China’s Internet censorship – whose business is it?

At the height of the SARS scandal in 2003, I wrote a characteristically florid and dramatic post about Internet censorship and its role in the tragedy. It was sincere, if overwrought, and others have since borrowed its headline (what can you do?). That very day the government conceded it had staged a massive cover-up of a deadly disease, and vowed to open up and let the light stream in. This was my key point, addressed directly to an unresponsive Hu Jintao:

Since you are now encouraging free communications and honest dialogue, I urge you to look at the greatest roadblock to these noble goals — your custom-made Internet censorship mechanism, lovingly referred to as The Great Firewall of China. You cannot have it both ways. Either you are transparent and in favor of dialogue, or you are a frightened deer caught in the headlights, terrified of what your people see and think.

The blocked Internet is a glaring symptom and symbol of your fears. It reinforces the perception of you as paranoid ideologues. It reminds the world that your past eagerness to block communications (which, in the case of SARS, resulted only in more unnecessary deaths and unending streams of rumors) is alive and well, and thus you are still not to be trusted….I am a personal victim of your censorship, unable to read this very site, thanks to your terror of the exchange of information.

All we ever got in return for this simple request was a lot of disappointment and several broken promises. Things soon returned to normal, journalists were discouraged to do their jobs, control over the Internets only tightened (with a brief Potemkin Village-style hiatus around the Games), and nearly all the news on openness under Hu has been decidedly grim.

This week, news about China’s New & Improved firewall lit up the blogs once again, perhaps because the story it’s such a vintage example of dazzling technology being used for the most ruthless and primitive of purposes (repression):

China’s government is stepping up internet scrutiny by equipping its web censors with more advanced software that allows them to spot risks of subversion much earlier and root it out more efficiently, according to the country’s internet security market leader.

The revelation from Beijing TRS Information Technology, China’s leading provider of search technology and text mining solutions, that it is thriving on the government’s desire to better “manage” public opinion, comes as the political leadership is facing growing challenges, mostly voiced through the internet.

Currently, the security forces are cracking down on intellectuals associated with Charter 08, an appeal for democracy and human rights that many see as the most significant such document since 1989 and which has, defying Beijing’s net censorship, been collecting signatories over the web.

Traditionally, so-called internet cops look for subversive content via keyword searches on Google or Baidu, He Zhaohui, marketing manager at TRS, told the FT. But, he claimed that TRS is increasingly selling advanced text mining solutions enabling censors to monitor and forecast public opinion rather than take down dangerous talk after it happened. Mr He argued, for example, that state-of-the-art internet spying could have prevented the Shanxi brick kiln slavery scandal and the damage it did to the country’s image.

I do want everyone to think about that last sentence for a moment. This guy is actually boasting that if only his group’s technology had been around in 2007 China could have keep secret for all time the plight of kidnapped children sold into slavery to labor in a Shaanxi brick factory? The guy actually said that on the record? (Or am I misreading something?) And that we should all be grateful this technology will allow the CCP to hide the truth faster and more easily? This raises the Nanny to a new level of sinisterness, potentially morphing from a site blocker and nuisance to a network of Thought Police ready to swoop down on people before they even do anything.

Okay, so we all know how bad this system of censorship is, and we all know why the CCP invests so much time and money to ensure complete control of the pipes. We all know it’s getting worse, not better. And yet I can’t get out of my head a discussion I had with a group of journalists and Web 2.0 luminaries several weeks ago when this topic arose. One of them, a well-known techie writer who knows China better than most of us, had this to say:

“When Americans see the Chinese Internet, they say, ‘Look at this! Look at how many sites are blocked! Look at all the censorship and how the government is denying its people information.’ And then the Chinese people look at the same Internet and say, ‘This is amazing! We have never had so much information made available to us before. It’s like a dream.’”

