Jeremy Goldkorn on the PRC’s blocking of Danwei

Superb article that I can certainly relate to. Closing lines:

Last week Beijing saw a display of military and economic might that the Chinese government and a huge number of its people are rightly proud of. But China wants more for itself. The government is constantly calling for home-grown innovation in science, technology and culture, and for China to wield more “soft power” and have a greater cultural influence on the rest of the world. These aims will be difficult, perhaps impossible, to achieve as long as China’s bureaucrats retain their iron grip on culture and information.

Think about that. China is reaching for the stars, its ambitions are boundless and it’s gone so far. But by censoring, by jamming its airwaves, by trying to control its people’s brain-waves, China chokes its own creativity and imposes limits on itself. And of course, it’s just plain irrational. I can at least understand the logic behind banning Epoch Times and Taipei Times. But Danwei?? (Not to mention The Peking Duck.) Dumb, counter-productive and an indication of an infantile insecurity and raging inferiority complex. Try to imagine a China that was confident enough in its own achievements, its own greatness that it wouldn’t have to always be in reactive mode, cowering even in the face of the most questionable threats. Imagine how much greater China would be then. Imagine how much more respect it would command, instead of being snickered at for being so obviously terrified, a cowering child.

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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: 25 Comments

Richard,

Every day I try to imagine a China that gives its people real human rights, real freedom of speech, real freedom of religion, the real ability to elect their own leaders, and the right to have laws that protect the “people” in the Peoples Republic of China. A China that gives the Tibetans and Uyghurs true rights to their own land and culture. A China that respects the great people who have suffered so long the real rights and freedom that they so very much deserve.

October 7, 2009 @ 10:25 am | Comment

I’d like to provide a sidenote that is nevertheless still closely related to the blocking of information. Today, with the 10/1 celebration safely a few days in the past, China announced its “first” swine flu death, in Tibet. I would guess that there might be a few more coming.

October 7, 2009 @ 10:31 am | Comment

Richard, you shouldn’t use obscure abbreviations like “China” (:)) to talk about stuff.

There are many actors on the ancestral Chinese territory and I’m sure you know quite a bit about most of them, so use their specific names.

What is “China”? I don’t want to be a pale copy of Derrida, but really, what does it mean when you say “imagine a China that was confident enough in its own achievements”?

Is it the PRC government? The army? The supreme council? The Chinese “society”? (Is there a civil society in China?) Most Chinese people? But how are “the people” related to “the government” in China?

What does it mean to be Chinese? I’ll be damned if I ever met a Chinese who could answer this… It can’t be an ethnic label, or ethical, philosophical, religious, linguistic, political… No matter how you define “China” there always seem to be massive numbers of people left outside, though the easiest way is to say anyone with a PRC hukou is Chinese (mm, really? how about the Taiwanese or the undocumented second, third or fourth born in poor rural families, whose numbers are put by various sources at anywhere from 10 to 200 million…)

What is “China”?

The best answer I can give is pretty ugly: it’s a bunch of people kept together mainly by force and fortified borders. If there would have been a stronger bond, would the government and the half-brainwashed “angry youth” still be so insecure?

Americans, Frenchmen, Germans are united by a political consensus at the very least – I mean basic respect for their constitution and legal system (shared language and history too). Saudis, Yemenis, Turks are nations cemented by Islam (though Turkey is a funny example in there). The Japanese are held together by every imaginable bond (which is what often makes them so intolerant I guess).

And China? Has anyone ever met a Chinese who doesn’t want to immigrate (unless family bonds or language problems and generally complete lack of cultural awareness are in the way?)

I do wish all the best to all Chinese people, I’m not trying to antagonize anybody, I’m just expressing my opinion and I’m aware that I could be 100% wrong. But if I can’t be honest here, then where? :)

October 7, 2009 @ 10:43 am | Comment

Kevin, thanks for that nugget about bird flu. Just a couple of weeks ago I posted on the peculiar lack of swine flu deaths in the world’s most populous company, usually the world’s breadbasket for exotic new diseases, and maybe now a more realistic picture will emerge.

Diane, I completely understand your sentiments, only I have to take a more realpolitik type of view: the Uighers and the Tibetans are as likely to get their land back as the Indians on the Navajo reservation not too far from my home are of getting back Manhattan, It is an unjust and unfair world. Which does not mean we should ever stop caring about their repression and their causes.

Poet, I don’t have the time, strength or historical knowledge to delve into a detailed analysis of what “China” is. Suffice it to say that for this post I was referring strictly to the government of the PRC.

