China Internet Control: Has the great firewall been breached?

The still unanswered question is whether Google’s threatened withdrawal from China represents an unanticipated victory for human rights in China.

China’s internet control constitutes the apogee of attempts by totalitarian states to control thought and forbid expression and communication. Except for the few brave dissentients, the Chinese government has achieved the outcome foreshadowed and feared by Orwell:” The terrifying thing about modern dictatorships is that they are something entirely unprecedented. In the past every tyranny was sooner or later overthrown because of human nature which, as a matter of course, desired liberty, but we cannot be all that certain that human nature is constant — it may be just as possible to produce a breed of men who do not wish for liberty …The Inquisition failed, but then the Inquisition had not the resources of the modern State. The radio, press censorship, standardised education and the secret police have altered everything; mass suggestion is a science …and we do not know how successful it will be.”

George Orwell, “Review of Russia under Soviet Rule by N. de Basily”, Essays, (Knopf, 2002).
Dan Edwards has described how the Tiananmen massacre has been erased from Chinese history within China:

“I’ve lived in China for two years now, and have never encountered a country so obsessed with history, while at the same time so completely in denial about its recent past. …At times it feels like the China we read about in western history books, that is recalled in the memoirs of Chinese people living outside the PRC, the China that we saw on television in 1989 — existed in some parallel universe. It seems impossible that a country of 1.3 billion could be made to forget so successfully. Then an older man you are drinking with begins recalling his time as a Red Guard, or you find out people were beaten to death in your place of work in the late 1960’s, or you interview a protester who saw the army march on to Tiananmen Square, and you realise it is all true — the history and the amnesia.”Forgetting Tank Man costs China Dearly,Dan Edwards, New Matilda, 4th June 2009.

Published in: on January 19, 2010 at 5:16 pm  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. It’s an interesting case of brinkmanship. On the one hand, if Google resumes censorship, it will appear to have backed down (causing further ridicule of its “Do no evil” motto) even it receives assurances about no further cyber-hacking. Given that this issue has arisen at Google’s initiative, it seems unlikely that it will be willing to accept such a humiliation. On the other hand, it is hard to imagine that the Chinese government will countenance unfettered Google searches for long.

    Thus, my gloomy prediction: Google will be forced to exit the Chinese market, Baidu and other China-based search engines will be the beneficiaries and free speech in China will have flowered only briefly before the the “Great Firewall” is rebuilt once more (apologies for the mixed metaphor!).

  2. Sorry the above comment is from Harry Greenwell – but I deleted it by mistake.

  3. You may be right, Harry. It is though too early to predict the outcome, except that neither Google nor China will overtly capitulate.

    The case for Google ‘losing’ is clear enough. It has 30% of the Chinese market — at present 396 million internet users — but estimated to be 840 million by 2013. Baidu will presumably ‘move in’ to take the bulk of what Google might have had.It is interesting to speculate whether any other US or other non-Chinese search engine, would be allowed in and whether (see below) any other corporation would do so. Yahoo! has already announced support for Google, although not the Chinese corporation in which it now has an interest. Microsoft though has, I think, announced it is not withdrawing from China.

    But another view, favoured by John Garnaut [SMH: 18/1/2010, Business Day p.5] is that China will be very worried by the prospective withdrawal of Google. Background to his view is the sheer extent of Chinese Government interference with the Internet and its overall challenge to the security or confidentiality of any foreign government or business . It is not merely the hacking of the gmail accounts, or the question of censorship, but (a) that the Source Code was the subject of cyber attack; (b) 33 other major American corporations have been ‘hacked’ and (c) the substantial interference with the US Defence system.

    It is in this context that he believes American Business and American Government will combine to restrict any investment in China involving the supply of technology in the field of communications. The final step in his reasoning is that China urgently needs Western innovative technology which, as his article explains, China lacks.

    Another interesting article in New Matilda by Colin Jacobs, describes the hostility being displayed in China by google users — there are, as he acknowledges countervailing views being expressed.

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