On China

Nick Kristof has a terrific column in The New York Times today on the power of blogs and the internet to challenge Chinese dictatorship. Yes, it’s behind the Great Wall of New York. But I’ll quote some good bits.

Kristof starts his own blogs in China and posts all kinds of things that censors should consider inflammatory — about imprisoned journalists, corruption, Falun Gong, and Tiananmen Square. The censors put asterisks on a few words but the posts stay up. And Kristof says:

All this underscores, I think, that China is not the police state that its leaders sometimes would like it to be; the Communist Party’s monopoly on information is crumbling, and its monopoly on power will follow. The Internet is chipping away relentlessly at the Party, for even 30,000 censors can’t keep up with 120 million Chinese Netizens. With the Internet, China is developing for the first time in 4,000 years of history a powerful independent institution that offers checks and balances on the emperors.

It’s not that President Hu Jintao grants these freedoms, for he has arrested dozens of cyberdissidents as well as journalists. But the Internet is just too big and complex for State Security to control, and so the Web is beginning to assume the watchdog role filled by the news media in freer countries. . . .

He tells the story of blogger Li Xinde, whom he has covered before, going around China “reporting on corruption and human-rights abuses.” In a great game of political wack-a-mole, Mr. Li keeps popping up. He told Kristof:
“They can keep closing sites, but they never catch up. You can’t stop the Yellow River from flowing, and you can’t block the bloggers.”

Put that on a T-shirt and wear it in the Forbidden City.

Kristof concludes:

China’s leaders decided years ago to accept technologies even if they are capable of subversive uses: photocopiers and fax machines at first, and now laptops and text messaging. The upshot is that China is much freer than its rulers would like.

To me, this trend looks unstoppable. I don’t see how the Communist Party dictatorship can long survive the Internet, at a time when a single blog can start a prairie fire.

: These movements and technologies need our support. That’s why I’ve been lambasting or lampooning Yahoo and Google executives over their China policies.

But at last week’s Hyperlinked Society conference, I spent a little time with people who know one helluva lot more about this issue than I do, including Xiao Qiang of the UC-Berkeley China Internet Project and Ethan Zuckerman of Global Voices. I won’t attempt to say what they say for fear of misquoting them. I’ll just give you my own thoughts. First, I’ll try to capture the back-and-forth we see on China and the internet:

The company lines we keep hearing from those who do business in China are (1) that the Chinese people are better off with a crippled internet than no internet at all, and (2) that these companies need to follow local laws. The other line we sometimes hear is that the Chinese people don’t care about politics and don’t want or need these freedoms, but I won’t dignify that with a response.

The problem with hiding behind these company lines is simply that if you never say no to the Chinese government, they will keep doing what they do. Not saying no to them is saying yes.

Many of us wish these companies would take the risk of saying no when China’s dictators demand information that might send people to jail or cripple their services. But the companies and their defenders reply they these are businesses that have an obligation to their shareholders to make money; they can’t pull out of China or even risk having to. Some of us say in return that these companies need to have an ethical compass or else they are damaging not only their ability to look at themselves in the mirror in the morning but also their brands and reputations around the globe — and that is, indeed, a business issue.

But I think it is also up to us to put countervailing pressure, to give these companies cover. The problem in our own First Amendment fight against the so-called Parents Television Council and its lapdogs at the FCC and in Congress is that no one wants to vote in favor of the First Amendment when they can be accused of voting for smut. We need to give them cover; we need to demand our freedom of speech. At a much more urgent level, the same is true for internet companies doing business in China.

It’s fair to say that perhaps these companies should not be expected to do this on their own — to stand up to the world’s biggest dictatorship and their shareholders at the same time, just because they want to be decent. So perhaps it is up to us to put that pressure on by asking that they stand up for principle to protect their trusted relationships with us — their brands and businesses, in short. I’m not talking boycotts and nasty campaigns. Think of this less as an attack on the companies and more as a favor to them. We need to help them out by giving the a reason to stand up and have guts. I’m simply saying that when they try to say no to the Chinese dictators, they need a reason why — because of the pressure around the world supporting freedom of speech for everyone.

That means the first step is to state those principles. I think Amnesty International made a good first step at its Irrepressible.info:

I believe the Internet should be a force for political freedom, not repression. People have the right to seek and receive information and to express their peaceful beliefs online without fear or interference. I call on governments to stop the unwarranted restriction of freedom of expression on the Internet – and on companies to stop helping them do it.

  • Could you look in more detail at what actually happens as communication? Maybe Google and Yahoo should still be pressured but my impression is that there is a flow around the edges where a lot is exchanged and the base in officially endorsed channels is not a block on this.

