China vs. America: Not so different after all
In a previous post of mine Lisa Renee left a link for my perusal. It was interesting reading to say the least.
The big question of my former post: Should we boycott Google by not clicking on any of their ads? Probably not. The best way to hurt Google would be for those within China to participate in the boycott. That's not going to happen. Why not? The Chinese government does want any of that sort of activity going on in their neck of the woods.
In February, I met with Zhao Jing again, two months after his pro-democracy blog was erased by Microsoft. We ordered drinks at a faux-Irish pub in downtown Beijing. Zhao was still as energetic as ever, though he also seemed a bit rueful over his exuberant comments in our last conversation. "I'm more cynical now," he said. His blog had been killed because of a single post. In December, a Chinese newspaper editor was fired, and Zhao called for a boycott of the paper. That apparently crossed the line. It was more than just talk; Zhao had now called for a political action. The government contacted Microsoft to demand the blog be shuttered, and the company complied — earning it a chorus of outrage from free-speech advocates in the United States, who accused Microsoft of having acted without even receiving a formal legal request from the Chinese government.
The Chinese people cannot boycott Google, because their government will not let them communicate the idea to boycott Google...so that avenue is closed to them, and thus our efforts would be fairly unproductive.
However, as telling as that is, that's not the main thing I got out of this lengthy article. No, the main thing I got out of this article was more disturbing still.
The most disturbing thing for me is the apathy with which the Chinese populace not only accepts, but actually embraces their government's censorship.
When I visited a dingy Internet cafe one November evening in Beijing, its 120 or so cubicles were crammed with teenagers. (Because computers and home Internet connections are so expensive, many of China's mostly young Internet users go online in these cafes, which charge mere pennies per hour and provide fast broadband — and cold soft drinks.) Everyone in the cafe looked to be settled in for a long evening of lightweight entertainment: young girls in pink and yellow Hello Kitty sweaters juggled multiple chat sessions, while upstairs a gang of young Chinese soldiers in olive-drab coats laughed as they crossed swords in the medieval fantasy game World of Warcraft. On one wall, next to a faded kung-fu movie poster, was a yellow sign that said, in Chinese characters, "Do not go to pornographic or illegal Web sites." The warning seemed almost beside the point; nobody here looked even remotely likely to be hunting for banned Tiananmen Square retrospectives. I asked the cafe manager, a man with huge aviator glasses and graying hair, how often his clients try to view illegal content. Not often, he said with a chuckle, and when they do, it's usually pornography. He said he figured it was the government's job to keep banned materials inaccessible. "If it's not supposed to be seen," he said, "it's not supposed to be seen."
Not only that, it's rewarded!
One mistake Westerners frequently make about China is to assume that the government is furtive about its censorship. On the contrary, the party is quite matter of fact about it — proud, even. One American businessman who would speak only anonymously told me the story of attending an award ceremony last year held by the Internet Society of China for Internet firms, including the major Internet service providers. "I'm sitting there in the audience for this thing," he recounted, "and they say, 'And now it's time to award our annual Self-Discipline Awards!' And they gave 10 companies an award. They gave them a plaque. They shook hands. The minister was there; he took his picture with each guy. It was basically like Excellence in Self-Censorship — and everybody in the audience is, like, clapping." Internet censorship in China, this businessman explained, is presented as a benevolent police function. In January, the Shenzhen Public Security Bureau created two cuddly little anime-style cartoon "Internet Police" mascots named "Jingjing" and "Chacha"; each cybercop has a blog and a chat window where Chinese citizens can talk to them. As a Shenzhen official candidly told The Beijing Youth Daily, "The main function of Jingjing and Chacha is to intimidate." The article went on to explain that the characters are there "to publicly remind all Netizens to be conscious of safe and healthy use of the Internet, self-regulate their online behavior and maintain harmonious Internet order together."
Now, my initial response to all of this was, "How can they just take that?!?"
Then, I began to think about it. Are we really that different?
How long has our government been corrupted by financial contributions? How long has the two-party system had a strangle-hold on American politics? How long has America been in debt, despite are supposed place as the wealthiest nation in the world? How long have Americans been apathetic to the corruption within their own government?
If your answer is, like mine, "Too long!!!" then I suggest you check out Vote Out Incumbents for Democracy. It's a difficult battle to rise above the apathy within our own nation. It's difficult to get people to care about our corrupted government. But, like the battle for freedom of speech in China, it's worth it no matter how difficult the government makes it.