Nicholas Kristof, a Pulitzer Prize winner, made a dare today to China’s censorship. In his NYT Op-ed piece, “Banned in Beijing!” he tells his readers him starting a Chinese blog inside China containing “counterrevolutionary praise of dissidents.” He expects his blog being shut down and wants his readers to watch as it happens. Certainly, he has come up with a very clever way to make news being a so called journalist.
Remember the Lhasa riot of 2008? Never-mind the Westerners on the grounds reporting. The Western media faked images (remember the CNN cropping out rioters with bricks in hand) and were only capable of writing their narrative; forget about truth. Those same people blamed on the Chinese government for not letting them freely report. Kristof has just reminded me once again, they are interested in making news and cooking ‘facts’ supporting their narratives.
He reminds me of the “freedom” voyeurs in the West whose self-obsessed views about “freedom” must be grafted unto whatever the latest fad is; this case being the Internet. He mind as well talk about China’s high way system transforming China into a “free” society. How about China’s zippy new high speed rail ways having the same effect? Or the explosion of newspapers. Some Pulitzer Prize winner he is. In this post, I simply cannot resist poking fun at this ridiculous narrative, a concoction of half truths, tricks, and occasional facts. I am poking fun at every bit of the article.
Psst. Don’t tell the Chinese government, but I started a Chinese-language blog here in China, and it contains counterrevolutionary praise of dissidents. It’s at http://blog.sina.com.cn/jisidao.
I thought it was pretty funny he made 3 posts back in late December 2010. Each post containing two or three sentences in Chinese. How about writing some paragraphs in Chinese and say something intelligent about your views? Yes, I know, this is not about an exchange of views. This is about ‘shut me down fast’ and I am in a hurry for a story.
Now let’s count — 1, 2, 3 … — and see how long my blog stays up. My hunch is that State Security will “harmonize” it quickly. In Chinese, Web sites are mockingly referred to as “harmonized” when the government vaporizes them so as to nurture a “harmonious society.”
What a clever way to take a cheap shot at the vision for harmony. This is obviously siding with the minority who have disdain for that idea. I suppose people could take cheap shots at ‘democracy’ as in Iraq has just been invaded or ‘democratized.’
China now has about 450 million Internet users, far more than any other country, and perhaps 100 million bloggers. The imprisoned writer Liu Xiaobo, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, has said, “The Internet is God’s gift to the Chinese people.” I tend to agree, but it’s also true that Chinese cyberspace remains a proletarian dictatorship. In November, the government sent a young woman, Cheng Jianping, to labor camp for a year for posting a single mocking sentence.
I remember back in the late 90’s dot com boom, the Western media predicted an Internet revolution in China. When the number of Chinese Internet users were below 100 million, these people predicted Chinese online users banding together for democracy. Well, 350 million more users later, the thing that strikes me is more and more of them are voicing their displeasure at the NYT and other Western media outlets.
My prediction has always been Western media blocking these users from voicing their opinion. I expect more Western media to disable commenting in their articles.
Strictly speaking, I agree with that quote from Liu Xiaobo. The Internet in China is absolutely vibrant. 100 million bloggers, that’s no small potato.
As regards to Cheng Jianping, she was inciting violence against the Japanese. She has become synonymous for her most famous phrase, “Charge, angry youth!” Kristof, you made it sound like she was ‘mocking’ the Chinese government and therefore sent to prison. That is a lie.
My teenage kids accompanied me on this trip, and they’re used to being dragged around to witness one injustice or another. But my daughter has rarely been more indignant than when she discovered that Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are blocked in China.
Before you drag your children around to pass judgement on the Chinese and show your indignation, please also educate them that if Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter do not cooperate with Chinese law enforcement (as they actually do with the U.S.), China should have the right to block them. Perhaps you ought to let your children appreciate and tolerate another society’s way of moving forward first. After that, graft your views on them and let them decide.
So I decided to conduct my latest experiment in Chinese Internet freedom. I began this series of experiments in 2003 by seeing what I could get away with in Chinese Internet chat rooms.
You news maker, you!
On this visit, I started with blogging and with microblogging, the Chinese version of Twitter. But, in an ominous sign, I discovered that the Chinese authorities had tightened the rules since my last experiments. These days, anyone starting an online account must supply an ID card number and cellphone number. That means that the authorities can quickly track down nettlesome commentators.
If you are going to write about China, at least know something about China first. You mean you have been completely clueless when they made real ID registration a requirement some time ago. It’s like it’s been raining outside, and when you noticed the rain, you say, you ‘discovered’ it and wow, an ‘ominous sign.’ Pretty funny.
Once I got started, though, the censors were less aggressive than I had expected, apparently relying more on intimidation than on actual censorship. Even my microblog posts about Mr. Liu, the imprisoned dissident, went up. A similar post mentioning the banned Falun Gong movement triggered an automatic review, but then a moderator approved it.
You feel intimidated or were intimidated? The way you have written it: ‘the censors were less aggressive; relying more on intimidation; moderator approved it.” So thrilling!
(A Chinese moderator once explained to me that grunt-level censors are mostly young computer geeks who believe in Internet freedom and try to sabotage their responsibilities without getting fired.)