    There is a conference coming up on citizen journalism organised by OhmyNews

    Based in the UK I can’t offer any informed views but my impression is that people in South Korea have a sense of Korea and a region and are open to many forms of communication. Not sure how this applies to China but suggest the content of the conference online will show a variety of starting points and methods.

  • Why all the talk about smut and indecency? I know it’s been a theme of the original sin crowd for two millennia, but the recent re-activation of the theme seems to be motivated by political expediency.

    When most familes were close to the land children learned all about sex at a very young age, civilization didn’t come crashing down. Many other regions of the world don’t have the hangups seen in the US and they seem to do fine as well.

    Now that we have injected indecency back into the formula are we going to soon see skirts covering piano legs again?

    Where are the freedom of speech groups on this latest attempt to suppress speech? The original mistake was the supreme court ruling on pornography, the first amendment doesn’t say “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech (except what old WASPS find distasteful)”.

    Just like the attempts to ban the DaVinci Code, are religious leaders so uncertain of themselves, or their followers, that being exposed to a movie or a naked body will ruin them forever?

  • bobby fletcher

    And kids in China too willl look for ways to get the smut on-line. A common knowledge around “net bars” in China is to use “Proxy Hunter” to get around the swiss cheese filtering:


  • Americangenes

    What a disillusionment… selling our souls to the Chinese…

    Here is a country who never believes in human rights issues, who points their nuclear weapons at us but we still go about sucking their balls… call that country China….

    And here is an illustration of the shameful conduct by supposedly famous physicists who are touting that the chinese are the most BrillianT…

    David J. Gross and Andrew Strominger. the physicists who shamelessly builds institutes and puffs their cigar claiming that China is freed at last… have they no shame??? Or the money given by the Chinese govt so large that they are willing to whore their wives to the chinese? Or should I say this is a facet of the ugly american? Everything is money? We will sell our wives for money likes the Moslems will kill their children for faith? When their money runs out, then what will they do? Or then it would be too late to go back and build our own country?

    Here is an abstract of an article from NY times:

    Dr. Gross, who was in China at the time of the Tiananmen massacre and resisted returning for 13 years, said that culture change was the difficult part of China’s modernization but that there were positive signs. He recalled seeing plans for a building that the Institute for Theoretical Physics is constructing and being horrified to find it made up of little rooms.

    “It looked like a prison,” he said.

    The latest philosophy in the West is to make physics buildings like irregular little mazes with blackboards and couches around every other corner, to encourage encounters and collaboration. The Beijing institute, he said, is now planning to remodel the inside of its building.

    “A lot of people ask for advice but are hesitant to accept it,” Dr. Gross said. “In China, they are totally open to exploring how other countries do it. They are totally unarrogant about accepting advice.”

    Dr. Gross, who has a well-known fondness of cigars, was smoking one under a giant drawing of Mao backstage after his own talk on Monday at the Great Hall when an official came in and said nobody had done that since Deng Xiaoping, China’s former paramount leader who died in 1997.

    But, Dr. Gross related with a smile, “He said, ‘You’re allowed.’ “”

    But despite this, I still believe strongly in this country…

  • Will Pollard

    Here is a link to a story on OhmyNews from a journalist in China


    Changes seen as possible are small and slow but worth paying some attention.

  • bobby fletcher

    Here are some more search result I found about Tiananmen on Chinese search engine Baidu.com. I used the keywords “天安门 89″ [”Tiananmen 89″]:

    Here’s a blog in China complete with photos and frank discussion:


    Here are few more I found on Baidu.com:


    Two Chinese netters argued weither hundreds of thousands of university students were killed during TAM. They called it “89 Student Movement Massacare”:


    Chinese netters are trading VCD of some artist’s concert performance during TAM protest:


  • Don’t Do Evil?

    Google have been given a pretty hard time of late with its venture into China. But are they really compromising their mission of Don’t Do Evil?

    I’m not so sure that they are. After all, what is the alternative – completely ignore nearly 20% of the World’s population by saying we’re not playing by your Government’s rules so we won’t engage at all. Life just isn’t like that – well not for people who want to progress and engage with different cultures from around the World and move the human race on. By isolating countries that we simply don’t agree with we get into situations where we start to dehumanise these Governments to the point where we start to think of them as alien, awful factions of people that we then learn nothing about and they in turn learn nothing from us. We don’t progress, and before you know it we are isolated from each other and paranoia and fear sets in and we are at war.

    Haven’t we all at some time compromised, or more accurately adjusted, our behaviour when we have travelled abroad on holiday to accommodate local laws, customs and traditions? I certainly have. The problem for Google is how they possibly deal with these far reaching ethical and cultural tensions between their mission, “Don’t Do Evil”, and the fact that they are being complicit in holding back information which will inevitably give people in China a limited view of the world.

