Repression 101: Censorship

Photo © funadium from Flickr

The first and most obvious feature of how Chinese government maintains order is through censorship. The Great Firewall of China, Xinhua News, and the censorship of books and publications is merely the most blunt instrument they have in their hands, but far from the only one.

By controlling the flow of information, they possess a strong ability to control the narrative of a given story. While it is not especially difficult to get around the Great Firewall, the question that most Chinese people ask themselves is: “Why bother?” China has successfully cast the media narrative as an “us vs them” situation, where foreign sources are automatically biased against China. The average Chinese person feels little incentive to seek out foreign sources of news for a different point of view. Similarly, despite there being almost no barriers to access, not many Americans actively seek out Al-Jazeera for a second opinon on world affairs.

Most Western media reports focus on the most basic of censorship methods—like blocked searches for sensitive keywords, deletion of blog posts, or media blackouts on certain news items. However, far more insidious than that is the censorship that editors impose upon themselves.

Snail E-mail

Gmail

If you’re wondering why Gmail is running slowly and why Gchat keeps dropping, you’re not alone: Google is wondering the same thing.

Relations between the Internet giant and the Chinese government have never been great. What with Google’s withdraw from the mainland after refusing to self-censor search results and reporting that high-level cyber attacks aimed at e-mail accounts of political activists originated from China. But earlier this week Google outright accused the Chinese government of tampering with its e-mail system.

UCLA’s Asian Racist

Alexandra Wallace

Alexandra Wallace, the so-called “Asian Racist,” is a political science student at UCLA who uploaded a YouTube video complaining about Asians talking on their cell phones in the library. The video has become the flashpoint for a national discussion about racial insensitivity and the limits of free speech. Wallace has since dropped out of UCLA after having her class schedule posted on the Internet and receiving multiple death threats. But what does the video, and the response it has evoked, actually say about American society?

The Jasmine Revolution Comes to China

Wangfujing

It seems that the seeds of the Jasmine Flower, the symbol of the Tunisian Revolution, have spread beyond the borders of the Middle East, wafting through the air and touching down in the Far East.

In Beijing on Sunday anonymous calls for protest sent across social media and micro-blogging sites resulted in a demonstration outside a McDonalds in the busy downtown shopping district of Wangfujing. By 2PM hundreds of police were on scene. 25-year-old Liu Xiaobai was apprehended for placing a jasmine flower in a planter in front of the McDonalds but was released after the commotion drew attention from photographers and journalists.

Writer’s Block

I’ve always dreamed of being censored by the Chinese government, to be an outspoken champion of reason and martyred like the philosophers of old.  Well, it didn’t turn out that way.

Shock Values

The recent spate of school stabbings across China is further evidence of the increasingly desperate attempts by the downtrodden to draw attention to China’s vast income gap. While Zheng Minsheng, the perpetrator of the Nanping stabbing, appears to have acted independently, the subsequent rash of attacks have the unmistakable whiff of the copycat. While it may seem crass to label these grisly incidents as a case of follow-the-leader, the international media seem unable to come to any more satisfying conclusion.

Writer’s Block

There is a Chinese idiom about a man who buried a sum of silver underground and, worried that passersby would find it, placed a sign next to the plot that read “ci di wu yin san bai liang,” or “There is not 300 liang of silver here.” Needless to say, the next day his silver was gone.

I wonder if the censorship bureau understands this parable because one thing everyone in China should know by now is that if you ever come across a website that terminates your Internet connection, start digging.

Upfront and Personal

Last week, the NBC network issued a press release detailing its television lineup for the 2008-2009 season, which includes such gems as:

KNIGHT RIDER – On the heels of NBC’s hit movie, the iconic 1980s television classic comes roaring back to life as an updated drama series showcasing the new customized KITT (Knight Industries Three Thousand) Ford Mustang. As the sequel resumes, KITT is absolutely the coolest car ever created: its supercomputer capable of hacking almost any system; its weapons systems efficient; and its body—thanks to its creator’s work and nanotechnology—is capable of actually shifting shape and color. It is the ultimate car—and someone will be willing to do anything to obtain it.

THE LISTENER – In this one-hour drama, Toby Logan (Craig Olejnik, “The Runaway”) is a 24-year-old paramedic living with a secret: he can read people’s minds. This telepathic procedural takes viewers into the heart of a tortured hero who struggles to solve crimes with his unique gift. Week-to-week, “The Listener” balances high-stakes drama with irreverent humor and sends Toby on an intellectual and emotional adventure.