Below is a guest post by my friend in Taiwan Bill Stimson. This post doesn’t necessarily reflect my own viewpoint on the subject. There are a few points, in fact, that I’d take issue with, though I agree with the piece in spirit.
by William R. Stimson
What if the Chinese government stopped lying to its people and admitted inconvenient truths? What if some in power were swept away as a result and others arose to take their place? Would this be the end of China as we know it? Would this spell the defeat of Chinese culture at the hands of the West?
Look at Taiwan. An opposition party, free elections, an uncensored Internet – still the environment is one every Chinese would recognize and feel at home in. These necessary modern developments are not a threat to China or its culture. The only ones they might threaten are those who grab for themselves a bit too much of what belongs to all. To preserve their prerogative to do this, and pass this on to their children, though it be at the expense of their culture, their nation, their people, and even their Communist ideology – this tiny percentage of the population in the People’s Republic strives at all cost to cover up what it is doing. It’s dishonest to its own people. It does everything in its power to prevent embarrassing truths from reaching them from foreign sources.
This latest bundle of untruths – that the Chinese Internet is open, the United States uses the Internet to dominate the world, and Western insistence on an uncensored Internet amounts to “information imperialism” because less-developed nations like China cannot possibly compete when it comes to information flow – contains one very interesting admission that has curiously not received the attention it deserves. Lies cannot stand, they’re not convincing, unless bundled with truths. The truth in all these falsehoods is that to the extent China continues to shackle itself by dominating the flow of information to its people, then no matter what impressive external manifestations of progress and prosperity it manages to feather itself with, in substance it remains, in the most important respect, a less-developed country and one that can never catch up.
The Chinese government’s cyber attack on Google is telling. A system that is closed, controlled, and dominated by a small minority – which is not the most creative or innovative segment of the society – can only progress by stealing or grabbing what does not belong to it. China’s whole foreign policy seems to boil down to grabbing Taiwan and preventing any discussion of how it grabbed Tibet. It unconscionably befriends whatever unsavory regime it needs to in order to grab resources. It’s even intent on grabbing tiny little islands way out at sea from neighboring countries all around. China is already big enough. What it has of most value is already inside it – it’s people and their superior creative potential. It needs to grab nothing. It needs instead to release its people’s vast potential so that it can stop being wasted; and the world needs this too of China.
Nobody knows from what tiny point in China’s vast society its most creative and innovative element might spring. It can come from anywhere, so everywhere needs to be free. Who could have predicted, for example, that a particular little Jewish boy brought by his father from Communist Russia to America would grow up to drop out of Stanford and become the co-founder of Google. Sergey Brin was a wonder who came, like true creative innovation always does, out of the blue.
How different is Google’s view of information to that of the Chinese government. It’s not about domination at all – but freedom and empowerment of the disenfranchised and downtrodden. How ironic that a Communist regime views information as a means to dominate while Google, an American company, views it as a means to liberate. Things are not what they seem. The consensus that China, in its present form, is the future begins to look wrong. The future may actually be Google, or some combination of China and Google. The company has hit upon a new way to do business that’s not the tired old exploitative American capitalism, which fits in so well with Beijing’s schemes – but that’s not Communism either. Rather it falls somewhere in between. This business organization has found a way to earn money by benefiting the collective, and doing it in a way that enables and develops the creative vision of its employees. Google does business in a different way. There is no end of riches in the direction it’s taken and no end of business niches where its ideas can be replicated and further developed. More profit can be made by cultivating than by exploiting people and the planet. It’s that simple. Compare this to Chinese companies that put poison in toys and fake protein in baby formulas.
This venture that Google has started out on in the end can’t help but make China and the U.S. partners rather than adversaries. It behooves the Chinese government to rise to the occasion and let Google come through unfettered to the Chinese people. Whatever destabilizing effects this may have on China’s corrupt bosses will be offset a million times over by the deeper stabilization that can’t help but arise as thousands of Chinese Sergey Brins are empowered to surface from the most marginal and unlikely spots all over China’s vast map with innovations that make China’s glitzy prosperity and progress not just a surface phenomenon based on what has been grabbed, stolen, or diverted from the West – but a true manifestation of China’s underlying cultural greatness and the genius of its people.
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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.