And this conversation brought to mind yet another post I can’t forget from 2006, written, ironically, shortly before the blogger himself was arrested for pointing his video camera at the wrong places. In the post he outlined the pros and cons of the censorship argument from the Western and Chinese perspectives in a brilliant set of bullets:

1. Progress or Backwards? the extent of censorship vs information availability
a. Internet is growing rapidly in China. Chinese are having access to exploding amount of information which they couldn’t have fathomed a decade ago.
b. The information is censored, especially in politics, history and news. Chinese are being goaded by the government to think in certain directions.
c. But smart people can get around the Great Firewall via proxy servers. And if one reads English, there’s no much censorship to speak of unless one considers:
that BBC (blocked) offers much superior and often exclusive content compared to CNN and NY Times, or that speeches on Falun Gong, pro-Taiwan-independence and anti-Communist-party (I mean politically anti) are unalienable rights for the average Chinese.

2. Why are the laowais so ga-ga?
a. Why are the foreign media working up so high a frenzy over this? Don’t they know they can’t impose their will on China, if Chinese don’t want to change themselves?
b. Of course the foreigners care, because that’s in the core of their value system. Without them being ga-ga over this, the situation in China would be worse.
c. Worse. Hmm. Really? That’s very conceited. Do they want to repeat Iraq in China?
d. And who says free speech is essential to an acceptable society? Look at Singapore. Look at all the democracies that can’t feed their own people. Press freedom is not the most urgent issue in China.
e. What’s the urgent issue in China then? Without press and political freedom, none of China’s current major problems can be solved satisfactorily.

3. Do Chinese care?
a. The average Chinese I know doesn’t. Of course we can always argue about my sample size, and the predisposition in my observation.
b. But if given the chance (free speech in education and public discourse), would Chinese cherish the freedom then?
c. And why do we care about the “average” Chinese? Every individual deserves the full human rights declared in the UN charter.
d. That’s just a pipe dream! People want to make their lives better first.

And on it goes. My very favorite bullet comes at the very end:

Change has to happen. But the Chinese have to figure it out themselves. The foreign media can continue to go ga-ga over this. Will all the media attention serve much purpose beyond acting as the fad of the day though? I wonder.

Although it’s just one of many bullets, I strongly suspect it reflects the blogger’s opinion (at least before he suddenly found himself the guest of the system’s hospitality). It’s an interesting question: How excited should we (foreigners) get about China’s Internet censorship when the Chinese people, the alleged victims, are nearly unanimously complacent about a problem that to them doesn’t exist?

I don’t have answers. From 2002 to 2006 I was apoplectic outspoken on this issue. And then…. Well, when you live here long enough and you actually talk to the people your defending and fighting for, your perspective can change. Not about censorship: it’s always bad, and in China it has brutal and evil consequences. But you realize that if there’s going to be change, it’s going to have to come from within China. Hyperventilating about the censorship may feel soothing, and sometimes it seems like an entire cottage industry has sprung up, fueled by stories about blocked blogs and the latest censorship tools. God knows, I’ve contributed enough fuel myself, starting six years ago almost to the day. (I believe this was the first blog post about China’s blogspot ban, which was to remain in effect for half a decade.) And we should keep up the complaints and the noise and not let the world forget – and not let the CCP forget that the world is watching.

But. But we can’t distort what the actual situation is in China. 99.9 out of 100 people here will tell you this is not a problem to them, and even to those who see it as such, it does not rank high on their list of urgent needs. And, again, the breast-beating of “gaga foreigners” will not swing the pendulum over to the side of enlightenment. That’s something the Chinese people will need to make happen, though I will keep urging them on from the sidelines. And just as in the good old days, I still decry the foreign companies who got rich making the technology possible. This insidious system is China’s; it’s a shame the fingerprints of companies from the developed world are all over it.

______________

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.

The Discussion: 41 Comments

It seems the system has acquired a life of his own.

A censorship industrial complex?

January 6, 2009 @ 8:09 pm | Comment

No,

A social, urban planning, political and economic incubator for what’s coming and planned for the rest of the world:

China

“…it’s a shame the fingerprints of companies from the developed world are all over it.”