    Well, Google isn’t censoring these people it is the Chinese government and Google are respecting their national laws. Whilst we may not like it that is what goes on in China and whilst it may be at odds with our sense of openness many Chinese people that I know love their country and their Government. They are proud of China’s history and of its vast development over the last 15 years which couldn’t have been achieved without the Chinese Government opening itself up to foreign investment and capitalism.

    Whilst censorship has serious and far-reaching implications, child labour/slavery, an entirely worse evil in my view, has been prevalent in China for years. I have witnessed such atrocious factories myself, and being horrified by them and the conditions in which kids from 11 onwards work in. But what of the clothes that you wear? Can you safely say these were not produced by these forgotten children? Take a look around your house and tell me that you are 100% sure that the TV, computer, microwave or trainers that you own were produced by cheerful workers with healthcare and a fair wage. These products are produced cheaper and cheaper, at our demand, and with that they become more and more available to people with less wealth from around the world – which develops the world we live in. But what of the children that produce them? Their lives are of course consigned to the reality that they are the “human resources” that simply live, work and breathe their slavery every day of every week of every year in the most squalid and brutal of conditions. I don’t however see everyone reaching to throw their PCs and TVs out of the window in disgust at the horrors that they have been complicit in. And, if these kids, whose parents simply couldn’t afford to feed, weren’t doing this work, what would they be doing? Starvation possibly or maybe sold into the sex industry? Not an easy situation to wrestle with is it…

    So, do we engage with China abiding by their laws and customs and congratulate Google’s bravery for embracing a very difficult situation or do we divorce ourselves from it and start boycotting China until they start listening to us and doing things our way? All sounds a bit arrogant to me that we somehow know best. I choose engaging with China every day, of every week, of every year, with the hope, and belief, that we can learn, progress and influence each other. As China becomes more affluent and integrated with other global cultures, and we become more knowledgeable and understanding of them, maybe then we will start to see the Government ease up on its tight reign on censorship of its people and then maybe some of the kids who are making your PCs, Clothes, TVs can begin to take greater ownership of their lives, lift themselves out of poverty, and actually be able to afford a PC to search Google, in its unabridged form. I wonder what they will make of our amazing democracy…

    Google, in my view, should be applauded for engaging with the Chinese Government and having the strength to struggle with some of these incredibly complicated and challenging ethical tensions. Don’t Do Evil is something that we should all aspire to do and we should of course, where possible, avoid being complicit in the misery of others. But let’s be clear that this will not be achieved easily and a healthy mix of campaigning and commercial engagement is the way forward in my view. Anyone, of course, as I do, who has an issue with censorship or Human Rights abuse in China should write to the Chinese government and campaign against it or sign up to Amnesty Internationals http://www.irrepressible.info or visit http://www.amnesty.org

    Let’s remember that the Chinese government are the lawmakers, not Google, and few of us can say we haven’t been in complicit in the misery of others, wittingly or not, sometime or other in the past. This is something that I am constantly working on minimising as I am sure Google are…

  • China has started to rise as an economic superpower. It will become the biggest economy of the world almost in a decade if it continues to grow at the current pace.

    Americans did not like the rise of China. They took advantage of the September 11 and surrounded China by invading Afghanistan. They also established bases in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Americans are trying to build an alliance against China in Asia with the help of Japan, Australia, and India.

    Chinese reacted to this alarming situation and signed various treaties with neighbouring countries such as Pakistan. China also accelerated the development of Gawadar port with the help of Pakistan as a wider strategy to counter the American influence in the region.

    Read More …


  • Fascinating article on the economics of chinese birth planning , which asks “how necessary was the one child policy in fostering economic development?”. In-depth analysis with useful facts and statistics

  • Here is an open letter to Mr. Kristof concerning his trip to China:
    After China, I offer you a tour of western New York (Seriously)

