China Internet goes even more ‘Socialist Civilization’

If it’s any consolation, Mainland China seems to be plummeting into Xi-style totalitarianism at a faster rate than Hong Kong is plodding towards the Communist-tinted Singaporean authoritarianism the Liaison Office seems to have in mind for us. Like distant galaxies, the two are growing farther apart even if they are heading in the same direction.

In Beijing’s latest desperate attempt to control the Internet, the Ministry of Public Security is to embed police in big tech companies. Actual cops will have office space in firms like Alibaba and Tencent. Maybe they will just sit in their uniforms, munching donuts (well, dumplings), glowering at employees who look guilty of thought crimes in their cubicles. Or perhaps they will log onto Weibo and join the monitors, wumao and informants who must by now be clogging up half the bandwidth in the country.

While the Great Patriotic Paranoid Firewall seems primarily designed to delete undesirable material and promote the official line, it also “isolates [Chinese] from citizens elsewhere in the world.” Could this insulation from the rest of the planet, at a time when global digital communities are forming elsewhere, have bigger effects than the plain censorship and propaganda? Could China end up with ‘socialization’ issues – a nation-state version of the homeschooled kid forbidden contact with his peers’ music, TV and social media?

Although there is obviously a lot of clustering by language, culture and age-group, some fairly broad strands of humanity share information, ideas, experiences and memes digitally as a matter of course. Millions of people around the world right now are following the same footage and chatter about the Boeing 777 bits washed ashore in Reunion, or viewing the same photos and eye-witness accounts marking the 70th anniversary of Hiroshima. Less than a year ago, we were looking at YouTube clips and photos on Twitter in which teens in Ferguson, Missouri were holding up signs of support for Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement. At other times, half the planet seems to be debating the colour of FP-Sorrythat dress, or obsessing over the latest cat video. But Mainlanders don’t get to join in the party, as if they’re locked up in another room.

Similarly, the rest of the world must miss some of what’s happening in China. Mainland censorship would ensure this in many cases, but even when the state permits or orchestrates or just mishandles an online viral happening, people overseas will at best see it later and probably filtered in some way. In China, people don’t use Twitter, YouTube or Instagram (or anything), so the rest of us might not get to share the fun or frivolities or anger taking place online over the border. The classic example is last year’s rail station terrorist attack in Kunming: Mainlanders can be quite bitter at the way foreigners don’t share their outrage over what they see as China’s 9/11 – but people overseas didn’t experience it as they would have done if it had taken place in most other countries.

So we can declare the weekend open with the semi-optimistic thought that wherever Hong Kong is heading, the Mainland will be light years worse. It’s enough to stiffen spines at the South China Morning Post, which dares to carry an op-ed piece by Anson Chan, former Chief Secretary and latter-day pro-democrat loathed by Beijing and its followers. She decries HKU’s Johannes-Gate, offering gratuitous assurances that she does not approve of, condone, etc the students’ rowdiness, stubbornly refusing to openly accuse the Communist tyrants in the Liaison Office of subverting Hong Kong, and seeing dangers to educational institutions rather than the city’s whole well-being – but it’s a surprise to see it there at all.


This just in: now they’ve come for the ‘various videos of questionable taste’.

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5 Responses to China Internet goes even more ‘Socialist Civilization’

  1. Sir Crispin Bentley-Smythe IV says:

    How did you miss this in today’s blog?

    “The mainland’s top anti-pornography office is cracking down on sex videos that circulate through social media.”

    I predict a MASSIVE influx of applications for civil servant job:

    “government authorities at all levels throughout the country scour the obscene content”

  2. Gin Soaked Boy says:

    Mrs Anson Maria Elizabeth Chan Fang On-sang, GCMG, CBE, GBM, JP is just peeved she can’t be CE.

  3. LRE says:

    So China is soon to be the internet equivalent of Kaspar Hauser? Probably not — the Great Firewall of China is basically about as effective as its low tech namesake (Yuan and Qing dynasties do not speak to a great track record of keeping out Northerners). Anyone with a bit of tech knowledge can circumvent it fairly easily. Every country tries to ban something on the internet. Nobody has succeeded yet. In the mainland it’s news, in the US it’s free downloads of popular entertainment. It’s an expensive and wasteful game of whac-a-mole.

    For example, Xi Jinping’s kid, the Harvard grad, and all the other officials’ little princes and princesses had access to real interwebs for 4 years, as well as getting the dreadful foreign ‘fluence from evil Western reactionary forces brainwashing the glorious patriotic children of the motherland one of the best international educations money and influence can buy.

    Worse still, now the rabble are off to Hong Kong and Japan etc to get cheapo luxury goods and milk powder they can trust to not be poisonous, they’ll have access to news and real interwebs too, once they’ve left the country.

    The whole project of trying to censor the internet just reminds a chap of small dutch kids and dykes — now there’s a website that would no doubt be banned in China. 😉

  4. Knownot says:

    In all my years of teaching history in China, the most embarrassing moment I have witnessed for a Chinese student was not discussing, say, Mao’s purges or the 1989 crackdown. [It was] when the student had to explain to newly arrived foreign classmates that Facebook is blocked in China.

    Odd-Arne Westad ‘Restless Empire’

  5. 6am in Beijing says:

    For what’s it worth…I find solace in the fact that I could still access this blog while stuck in a 4-hour layover at the BJ airport on route back to Old HK. It’s like panning for gold over here.

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