You really wonder why Richard? There’s not enough signs around you yet?

January 6, 2009 @ 9:47 pm | Comment

Ricard, I am really impressed by your last points

Each individual has his or her own priorities, and they are ranked differently.

Maybe a better question is whether you should impose and argue your priorities to the others or to help the one you care with their own priporitis first.

Last time I talked to my Kiwi friends, I said this too.

It’s easy for us to put ourselves in the situation of others and ask how we feel about it, then make the decisions ourselves and decide to treat other people the way we like them to treat us. Yet it is eventually still our feeling, our opinion, and our way of treatment, not the others’.

Censorship has been around with Chinese lives for thousands of years, it is pretty much a way of life that is accetpted to an extent to many Chinese. It’s more a matter of degree and balance rather than absolute good and evil. If there has to be evil in this case, it is more likely to be too much or too little, rather than the existence itself.

As for the Chinese you are defending, I do not want to be too cynical here and I do apology if you think I am offending, but I really cannot help but wondering, is it the people and individual you care the most or the beliefs and values of your own?

If the people you care are the most important, shouldn’t you put their priorities first and help them, rather than lecturing them to reprioritize their priorities and to believe your one as the right priority for them?

Or do you assume that you know what’s best for them more than than do?you know what’s right for them more than they do?your belief, morality and way of life is superior, which gives you the obligation to lead and lectures, fully justified ones?

January 6, 2009 @ 9:48 pm | Comment

By the logic above, if my brother’s top priority is to inject heroin into his veins, then buying him drugs, filling the needle, and giving him the injection is the best way to show I care…but maybe in China that makes sense.

January 6, 2009 @ 10:23 pm | Comment

Sure there will only be change if it comes from inside China.
Chinese see a lot of improvements and there are.

And freedom of speech is a very abstract thing in daily life. You can live very well with the limitations actually imposed in China by the government. So iT’s not the top priority of most people. Not even in the upper half of the priority list, I guess.

But that can change very quickly if something like SARS the Melamin-milk scandal or similar things happen.

I think it’s important to remind people of this fact. That there are times when freedom of expression or the absence of it can make the difference between death and life.

I never experienced a fire in my or one of my families or friends houses. But I guess everybody would agree that me saying fire fighters are overrated and that there are more imortant things in peoples life would be a rather silly thing to say.

This for the very practical aspect of the argument for free speech.

January 6, 2009 @ 10:24 pm | Comment

“And freedom of speech is a very abstract thing in daily life.”

For cattle and sheep and the mass and the billions of freaking dimwits/uneducated morons of this world, yes it’s a very abstract and non important thing in the daily life.

For anybody with a brain, and, oh God forgive him, ends up posting some ideas that are above the level of “what should I wear today” on his blog and ends up in jail for it:

Then it’s a different matter isn’t?

Freedom of speech is NOT negotiable or relative to cultural standards. Anybody that ends up believing this is a freaking idiot.

And yes most western people are outraged buy this muzzling concept. Why? Because we transpose to ourselves, to our society. Once you taste freedom, there is no going back. If you have never known better, how can you ask for it?

This is why we take any possible occasions we have to fight against this barbaric and feudal concept.

And we see nations that actually condone such acts as a potential threat to our own freedom, politically, ideologically and socially. And we do no wish for their view to become the norm.

January 6, 2009 @ 10:40 pm | Comment

Like Singapore, and even Canada? Let’s be rational, Bao. Full, American-stye freedom of speech is relatively new in this world. Nearly all societies, unfortunately, have had long histories of censorship and control of the flow of information. You make it sound like nations that control speech are the exception, and that censorship in the majority of nations ended in the medieval period. Not true at all. Control was and to a large extent is the norm. Freedom of speech is relatively new, and in many nations is a thoroughly foreign and curious concept.

Are you aware in modern-day Germany you are not allowed to express the idea that the Holocaust did not exist?

