eswn on the Rui’an uproar

After providing a lengthy translation of a newspaper report on the story and how public opinion affected the investigation and ultimately dictated its terms, eswn notes,

This is one of those sea changes in China that you would not recognize while it was happening bit by bit. Ten years ago, the case would never hit the light of day, whether or not mass incidents occurred. This time, the police were fully aware of the public opinion wave while their investigation was going on. When they announced their findings, their worst nightmare was realized with two major mass incidents. This may trigger a national-level investigation in order to mollify public opinion. What is the difference between now and ten years ago? Would you believe — the Internet?

A sea change, indeed. It’s a great story, and one can only wonder how long the government can hold back the ire of its people when it comes to other injustices. In the US, the Internet famously led to the downfall of Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott and the resignation of NYT editor in chief Howell Raines. Is the day far off when we won’t see similar trials of leading figures by netizens in China? I don’t see how the government can push back the groundswell of public opinion, no matter how many filters and firewalls they implement, no matter how many journalists and Internet essayists they imprison. If they had the power to stem the tide, the Rui’an riots would never have happened, would they?

The Discussion: 5 Comments

It may be an important incident to discuss, but do you really see it as “one of those sea changes in China that you would not recognize while it was happening bit by bit.”

Does he really believe that “Ten years ago, the case would never hit the light of day.”?

The method of information passing between “dissidents” and “the media” has changed somewhat in the last ten years. Ten years ago these incidents would be documented by a concern group, who would issue press releases to attract media coverage. Ten years ago, this case would have seen the light of day in some form or another.

This isn’t a sea change happening bit by bit, unless you include the slow but increasing shift of the press to rely less upon concern group press releases for this information and more upon self-interested bloggers/”tipsters” wanting the attention and influence instead.

September 14, 2006 @ 9:21 pm | Comment

You aren’t questioning eswn, are you? Careful. This is apolitically correct blog, and some things are off limits.

On a more serious note, I do believe eswn is right (in this case, at least) in saying that one factor, the Internet, has created a sea change. We can parse what this means and when it started and what the origins of the change are, but the overall point seems pretty fair to me.

September 14, 2006 @ 10:44 pm | Comment

I’ll agree to disagree then.

Go back and check the archives of groups like ICT or AI or HRW or any other of these NGOs and you’ll find lots of reports 10 years ago or 20 years ago on similar issues. Some of them were via paper-ink-postage and some were via Usenet.

And if you want to really dig back to the pre-internets era, go check the archives of Hong Kong’s newspapers for information on the events of the Cultural Revolution. The information has always flowed, especially for those that wanted to know.

September 15, 2006 @ 1:39 am | Comment

Well, yes, the information flowed – but here aren’t we talking about something that only the Internet could have brought about, i.e., wide-scale, instant awareness of a situation leading directly to massive demonstrations and, in this case, increased accountability?

September 15, 2006 @ 1:57 am | Comment

Yes richard — because how many people would have read said reports before www?

The sea change is that tonnes of Chinese people can read about this stuff, not just a handful of ChinaWatchers in HK.

September 15, 2006 @ 11:59 am | Comment

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