October 7, 2009 @ 11:31 am | Comment

And Beijing is going to host a ‘World Media Summit’ tomorrow with the theme ‘Cooperation, Action, Win-Win and Development’ according to Xinhua.

“It will be attended by officials from major media organisations including news agencies, newspapers, magazines, radio, television broadcasters and online sites.

According to the summit secretariat, the attendees will hold discussions on eight topics including challenges, cooperation and opportunities for world media; traditional media versus new emerging media; …and challenges and opportunities in digital and multimedia age. ”

Wonder if anyone will be Twittering the conference?

October 7, 2009 @ 12:08 pm | Comment

Thanks Diane,

I imagine the same thing for people all over the world

October 7, 2009 @ 7:44 pm | Comment

@Diana #1, @Resident Poet #3

No offense, but both of you sound like you have a case of the ‘White Man’s Burden.’ When Christians want China to have ‘real freedom of religion’ they go to China and try to covert every Chinese to Christians with dire consequences. How many Americans actually excerise their rights for freedom to protest? Despite the unpopularity of the Afghanistan war, how many people actually protested about it? In an recent Washington Post article, they only got less than 200 protested. Meanwhile, there are more than 70,000 protests in China shows how they love their country by protesting. I think many people in China would like foreigners care more about issues their own country than China.

October 7, 2009 @ 10:12 pm | Comment

@pug_ster

I don’t like Christians, I’m not a Westerner and I do care actually more about what happens in my “own” country than about what happens in China.

I do admit though that I have personal emotional issues with regard to China, mostly for one reason: the racism towards blacks and browns in there (the one towards whites is many times less obvious). Speaking from personal experience, it’s common to hear mothers inquiring about the race of their kids’ English teacher, for instance, and then hear the sales’ assistant trying to reassure them: “We have 12 foreigner teacher here! Only one is black! No like black, no problem!”

I do make every effort though to not let personal feelings influence my judgment (not that I’m always or even particularly successful). I do care a lot about China, as should anyone – leaving all politics aside, we’re talking about the fates of 1.3-1.5 billion people here.

Wishing you and everyone all the best.

October 7, 2009 @ 10:47 pm | Comment

@Resident Poet,

Yes there is Racism in China as well as in many other countries but I doubt that China would address this as a serious issue unless something provocative happened. For your example, it is sad that Black teachers are not hired. And there is alot of ignorance and fear toward Blacks because of people like Lou Jing. From the Chinese perspective, that many white (and a few Black) teachers gets paid alot more than a typical Chinese teacher teaching English. So as far as the country and its people concerned, they don’t considered it as a problem.

As for why many Chinese would want to leave China is for economic reasons, and not political or religious reasons as many people might think.

October 7, 2009 @ 11:51 pm | Comment

The current government in China has accomplished some amazing things, particularly in terms of physical infrastructure – but the kind of intellectual infrastructure and innovation they want to create is awfully hard to develop without open access to information.

October 8, 2009 @ 7:43 am | Comment

Otherlisa has summed up it so well. The great accomplishments that are thrown around so readily are, for the most part, physical. The Egyptians did similar things in their time with unlimited slave labor….so what? Where is civil society in China? Where is access to quality education or health care for the majority (not just for the nouveau riche eastern city dwellers)? Where is the rule of law? Where is constitutional accountability? Nowhere to be seen or even hoped for, despite the views of Western pundits and apologists who only care about their pocket books.

October 11, 2009 @ 8:41 am | Comment

But by censoring, by jamming its airwaves, by trying to control its people’s brain-waves, China chokes its own creativity and imposes limits on itself.

China was much more authoritarian in the past and yet it was the light of the world for thousands of years, so I again have to disagree with this argument.

How much “creativity” do you think the Western corporate monopoly on thought foster anyway?

October 12, 2009 @ 9:20 am | Comment

The best answer I can give is pretty ugly: it’s a bunch of people kept together mainly by force and fortified borders.

That’s probably why no one is asking you for your historical perspective on China.

There are three major things that “keep China together”

1) Patrilineal descent
2) Culture
3) Common enemies (the big one)

swine flu deaths in the world’s most populous company, usually the world’s breadbasket for exotic new diseases

Another prejudice. China has historically been very disease free- it’s only SARS from the south. Most diseases back then came from Europe, India or Central Asia.

The great accomplishments that are thrown around so readily are, for the most part, physical

Not really, no. The Great Wall and Grand Canal are hardly mentioned next to crucial innovations like salt mills and gunpowder.

If Egypt’s great achievements are physical it’d be more appropriate to call China’s pragmatic.

October 12, 2009 @ 9:29 am | Comment

Notice how “merp” ignored all of my questions regarding the China of today.