January 6, 2009 @ 10:45 pm | Comment

Well, I myself like the American type of freedom of speech much better than the one here in Germany or other countries in Europe. I think Mills argument for freedom of speech in “On Libetry” is quite convincing.

But thats a very abstract notion. My argument above was directed at those that ridicule freedom of speech as merely a fetisch of some ideologues (of whom you, if you pardon me, might remind some people, Bao) with no practical value at all to the laobaixing.

This clearly is not the main point of the argument for free speech. But it helps making the point in the first place, I think.

January 6, 2009 @ 11:04 pm | Comment

Fair point, Shulan. People here don’t see it as a fire, much to my surprise. But then, I look at it from my own filters, from my own world where nothing is more precious than freedom of speech. Nothing.

January 6, 2009 @ 11:06 pm | Comment

It’s funny. The world’s supposed to tolerate intolerance, or risk being called intolerant.

I mean, why even bother? Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind.

January 6, 2009 @ 11:07 pm | Comment

Your point is valid Richard.

This is history, and not a single country escaped this phenomenon (religion anyone?)… I was not referring to a specific time line when using the feudal term, it was more about making an analogy about ancient norms.

But, explain to me why all this fuzz about censorship in China then? Who cares?

Who created it? The US exclusively? I don’t think so. What are we fighting for?

An ideology.

I want to scream but I have no mouth!

It appears to me that it’s a worldwide echo from most of the developed nations (excluding religious politically controlled countries or the DPRK).

I think there is a difference between Censorship and Free Speech, or more let’s say as to how to apply certain regulations/social decisions.

Canada and Singapore are good examples, many of the social decisions linked to how far one can go in society to express himself, or behave, etc, are defined and decided democratically. Chosen by the people of the country itself.

We could argue that theoretically there’s not much difference, as the end result is censorship. But in a democratic society, at least the decision process is made using a larger sample of humans, not just a bunch of self-proclaimed elites / semi-gods.

January 6, 2009 @ 11:07 pm | Comment

shulan

“My argument above was directed at those that ridicule freedom of speech as merely a fetish of some ideologues”

I understood your goal, my comment and highlighting of this part, was to complement it and add more to it. Not to contradict it or to imply that you were thinking that.

January 6, 2009 @ 11:12 pm | Comment

Hey, even Hitler was put into power via a democratic system. And though he was not initially ushered into power by the popular vote, he was later confirmed at the voting booth as the people’s choice. I suspect if the CCP were to hold an election today (which they really should do – what a PR coup that would be!) they’d win by an avalanche, no matter how many UN watchers were there. And the people would affirm the CCP’s commitment to censorship and one-party dictatorship. Does that make it right, the fact that it reflects the will of the people? Interesting questions, and one of the most annoying flaws of democracy. (After all, Hamas and Hezbollah were approved by democratic majorities in their respective countries. As was Proposition 8.)

January 6, 2009 @ 11:22 pm | Comment

“Hey, even Hitler was put into power via a democratic system.”

That’s the whole point Richard. Did we learn anything from this previous horrendous mistake?

My guess is yes.

By keeping the people in the dark, eternally, how do you expect any other options to come up? A democratic process allows us to learn and evolve. An autocratic one is delusional and bound to fail in the long run. Even our very own western autocratic models crumbled upon themselves (could have been faster hopefully, but it’s too late to rewrite history).

The political system in China is the modern continuation and equivalent of the Emperors. Only now the emperor is split in a couple of parts and we suspect that he’s suffering from schizophrenia.

Of course we all know that if elections would be held tomorrow, the CCP would win. But how about in 4 years? For the next one? Just 4 years of freedom, let’s say even 1 would change a lot of things. Don’t you agree?

“Does that make it right, the fact that it reflects the will of the people?”

Sadly, I think the true conflict in our world is more about Stupidity VS Intelligence.

January 6, 2009 @ 11:40 pm | Comment

Canada and Singapore are good examples, many of the social decisions linked to how far one can go in society to express himself, or behave, etc, are defined and decided democratically. Chosen by the people of the country itself.

