Saturday, March 22, 2008


holsum. good for you.

The very existence of Internet controls is almost never discussed in public here, apart from vague statements about the importance of keeping online information “wholesome.”

James Fallows in his piece “The Connection Has Been Reset” in the March 2008 issue of the Atlantic Monthly about Internet censorship in China.

Aric Mayer has posted an interesting chronicle of the Chinese censorship of his blog, Aric Mayer Studios, something we chatted a little bit about when he passed through town back in November.

I saw my traffic from China slowly decline to nearly nothing awhile back, and assumed it was related to my pissing and moaning about the Beijing Olympics. However, Fallows' piece suggests that all of us blogspotters may be blocked now.

Fallows' piece makes an important point: China's online surveillance system is pretty tightly nailed down, but easily subverted -- if one is willing to spend the money and accept the risk.

Its power lies in its subtle big brother omnipresence. Says Fallows: "By making the search for external information a nuisance, they drive Chinese people back to an environment in which familiar tools of social control come into play."

Or, as a collaborative study between UC Davis and the University of New Mexico concluded (also cited in the Fallows piece): “The presence of censorship, even if easy to evade, promotes self-censorship.”

1 comment:

Aric Mayer said...

The censorship takes place in many ways, as I discovered in public internet sites in far western China. There, an internet monitor would sit watching over my shoulder at everything I did. I had to hide the computer type pad to hide my login codes to my email, or I am certain that he would have simply copied them down. Having read the Atlantic article, the part that impresses me most is how personal the censorship process is. It isn't about filtering or math, but rather about real people sitting in a room deciding what is acceptable or not. That is much more terrifying than being censored by a machine.

The closing words that China is more free than ever don't offer much encouragement for me. The brutal totalitarianism that the Chinese have endured and perpetuated for thousands of years is hard for us in the west to appreciate. The cultural revolution involved mass executions of entire classes of people. Imagine if suddenly we executed all the doctors, lawyers and academics in this country, and then said to the rest, "Be good workers and don't piss off the state." That is the environment that they are coming back from. So being the most free ever is a highly relative position that looks far from free in our terms.

Right next to Tiananman Square is the Forbidden City, the former residence and quarters of the emperor. The penalty for a peasant who simply looked at the walls of the city was death. Just for looking.

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