Posted by Jeremy Goldkorn on Friday, December 1, 2006 at 3:18 PM
Guest contributor Ann Condi returns to Danwei with a short report about apathy and Internet censorship. Condi's previous contribution to Danwei is the article Changing the Subject: How the Chinese Government Controls Television.
Scenes Behind the Scenes No. 27Glimpses Inside the Chinese Media by Ann Condi
Those outside of China often imagine hordes of Internet savvy Chinese Web surfers scouring the Internet for cracks in the Great Firewall, avidly downloading precious snippets of information blocked by the government to disseminate among the circle of politically-aware Chinese cybernauts. The hope is that the Internet is having a transformative effect on China by allowing The Truth – or at least some essential truths – to seep into this tightly controlled information environment. And surely (the assumption goes) the vanguard in this process of “peaceful evolution” would be young, English-speaking urban professionals.
This image is largely a myth.
An anecdote can illustrate this: A few days ago I was at a multinational company in Beijing doing some translation work. I had just discovered a site called Proxzee.com, which is a rather useful tool (along with Anonymouse.org) for bypassing Chinese Internet blockage. There were about 20 young Chinese people in and out of the office throughout the day, some of whom were former students of mine, and I made a point of recommending Proxzee to most of them. I was interested – and bit disheartened – by the range of responses I got. Here are some representative samples, with my own rough categorizations:
Zhao: This site is for what?
Me: Accessing blocked Internet sites.
Zhao: There are blocked Internet sites? I never noticed that.
Xu: Thanks, I’ll check it out. But I don’t really care about surfing blocked sites. I’ve got better things to do with my time.
Zheng: What do you mean, you can visit blocked sites with it? If you can visit them, they aren’t blocked!
Me: No, the sites are blocked. You can’t access them directly in China. This site enables you to access them indirectly, through their own server.
Zheng: Well, the government must know about this. And since they don’t block Proxzee, it means there actually aren’t any blocked sites. If you can visit them, they aren’t blocked. Maybe the sites you think are blocked are just down from time to time. Maybe you don’t have your browser settings right. Don’t jump to conclusions.
Wei: Oh, no, no thanks. You must be kidding. If I get onto such a site, there’s surely somebody monitoring it, watching every keystroke. This is bound to be some trick. I wouldn’t use such site if I were you. This is just a sure-fire trap to find people who are visiting illegal sites.
Cao: Oh, great, thanks. But I don’t think this is so useful nowadays. Sure, ten years ago it would have been helpful. But there are so few blocked sites these days, right? They just block the most radical or dangerous websites. Such fringe stuff doesn’t interest me.
Me: Well, the BBC has been blocked. That’s not exactly fringe stuff.
Cao: But you can get the same news on CNN or whatever, so what’s the big loss? The BBC probably did something to piss the government off. I don’t think this is such a big issue now.
Liu: What do you expect me to do with this? Get on a bunch of human rights sites that curse China? I already fully understand Western propaganda against China, I don’t need to read any more of it. Thanks anyway.
Du: Really? That’s good to know. I haven’t looked into this kind of thing, but I know that Internet censorship exists. I guess I could learn about a lot of things they don’t tell us about. Thanks for the recommendation.
UPDATE:Rebecca MacKinnon adds to the debate: Censorship, apathy, and free thinking or lack thereof...
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