    Mr. Kristof,
    Your reporting is excellent. However, after this trip you are taking would you consider reporting in equal depth and care the other half of the Chinese boomtown stories? From my perspective, you present half the equation.
    I believe it is a huge story that is not being covered in its truly vast proportions, with its profound implications, anywhere in the press. That other half of the equation is the ruined cities and empty towns here at home where the very same products coming from China today were manufactured a short time ago. It is glaring to me how the press neglects our wonderful recent history as a country with a vibrant working class, directly related to the wild and exciting growth in OTHER COUNTRIES which is gleefully reported in such detail. To be fully truthful, the equation complete in both parts must be presented together. Otherwise, it is half the story.
    Let me take you just over the 59th Street Bridge, where I live now, and show you the transformation from factory jobs to Million Dollar condos. Let’s together add up the TENS of THOUSANDS of JOBS that have been eliminated in just this one neighborhood in recent years and locate where those jobs are today. Then let me take you along the rail lines upstate, past the little AMERICAN towns and cities that once were vibrant thanks to manufacturing jobs. Schenectady, Geneva, Rochester, Syracuse, and countless smaller towns, their working base in utter decay. Right now, as I type this, these towns suffer the stress of a DEPRESSED ECONOMY, with a diminishing future; while cities in China and elsewhere boom, our American companies famously invest over there, divest over here.
    Then to Buffalo, New York, which my mother has told me of in her youth: “you could leave one place and find another job the same afternoon, if you wanted.” Thousands of workers streaming into factories humming with activity must be an invigorating sight. Tell me, Mr. Kristof, what it is like? I haven’t seen it in my life time, but surely have you seen it in China just the other day.
    Buffalo has an astonishing history. A great history, at one time with two fine newspapers, all kinds of manufacturing, steel, a great cultural history as well. Yet on June 15 of this year, the last of its museum’s irreplaceable art collection will be auctioned off a Sotheby’s — Greek and Egyptian, Indian, Native American, Medieval treasures, some from several centuries BC. I am an artist, and my heart was broken when the first of these auctions occurred this spring, I had tried to prevent it. Some ancient pieces were auctioned off in March–one small urn from the 13th Century BC alone went for 8 million Dollars! That is an indication of the kind of quality that was ours. In total, over 200 will be sold just this spring. The buyer said such pieces will never again be seen on the market in his life time. According to a Sotheby’s spokesman interest is intense, “particularly from Asian collectors and mainland Chinese institutions now aspiring to acquire property of world-class status.” What we had was great, representing a proud moment in our nation’s history. Today, the equation is clear: While cities like Buffalo lose their world-class standing, a Chinese city is rapidly acquiring it.
    I am in mourning for my hometown city’s cultural heritage, sold off in this manner. And that is just one aspect of the reality of Upstate New York I would like to show you when you return from China.
    More than that, I mourn the loss of our healthy American working class and an inspired, rapidly growing middle-class as it disappears all across the country. In my view, every factory you see in China could possibly be here still, if only there had been a will to reign in, just a little, this massive selloff of our future for today’s profits.
    Mr. Kristof, are you pleased with what you find in China, with no concern for your own homeland? I am with you in your reporting on Darfur, or the reporting on various crises abroad. But what of this blind spot in the press when it comes to our own people, the working class base that struggle increasingly with a creeping economic weakness and instability, refinancing their homes to get along?
    Those very jobs in China can be traced back here. Half the equation tells half the story. Will you investigate the ongoing switch from here to there, this profound change affecting vast numbers of our own people, right in our own back yards?

    My grandfather was instrumental in bringing the union to where he worked in Buffalo. Progressing from his early working days prior to 1920, earning ‘piece work,” then to 35 cents an hour, and further to decent wages with hard fought improvements all along the way, he wound up retiring in the late 1960s with a full pension. This wonderful, rewarding and fulfilling working life should be available to Americans today, but is not. Hard fought, humble, it was a beautiful, natural course of improvement far above what he could have dreamed of in his boyhood during the first years of the last century (he was born in 1903) or hoped for in 1917 when he began his working career. Great sacrifices were made by him and his parents, including a stay in an orphanage during a difficult time, and a boxing career on top of long factory hours to earn a little more for his family.
    This same energy and spirit of an inspired working class I see in China today.
    As you know, the 20th century in our America — that is, yours and mine, Mr. Kristof — was a period for vast numbers of poor to rise from poverty to a life with some security, even a paid vacation, unemployment insurance, a pension. I call it pressure from the bottom up, forcing a change for the good of the average worker. A rich life my grandfather had, with many newspapers competing, many employers expanding, cultural treasures like an impressive art museum for a new sophisticated city, powering the birth of a superpower. It was an emerging world-class city, the birth of powerhouse country.
    Now, this very promise to the working class is sold off for today’s profits. Now it is pressure from the top down for improved profits, a soaring stock market, transplanting our industrial base overseas, resulting in a rising working class SOMEWHERE ELSE! A vast population is rising in China, India, Korea. Fine for them, but what of our country, and the working class here?
    Will you allow me to take you on tour of this very recent history, as I see it through my family’s working history, where it has gone and what it means for our future here at home.
    Thank You,
    Tom Barlow
    32-66 35th Street
    Long Island City, New York 11106

    See what’s free at http://www.aol.com.

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  • Here’s the link to the article about how China blocked Google.
    I think it’s really interesting to read this like continuation of this discussion.