The Chinese system of Internet censorship and media propaganda may have a lot of holes, but when tested by events like the Tibet unrest this past week, so far it's holding up well enough for the regime's purposes.
For those living in the West who didn't realize that there's little sympathy for Tibet independence among ethnic Chinese in the PRC, this blog post on Global Voices will be a shocker. John Kennedy has translated chatter from Chinese blogs and chatrooms that generally runs along the lines of: those ungrateful minorities, we give them modern conveniences and look how they thank us... where have we heard this before? Reuters has a roundup on the Washington Post that begins: "a look at Chinese blogs reveals a vitriolic outpouring of anger and nationalism directed against Tibetans and the West."
Of course, pretty much anything presenting more nuanced views that don't show the Chinese government actions in a good light are censored anyway. YouTube is of course blocked again. Bloggers are reporting that many BBS and chat channels are being closed or cracked down upon, and that mobile SMS's coming from or about Tibet are being heavily filtered.
Dave has done more than translate: he points out that this Tibet situation is a real challenge to all people who believe that the Internet can help foster free speech and bring about better global understanding. Here is his challenge to all of us:
I've argued, citing the words of the Dalai Lama himself, that if you
1) Believe in democratic principles and free speech
2) You believe the Internet is a tool for unfettered global communication
3) There's something in China (or any other country) that bothers you
Then you ought to put some energy into communicating directly with Chinese netizens about the problem. For years now I've seen alot of Chinese netizens discussions be completely ignored or simply missed by English-speaking netizens, who too often think that Chinese netizens are all completely brainwashed. Well, guess what? Some of them think you are too. Instead of dismissing each other as fools, how about we try to talk? So I say, Tweet Back! Tweet in English, alot of Chinese people know some. If you know Chinese... what are you waiting for?
He goes on to propose some specific ways to engage Chinese people in discussion of the Tibet issue, starting by signing up for accounts on a Chinese version of Twitter, Fanfou. In an earlier post he writes:
This is the perfect opportunity for Tibet internet activists like Oxblood Ruffin and concerned netizens everywhere to engage Chinese people on the Internet in discussions about what is going on. As I previously outlined in a primer to engage Chinese people, these are channels where one can register a free account and launch dialogues with Chinese individuals about Tibet. Many of the people I've included below are neither kneejerk nationalists or xenophobes, and some of them know some English too. It wouldn't hurt to try. You can respond by clicking on the username link at the beginning of each tweet, sign up, and talk back.
Dave also makes an astute observation that the East-West miscommunication madness is here to stay - and likely to get worse - between now and the Olympics. In a post titled SchizOlympics he reflects the feelings I share, and why I've not been looking forward to August:
Watching the build up to the Olympics has been, for me, like watching the world's biggest, slowest traffic accident. For a while now its been pretty obvious that alot of contentious issues about China were going to come to the front as we approach August 8th, but the problem is that there are two completely separate parallel worlds on these issues: the Chinese one, and the rest of us. Westerners have been exposed to rhetoric and information about Tibetan discontent, Darfur's international and Chinese dimensions, and of course old chestnuts like Tiananmen provide a larger context of long term, ongoing problems. Meanwhile, Chinese mainlanders by and large have no knowledge of these events or issues. While for the rest of the world the Olympics will be largely a referendum on China's ability to deal with what everyone else has talked about for years, for Chinese citizens it will be about China winning a beauty pageant of sorts.
Two Worlds, Two Dreams: prepare for the SchizOlympics.
Are we ready?
Meanwhile, here are some other online must-reads from the past couple of days:
- The China Digital Times has been doing a fabulous job of aggregating both professional and amateur reports from Tibet. Here is a collection of mobile phone photos they linked to, for instance.
- Roland Soong translates a first-hand account from a Chinese person in Lhasa. He also has a long update today including links to contrasting YouTube videos that paint different pictures of what's happening.
- Will at Imagethief has some astute observations about how Chinese government messages that work well on domestic audiences often don't work well on foreigners, but he points out that the Chinese official communications strategy is getting more sophisticated.
As Roland also points out, romantic fantasies and propaganda about Tibet aren't exclusive to any one side. Perhaps it's time to go re-read Orville Schell's book Virtual Tibet.