October 13, 2009 @ 4:30 am | Comment

@ Resident Poet

Something that puzzled me a little in your post(#8): “Speaking from personal experience, it’s common to hear mothers inquiring about the race of their kids’ English teacher, for instance, and then hear the sales’ assistant trying to reassure them: “We have 12 foreigner teacher here! Only one is black! No like black, no problem!”"

Why would a Chinese sales assistant address a Chinese mother in pidgin English?

October 15, 2009 @ 12:23 am | Comment

“Try to imagine a China that was confident enough in its own achievements, its own greatness that it wouldn’t have to always be in reactive mode”

The problem is that those “achievements” are part and parcel of a system of lies, delusion, coercion, and violence. You cannot admire autocracy and then bitch about oppression. It is part of the classical fallacy of claiming that totalitarian government is the best, as long as it is run by “nice” people.

Any type of government is based on delusion and coercion. The bigger the government, the the bigger the delusion. You can’t have one without the other.

October 15, 2009 @ 7:19 am | Comment

Any type of government is based on delusion and coercion.

Well, then we might as well close done any discussion about politics and government, based on your foregone conclusion. While I believe there’s a lot of truth to this statement, there are also matters of degree. And all the sins you list – lies, delusion, coercion, and violence – are hardly unique to China. And while whole areas of China’s economy may be built in sand (time will tell), some of its achievements can’t be debated – simply ask someone living in Beijing (and much of the rest of China) in the 1970s whether there have been achievements or not.

Friends have warned me not to argue with libertarians, but I do have hope you’ll come around, Dror. Just ask yourself, if there have been no achievements, would you be working and making money there?

October 15, 2009 @ 7:33 am | Comment

- I noted that my argument is true to any type of government (and as you know – there’s plenty of delusion and coercion going on in the US of A).

- I simply think it is funny to behold China’s “strength” and moan its paranoias.

- The Americans, to their credit, managed to build a much more sophisticated system of public delusion. So, the main problem with the Chinese is that their game is still so obvious and that they do not have faith in the stupidity of the general public.

- I am not a libertarian (or any other “tarian”). I have specific opinions on specific issues. Categorize me at your peril!

- As for my making money – nobody said there are not achievements, but in any case, the amounts of money that flow into this country (some of which I enjoy) are also driven by delusion. I never said that you cannot make money from other people’s fantasies. Still, the fact that one profits from them, does not make them real.

October 15, 2009 @ 9:18 am | Comment

@jer

Of course the sales assistant wasn’t addressing customers in English :)

It’s just that she was speaking to me in pidgin English and that’s why it seemed funny to ascribe to her sentences written in proper English.

My mistake.

October 16, 2009 @ 12:57 am | Comment

Dror, I do think you have a strong libertarian bent, and are fairly well aligned with the ideas of libertarians like Ron Paul when it comes to small government, the sins of the Fed, etc. And I don’t hold that against you; I agree with some of those beliefs, especially about the Fed.

We’ll see soon enough how strong America’s fundamentals really are, and how well China holds up in the wake of the maelstrom. I think they (the Chinese) have figured out where things are headed and are taking steps to buffer the blow. The US leaders know as well (of course), but their hands are tied. The current crisis is the product of decades of bad decisions, and there is no way out. It will simply have to play itself through.

October 16, 2009 @ 6:34 am | Comment

Richard – what has this got to do with America?!
I was talking about the common failure to understand autocracy in its entirety – the narrow and remarkable achievements together with the brutality and the lies.

America is going down the drain exactly because it shuns away from the basic values of individual freedom (and responsibility), free speech, and free markets.

I sure hope the crisis will play itself through sooner rather than later. With good people (like you) justifying bad policies just because of sympathy to old political allegiances (or any other type of idol worship), things are not looking good for America.

October 16, 2009 @ 9:09 am | Comment

Dror, you know where I’ve put my money. :-)

October 16, 2009 @ 9:14 am | Comment

I do. It is astounding to see, however, how difficult it is for people to let go of their old habits, even if only in terms of rhetoric.

Bush was a disaster. Obama is a disaster. Other alternatives on both sides don’t look very promising either. Is it so difficult to say it?

October 16, 2009 @ 9:18 am | Comment

Testing

October 18, 2009 @ 12:45 pm | Comment

I agree that the CCP are being stupid and patronising with all this censorship. And I think it is counterproductive and probably makes a lot of intelligent mature Chinese cringe with emabarassment. But I’m not so sure they are scared: stubborn, narrow minded and stupid, sure…but scared?

October 18, 2009 @ 12:52 pm | Comment

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