Commentary on an excellent interview on censorship in China.
This is an incredibly interesting interview with Chinese writers Bao Pu, Guo Xiaolu, and Murong Xuecun that appeared in Foreign Policy that I highly suggest reading.
Here are a couple of excerpts that I wanted to comment on, but the interview should really be read in its entirety.
BP: It’s true that relatively few people actually bypass censored information on the Internet. But why? Censorship in the long run breeds prejudice. Once you have this prejudice, you think you know everything, but you don’t. That’s why they’re not actively seeking — because they think there’s nothing out there. It’s a vicious cycle.
MX: I think many people don’t know what they don’t know.
This is very true. I’m often given odd looks when talking with people outside of China about how there really isn’t that strong of a desire to break the Great Firewall among most Chinese. For anyone who wants to access banned websites, all they need to do is download a VPN program, but very few — even those familiar with the technology — actually do.
There just isn’t a huge demand for reading or accessing the types of sites that are blocked by Chinese censors, which are usually websites critical of the government’s policy or foreign social sites that the censors cannot control. As there are well established Chinese answers to most of the West’s social media sites (and some are far better) there is little incentive for most people in China — who don’t have ulterior political motives, which is the shear majority — to use blocked sites. What’s the point of looking elsewhere when you already have what you want? Why would the average Chinese person want to use Facebook when none of their friends are there?
Outside of a rapidly growing counter-cultural or well-read fringe, there doesn’t seem to be a strong urge to gain knowledge which challenges the firmly established world views. Most people who I talk to about this here know their government is corrupt, they know that their country lacks human rights, they know that big business and government collaborators have decimated their environment, they know they live in a society that makes no pretenses that they’re just tiny, easily disposed of gears in a far bigger machine, so what’s the point of reading about it to have it rubbed in everyday? Pragmatism says that life is far easier when you can just accept the things beyond your control at face value and concentrate on the things that you can directly impact: your own life, your career, your family.
The internet beyond the Great Firewall isn’t this forbidden fruit that Chinese are craving to bite into. Most simply just don’t seem to care.
MX: Deng Liqun was a Propaganda Chief of China. Under his watch censorship was extremely harsh. After he left the political arena, he wanted to publish a memoir. But the relevant departments saw it, and said: This doesn’t work. It won’t pass the censors. Most interestingly, the clause the censorship department used to prevent him from publishing it came out when he was running the bureau. I think that’s fascinating.
BP: This very person who created the system — he’s the victim.
An amazing irony.