Look, Chinese people all over believe in Internet freedom. Your version of “freedom” is very much about subversion of state, which the Chinese people understand breaks their law. They frankly want a strong government so they don’t get invaded or colonized.
You are conflating this two versions of “freedom.”
Saying that the young Chinese believing in Internet freedom (the type that is equal to freedom of expression without breaking laws), you are trying to obfuscate the subversion of state variety.
Still, there are limits. I posted a reference to the June 4, 1989, Tiananmen massacre. It went up automatically, and then was removed by a moderator 20 minutes later.
“massacre?” It was a horrible incident. If Cai Ling didn’t beg for bloodshed and encouraged the students instead to leave the square, there wouldn’t be the clash that resulted. Massacre to Americans and other normal people mean willful and indiscrimant killing of people. That was clearly not what the Chinese government was doing.
Most of the ex-Tiananmen students have wise up to believe June 4 was a big mistake.
The challenge for the authorities is that there is just too much to police by moderators, and automatic filters don’t work terribly well. Chinese routinely use well-known code phrases for terms that will be censored (June 4 might become June 2+2, or May 35). Likewise, Chinese can usually get around the “great firewall of China” by using widely available software, like Freegate, or by tunneling through a virtual private network.
We know. Every single article in the Western media about Chinese censorship will provide free publicity to one of these tunneling software.
Most Chinese aren’t overtly political — seeking out banned pornography is typically regarded as more rewarding than chasing down tracts about multiparty democracy. Still, Internet controls are widely resented. My bet is that more young Chinese are vexed by their government’s censorship than by its rejection of multiparty democracy.
True, they are not overtly political. Rest of the above are so brain-dead. I have written recently about the Open CourseWare (see “The Open CourseWare Consortium: Help Make Education Free“), and the point I want to make is that materials on the Internet such as that are completely accessible. Chinese people in fact actively seek them out.
So, we should look at the entire Internet. What’s blocked? Pornography. And people who have intention to subvert the Chinese government. Separatist groups. And, sure, services like Youtube, Facebook, etc., who are unwilling to cooperate with Chinese law. Everything else is available.
Also, don’t get so cocky thinking Youtube, Facebook, and a number of other U.S. based Internet services make up the whole of Internet. Some people may not comprehend that.
Multiparty democracy has a really bad name if you think about it. Which multiparty democracy has invaded and killed the most number of people in modern history? Such a system has its benefits. There is nothing inherently “righteous” about it.
Michael Anti, a prominent Chinese blogger, says that the central government may increasingly allow Chinese netizens to criticize abuses by local governments, even as it blocks disparagement of the central leadership. Since the worst human rights abuses are often by local authorities, that would be a modest step forward.
The Chinese in the past few years passed “right to know” and various transparency laws. They are proactively fighting corruption. They are doing it systematically, not this “increasingly allow” type of adhoc measure you insinuate.
I don’t understand this “worst human rights abuses are often by local authorities.” Everything the local authorities do wrong is a “human rights abuse” to you?
A recent book by Evgeny Morozov, “The Net Delusion,” argues that Westerners get carried away by the potential of the Internet to democratize societies, failing to appreciate that dictators can also use the Web to buttress their regimes. A fair point. But like Mr. Liu, I see the Internet as a powerful force to help remold China.
This is a false dichotomy. Why does the impact of the Internet has to be couched in terms of democratizing societies vs. dictators cracking down on their citizens with it? Like an inter-state highway, the Internet is an awesome tool for Chinese society.
“to help remold China”; of course, spoken as a true “activist.” Why don’t reporters just report? Remember, I am not trying to take that particular sentence out of context. Kristof is making news with his Chinese blog stunt.
Frankly, my own experiments had mixed results. My microblog quickly attracted notice, partly because a Chinese friend with more than one million followers directed readers to it. An hour later, it had been harmonized.
Just as Iraq has been democratized. I’ll loose the quotation marks too.
Meanwhile, I published my separate Chinese blog (at the web address mentioned above). It was just as edgy and included a slightly veiled birthday greeting to Mr. Liu in prison. But I didn’t promote it, so the authorities didn’t care, or didn’t notice. It has remained up for several weeks — but now that I’ve mentioned it in this column, it’s presumably doomed.
Kristof is popular in the West. With this Op-ed, it will undoubtedly raise the stakes on that blog of 3 posts, roughly two sentences each.
To me, the lesson of my experiments is that the Chinese Internet is too vast for the government to monitor fully. It can toss individuals in prison. But it can’t block the information revolution itself.
The Chinese government encourages information revolution. Did you read their white paper? The information revolution is taking place as planned.
What is not taking place is the ‘subversion of state’ type of revolution Kristof is thinking.
Mr. Liu may be in prison, but my hunch is that his judgment will be vindicated: the Internet will one day be remembered as helping to transform China, byte by byte. Let a billion blogs bloom.
China will evolve alright, and who knows, may actually evolve to a multiparty state. But definitely not “helped” by Kristof or Liu Xiaobo. Westerners such as my college patent law professor who quietly provided help when China codified her patent laws are actually helping to change China. People like Kristof and Liu Xiaobo in my opinion, are just buzzing around to make few bucks on the back of anti-Chinese government sentiments.
Indeed, let a billion blogs bloom. Let the Chinese perspectives be heard.