We could argue that theoretically there’s not much difference, as the end result is censorship. But in a democratic society, at least the decision process is made using a larger sample of humans, not just a bunch of self-proclaimed elites / semi-gods.

Well, exactly freedom of speech should be something totaly undemocratic in the sense that you can’t hold referendums about it. That’s the whole point about it. That freedom is the freedom of the one differing from your opinion. The freedom of the one sole lunatic who might be right in the end.

January 6, 2009 @ 11:50 pm | Comment

How excited should we (foreigners) get about China’s Internet censorship

Yes. The reason is that CCP control of Chinese internet directly hampers the ability of foreigners in China to forward their own interests at the expense of Chinese citizens. i.e they sometimes shut down news outlets to stop proselytization, racial conflict (they censor news about Russian skinhead attacks on Chinese nationals), and the aggressive incursion of foreign web companies into the Chinese market.

The vast majority of things the CCP censors are stuff 95% of people in China will not care about. This is a reality you have to face. I’m sure China’s internet censorship will lessen, but they are busy dealing with other more pressing concerns like corruption, a lack of rule of law, healthcare, and dangerous levels of pollution.

January 7, 2009 @ 1:40 am | Comment

maybe I should have said “the reason why foreigners whine so much” instead of “the reason is”

:|

January 7, 2009 @ 2:10 am | Comment

What evidence do you have that China exercises Internet censorship? Yes, there are sites that may not be accessible from China. Usually they are due to technical reasons. Other times, the site may host content that is illegal under Chinese law, such as terrorism, pornography, etc. This is simply Internet regulation and is done in accordance with Chinese laws. In the United States and Europe, there is also such Internet regulation. For example, a forum devoted to Al Qaeda will not be accessible from the US. A pro-Nazi site will not be accessible from Germany. I think there needs to be more mutual understanding of the situation before jumping to hasty conclusions and prevent certain people with ulterior motives from politicizing this issue.

January 7, 2009 @ 3:16 am | Comment

Typical deflection of self-examination.

January 7, 2009 @ 3:26 am | Comment

Typical pushing of one’s irrelevant ideals on others

January 7, 2009 @ 4:24 am | Comment

@Imitation Crabmeat

Hahaha, and you know you might get a lot of very serious answer to your post. Nice collage.

Not a very impressive trolling attempt, sorry try again, and when you come back under another moniker, I suggest adding a bit of Chinglish in your comment.

But I think the use of “more mutual understanding” is not bad, you can keep this part.

January 7, 2009 @ 4:42 am | Comment

Crabmeat is one of our long-time trolls, who used to post under the name Hello.

The Chinese fellow interviewed by FT admits the monitoring and policing of the Internet. During the Olympics, the government actually lifted blocked Web sites and even made a big deal out of it (did you read the James Fallows piece linked above?). So this “how do you know” argument is absurd. Everyone knows. Maybe no one knows the rationale behind it, why sometimes sites are blocked in one geography and not another, why the blocks come and go, but everyone knows the blocks are instituted by the government.

About restrictions on the US Internet – not many. Skinheads, neo-Nazis, Islamists, anti-Semites, fundamentalists and extremists of all shapes and colors – all are allowed to run Web sites if they do not incite people to violence. Very, very, very few Web sites in the US have ever been closed. You have to really work to get your site taken down here.

Ferin:
The vast majority of things the CCP censors are stuff 95% of people in China will not care about. This is a reality you have to face. I’m sure China’s internet censorship will lessen, but they are busy dealing with other more pressing concerns like corruption, a lack of rule of law, healthcare, and dangerous levels of pollution.

They certainly have more important things to do, and better things to spend the money on. So why don’t they drop the firewall altogether? Simple: ignorance and propaganda is a key ingredient of the CCP’s lifeblood. Thus, witness the shit that makes up 90 percent of CCTV’s content. Also, I’m curious why you feel the censorship “will lessen.” Under Hu, it has only gotten worse.

