A must-read. It’s 5 a.m. and I’m heading to the airport, but I have to quote Kristof on his experience commenting on sohu.com:
I tried my own experiment, posting comments on Internet chat rooms. In a Chinese-language chat room on Sohu.com, I called for multiparty elections and said, “If Chinese on the other side of the Taiwan Strait can choose their leaders, why can’t we choose our leaders?” That went on the site automatically, like all other messages. But after 10 minutes, the censor spotted it and removed it.
Then I toned it down: “Under the Communist Party’s great leadership, China has changed tremendously. I wonder if in 20 years the party will introduce competing parties, because that could benefit us greatly.” That stayed up for all to see, even though any Chinese would read it as an implicit call for a multiparty system.
So where is China going? I think the Internet is hastening China along the same path that South Korea, Chile and especially Taiwan pioneered. In each place, a booming economy nurtured a middle class, rising education, increased international contact and a growing squeamishness about torturing dissidents.
President Hu has fulminated in private speeches that foreign “hostile forces” are trying to change China. Yup, count me in – anybody who loves China as I do would be hostile to an empty Mao suit like Mr. Hu. But it’s the Chinese leadership itself that is digging the Communist Party’s grave, by giving the Chinese people broadband.
This sounds rather simplistic and optimistic, I’m afraid, and I wonder whether Kristof, who lived in China and has written books about it, really believes the CCP is digging its own grave. Let’s keep our fingers crossed, but let’s be realistic, too.
Update: Danwei is a but harder on Kristof than I am.
Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.