Internet culture

Dystopia and censorship

Malcolm Moore of The Daily Telegraph asked me for a China Internet primer to accompany a series of China business stories their paper is running.

Here it is: China's internet: the wild, wild East

The editors left out a line that I rather liked, so I take the liberty of publishing it, at the end of the second paragraph below, in bold:

Savvy Chinese Internet users know how to use proxy servers and other technologies to get around the Internet blocks: Chinese government Net censorship works not because it's impossible to open websites the government does not like, but because it's inconvenient to access those sites.

So most Chinese net users, who go online primarily for entertainment, don't notice and don't particularly care about censorship, as long as they can chat to their friends, play games, listen to music and watch videos. Their dystopia is more Brave New World than 1984.

The whole thing is here.

Some noteworthy pieces in the Telegraph's recent China business reporting:
Google China chief Kaifu Lee bets on mobile internet in battle to gain dominance
Baidu's story is only just beginning, says finance chief Jennifer Li
• Whole series of profiles and commentary: Inside China

There are currently 8 Comments for Dystopia and censorship.

Comments on Dystopia and censorship

they left out downloading porn...

And how does the average Zhou's internet usage differ significantly from the average Joe? Not much. How many people actually surf the web for political shit? Not that many (political comedy sites don't count).

Our dystopia is no less brave new world and comparably 1984.

ceh: YouTube is political now? not everything that cannot be accessed is necessarily political (at least not directly)

jeremy: seems to be more of the same in that extract. but a couple of jarring generalisations that I see popping up a lot among china bloggers.
1. Savvy Chinese Internet users - who are they exactly? How many of them are there? Is everyone who wants to access a banned site included here? What about those that are not? A silent majority perhaps?
2. Most Chinese net users - again, where is the data from or is just an educated guess.

Not having a go. Just curious as I see this kind of language thrown around a lot.

I think the point that you make in the penultimate paragraph is the key - that it is harder for people to get away with stuff now.

Obviously though they still do, otherwise there wouldn't be billions of yuan in state funds ploughed into fancy cars, pleasure palaces and Macau's gambling industry each year...


About 30% of Danwei's readers are Chinese. This has not changed despite the fact that we are being blocked, judging from the following:

1. According to Google Analytics, 30% of our traffic comes from people using Chinese language operating systems. We lost about 30% of our traffic (about 3,000 people) after the block, but it's now up to around 8,500 unique visitors a day.

2. In a recent poll we did which asked followers of Danwei and my personal Twitter account the question 'Would you consider leaving China because of Internet blocks?', of 100 respondents, 27 of the respondents were Mainland Chinese, 3 were from Hong Kong, Taiwan or Macao, all apparently living in the Mainland.

Aside from Danwei's stats:

Anecdotal evidence, Chinese people I follow on Twitter, hackers I have interviewed, my Chinese MSN buddies — all of them know how to get around the Internet blocks.

Based on these things, our website, RSS and Twitter stats, and a certain amount of guessing, I think that Danwei and my personal digital communications probably reach about five to fifteen thousand Chinese people on at least a weekly basis:

All of those people must know how to jump over the Great FirewWall. And that's just in our tiny corner of the Internet.

But yes, a fair bit of what I wrote is based on informed guess work.

Why do you think it's the obligation of the Chinese to dig out critical websites about the government, when they are semi-content with their life? Why must they view the nature of government and all this utopia/dystopia with the same lens as the western world? Again, this is what "reactionary" really means. Any society that does not fit western view of liberism is immediately a dystopia on the scale of 1984. (Oh no the world is going to end!)

thanks jeremy. I think it confirms my point that the claims are often based on a very, very small universe (savvy internet users = chinese who access danwei). which is fair enough. you can only work with what you have. but I still maintain making unqualified claims based either on a tiny sample or anecdotal evidence is a bit misleading.

overall though, I thought the full article was very good. I don;t think these two paragraphs are the best extracts. w

It's a little more than that, mike. Read enough BBS and blog threads and you'll find tons of posts that instruct readers to use a proxy for certain links. Not just the liberal bloggers who are talking about politics and civil society, either — when Chinese netizens want to access bittorrent trackers, photo galleries, porn archives, and other content that is worth the effort, they can readily turn to proxies and other ways of getting around mainland blocks (and if Internet users aren't aware of precisely how it's done, instructions are usually available as well).

Posted by: Hu | August 27, 2009 10:18 PM

Surely the point is that if information is hidden or restricted, then naturally curiosity drives people seek it out. That's a pretty broad stroke to state that Chinese people are "semi-content with their life", therefore implying that they should be content to be subject to controls on their freedom to access information. Who makes the decision in the extent of these controls, and how is it legitimate that they are entrusted with this responsibility?
One reason freedom of information is important is that it holds authority to account, thereby checking the power of that authority. This helps to combat, but does not eliminate, authoritative corruption and incompetence.
Freedom of information, equal access to opportunity and mechanisms for fair and effective government are not Western concepts, they are universal. You are naive, or biased by privilege, to think otherwise.

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