January 7, 2009 @ 8:47 am | Comment

Three main reasons why sometimes you cannot access certain sites in China:

1) Faulty internet connection, DSL and other broadband access is not as wide-spread in China as in the West. Lots of places in China still use dial-up, and those connections are prone to frequent disconnects. And sometimes ISP’s have monthly data usage caps, so sometimes you may have reached the the limit, so just wait till next month

2) Busy traffic. Certain popular sites such as yahoo or google frequently experience down times due to their popularity. This happens more frequently in China due to the larger number of internet users in China and limited bandwidth. This situation should improve after 2008.

3) Pornographic website. Chinese laws forbid websites that contain pornographic pictures and videos from being operated.

January 7, 2009 @ 9:11 am | Comment

Are you a paid government agent? I can promise you, no matter where you are in China or what your connection speed, you will not get onto the following sites:

Epoch Times (no big loss, but still…)
Taiwan Times
Free Tibet
Huffington Post (no idea why)
Any wordpress blog
China Digital Times
and many, many more.

You ignored my point about how many sites were made accessible during the Games and blocked again shortly afterwards. But then, addressing that issue destroys your entire argument, so I won’t get my hopes up that you’ll engage in an honest discussion.

January 7, 2009 @ 9:23 am | Comment

Thus, witness the shit that makes up 90 percent of CCTV’s content. Also, I’m curious why you feel the censorship “will lessen.

If the CCP feels less threatened. Aside from that, once internet access grows in China (currently, only 1/6th or so have access I believe) they will be more likely to demand it assuming they have access to basic necessities.

January 7, 2009 @ 9:48 am | Comment

Richard, Nice to see that the Duck is back up and running.

January 7, 2009 @ 10:12 am | Comment

As for the Chinese you are defending, I do not want to be too cynical here and I do apology if you think I am offending, but I really cannot help but wondering, is it the people and individual you care the most or the beliefs and values of your own?

In my case I’m aware I probably care more about Chinese Internet censorship than the average Chinese person and yes it’s ultimately due to my own beliefs and values. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing. What happens in China will probably have an effect on me in one way or another so it’s in my own interests to care about it even if Chinese people don’t, or don’t care as much. Also, even if Internet censorship isn’t the number one priority for most Chinese people, there are still large numbers of people who are bothered by it. So there is some overlap between what I care about and what Chinese care about.

Mr He argued, for example, that state-of-the-art internet spying could have prevented the Shanxi brick kiln slavery scandal and the damage it did to the country’s image.

If I was really only going to care about myself and my own country, I ought to wish that Mr. He’s technology had been in place 6 months ago. Then the Chinese government would have prevented the Melamine scandal getting out and my country’s farmers wouldn’t have lost their investment in San Lu through Fonterra. Undoubtedly this would have been better for China’s image. But would it have been better for China?

January 7, 2009 @ 10:36 am | Comment

“But would it have been better for China?”
Final question is… Is current information/thought control better for CH or not?
Who benefits more from it?

January 7, 2009 @ 11:18 am | Comment

Richard, how can you promise me? You are an Internet and Computer Specialist? You have done your own investigation. If so, where is your investigation report? Where is your data? Where is your citation? Where is your experiment?

I will repeat what Chairman Mao had once said: “No investigation, no right to speak”.

January 7, 2009 @ 11:49 am | Comment

I will repeat what Chairman Mao had once said: “No investigation, no right to speak”.

Everybody knows that the Chinese government censors the Internet, and they know why it does and what sorts of sites get filtered. But I suppose if somebody said that corruption was a problem in China you would ask for proof of that as well?

January 7, 2009 @ 11:59 am | Comment

@Imitation Crabmeat

Extensive Cambridge University Study, just for your pleasure CrapMeat

http://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/~rnc1/ignoring.pdf

Another one that you can try Googling if you don’t get a reset connection error: Bulletin 005. Probing Chinese search engine filtering

But don’t bother looking for this on the net, it will probably not work..

