
Anyways, back to the cute recent theories about Chinese censorship from Anti and others. My main problem is not that I don’t believe the Chinese government censors. It’s the motivation attributed. It presumes too much cat and mouse game (adversarial government – people relationship).
A better assessment is what most Chinese already knows. The Chinese Internet is becoming an important social medium for Chinese citizens to voice, frame, discuss, argue, debate issues of all types. The government recognizes this and will continue to nurture the medium as a platform for the government to engage with and learn from the citizens at the lowest grassroots level issues of concern for the people, as a platform for citizens to deliberate with each other on important social and political issues, as a platform for the government to implement government transparency. The Chinese seem to be experimenting with building a vibrant system of e-government first and perhaps an e-democracy in the future.
This is serious stuff – not cat and mouse game.
So that’s the update about this game, cat-and-mouse. Social media changed Chinese mindset. More and more Chinese intend to embrace freedom of speech and human rights as their birthright, not some imported American privilege. But also, it gave the Chinese a national public sphere for people to, it’s like a training of their citizenship, preparing for future democracy. But it didn’t change the Chinese political system, and also the Chinese central government utilized this centralized server structure to strengthen its power to counter the local government and the different factions.
So, what’s the future? After all, we are the mouse. Whatever the future is, we should fight against the mouse. There is not only in China, but also in the United States there are some very small, cute but bad cats.
SOPA, PIPA, ACTA, TPP and ITU. And also, like Facebook and Google, they claim they are friends of the mouse, but sometimes we see them dating the cats. So my conclusion is very simple. We Chinese fight for our freedom, you just watch your bad cats. Don’t let them hook [up] with the Chinese cats. Only in this, in the future, we will achieve the dreams of the mouse: that we can tweet anytime, anywhere, without fear.
This is a fitting conclusion for someone wedded to the cat and mouse game. Unfortunately, I believe that ideology has so distorted the worldview of Anti that he sees a ghost in every shadow. Many may find comfort and solace in the fictional and ideologically-based world Anti has created, but for those who care about true possibilities, I invite you to be pragmatic, non-judgmental, and to see China as what it is. China is a recently awaken civilization looking to experiment, to build a peaceful, prosperous, harmonious and just society.
It’s a brave new world. Let’s grab it by the bull’s horn – and not submit to playing petty games of cat and mouse.
- For example, one is a colonial power (Russia), one was a colony (India), one has a mixed identity as both oppressor as well as oppressed (Brazil), and one is a former proud power that became almost destroyed but not quite (China). ↩
- Their original theory is referenced here. 20 years later in the Internet age, the theories remain as relevant as ever. ↩
- Human beings by nature like to conform. Human beings also are lazy. The and other characteristics Chomsky and Herman identified explains how an otherwise free society can easily buy into and become captured by a few sources of propaganda. ↩
- See, e.g., Facebook & Social Media: A Convenient Cover For Spying; Ex-Agent: CIA Seed Money Helped Launch Google) ↩
- See, e.g., theLastWatchDog: Google-NSA collaboration draws alarm, PC World: The Google-NSA Alliance: Questions and Answers (2010), MarketWatch: Group files request for details on Google, NSA partnership. Assange has said that Facebook is an “appalling spying machine” for the U.S. government. See also this RT Video report on YouTube (“Facebook, Google, Yahoo. All CIA Spies for US”) ↩
- See, e.g., Tarpley: US gov uses Google proxy to attack China (RT video on YouTube), InfoWars: YouTube’s Parent Google is a Corporate Member of the Council on Foreign Relations ↩
- The U.S. for example has a gdp per capita of U.S. $48,387 while China only has a gdp per capita of U.S. $5,414. ↩
- For example, recently one hears about how the Chinese have been banning observances of Ramadan in Xinjiang. Of course, there is no ban (Muslims are celebrating the end of Ramadan in China, by the way). Turns out the government has simply been warning people to take careful watch of themselves during fasting. It’s no different than a weather station in California warning people to stay indoors during hot days; or news stations warning people not to drive after Thanksgiving meals. You can still fast; you can still go out and play; you can still drink. However, please do these things in a safe manner. If public health statements such as these are deemed as oppressive, that’s just opportunistic politicking that I find so common in the West. Recently Germany has decided to ban child circumcision. Some however have called it a trespass against liberty (see e.g., this and this). This is a complicated health policy question; why make it into an issue of freedom? If this is a basic freedom issue, where do things stop? What about religious groups that want schools to teach creationism and reject Darwin? What about religious groups who reject medical treatment for prayers for their children? What about religious groups that want to force all its women to carry to term all pregnancies, however conceived? Are these all human rights issues? Or can individual societies decide for themselves what are sensitive policy questions without raising the specter of rights mongering? ↩
- People have been arguing over general choice of law and jurisdictional issues for Internet companies for some time time. The big trend is clear. As this U Penn Law Review article concludes: “In summary, the assertion of sovereign jurisdiction to protect citizens is likely to advance the fundamental public policy that the rule of law should be supreme to technological determinism. At the same time, the multiplicity of states with jurisdiction over Internet activities is likely to stimulate creativity and new Internet services such as more accurate and selective filtering technologies, stronger security zones and more robust, customized compliance capabilities.” The big picture is clear. China is a sovereign country. Chinese laws and policies are thus to be respected … even if you are an “Internet” company. ↩
- A trusted and respected collegue recently explained to me:
Most people don’t know that Google, Facebook and Twitter all received their orginal funding from the CIA, and that is how they were able to grow so quickly. And today, the US military and the CIA have software that permits one person to control hundreds of fake people in Twitter and Facebook, with forged IP addresses to make it seem their posts originate in China.
That is why the Chinese government killed Facebook and Twitter in China, and why there was the trouble with Google. It is all about espionage, about sedition, about the US trying to destabilise China and encourage people to start a revolution so the US will be able to move in and control China – as it has recently done with Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Ukraine, Georgia, and so on.
- I put the people in quotes because there is really no such thing as a “will” of “the people”. It’s a figment of people’s imagination. If there is, it can only constructively arise from informed, enlightened political deliberation by the citizens. ↩
- Of course, political philosophers such as Marx has also been saying this for a long time. Democracy is irrelevant. It’s the power dynamics that matters. And the power dynamics of Industrial societies is such that the rich and powerful have always structured society to alienate much of the fruit of laborers from the laborers. The dis-enfrenchised mass is then encouraged to fragment into special interests that fight each other, not the rigged system – or the oligarchy behind the system. “The people,” even if individually free, are thus powerless collectively. The recent occupy movement shows just how difficult it is to fight effectively against the system (see also these set of articles from Daily Kos). ↩