“due to technical reasons of course”

Btw, if you were really serious about your last comments, than you would be the perfect example showcasing the effect of the Censorship and how it ends up creating dimwits clones unaware of the outside real-world.

But since what you really are is: a Troll just trying to stir up shit while impersonating a LaoBaiXing, speaking out loud what you know will trigger rational answers from impassioned LaoWai’s and that the discussion will drag on and on and into an endless and illogical argument…

Until it drys out and nobody gives a shit anymore to try to make you understand your very own stupid and totally irrational way of thinking.

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz….

January 7, 2009 @ 12:41 pm | Comment

“you would be the perfect example showcasing the effect of the Censorship and how it ends up creating dimwits clones unaware of the outside real-world.”

I need to precise here, I am not implying that Chinese are dimwits clones because of censorship, but just that this would be the image a typical Troll would project in order to get the maximum answers.

Stereotypes are powerful as usual…

January 7, 2009 @ 12:50 pm | Comment

Freedom of speech is good. But here in the US you cannot say shit about the wall street and jews….

January 7, 2009 @ 1:08 pm | Comment

LZ, you can say whatever you want about Jews and Wall Street in the US. Anything at all. There are entire blogs dedicated to anti-Semitism, and Wall Street has been ripped to shreds by the media in recent months. One more thing I’d like to add: your comment is really offensive.

January 7, 2009 @ 2:39 pm | Comment

Bao, don’t argue with Crabmeat; you won’t get anywhere. Using his logic, I would have to show him a written report in order to prove it’s raining outside.

January 7, 2009 @ 2:41 pm | Comment

Consider a culture that not only embraces racial identity but hinges upon it. Stereotype is a way of life. The delusion is more real than reality. There is no reality that exists outside the collective’s definition.

The reason why this is such a vital issue is that when one starts deciding what is relevant information and irrelevant information, even in the guise of the public good (not to mention personal advantage), then by whose mandate does one act? Who says what is “acceptable thought”?

The truth is, abuse is often justified as care.

But there is little point arguing with people who think with self-serving biases. Also, collectivism actually breeds cynicism. An “as is, no refunds cash economy” speaks for itself.

January 7, 2009 @ 5:53 pm | Comment

But there is little point arguing with people who think with self-serving biases.

I’d love to meet someone who doesn’t think with self-serving biases. Have you actually met such a person? There’s little point arguing if the person isn’t willing to recognize these biases and question them. That’s when arguing can be really meaningful – when you actually create a shift in the way someone looks at something. It’s when they respond like automatons that its totally useless.

January 7, 2009 @ 6:13 pm | Comment

Right, it’s not a question of whether one has biases, it’s a question of degree and openness, willingness to examine viewpoints. In China, disagreement is ipso facto wrong. Perhaps they consider their argument so weak it cannot stand debate.

January 7, 2009 @ 8:02 pm | Comment

[...] latest little wave of protest in the China blogs. Like it happens every now and then, all the main blogs are (rightly) complaining against the new Net Nanny ‘09 campaign. The adult babysitting [...]

January 10, 2009 @ 5:45 pm | Pingback

What happens in China will probably have an effect on me in one way or another so it’s in my own interests to care about it even if Chinese people don’t, or don’t care as much.

Not really. This paranoia doesn’t justify anything. If it’s not high on their priority list you can’t really convince them otherwise. Basic survival supercedes internet censorship that affects about 15% of the general population. It’s true that you can demand all of it at once, but no one has that kind of energy and political will.

Consider a culture that not only embraces racial identity but hinges upon it.

Are we talking about white people? China, unfortunately, has very little racial understanding. If they did, the South and Northern Han would not be considered the same race (as almost all respected population geneticists assert). They would also not hold Westerners in such high esteem.

January 11, 2009 @ 6:18 pm | Comment

[...] written about this before more than a year ago, when I said Westerners need to understand that what seems awful to us doesn”t seem nearly so [...]

January 22, 2010 @ 11:43 am | Pingback

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