My Blog - Now Blocked in China ://10 Jun 2019
I just finished a half semester class where we focused on Tiananmen Square as a focal point of protest and social movements in China over the last 100 years. One of the largest plazas in the world, Tiananmen sits adjacent to the former imperial palace and in the last hundred years has hosted the May 4th Movement of 1919, Mao’s proclamation of the PRC in 1949, a massive rally of Red Guards in 1966 that began the implementation of the Cultural Revolution, protests after the death of the PRC’s first Premier Zhou Enlai in 1976, further protests in 1989 after the death of former CCP General Secretary Hu Yaobang, and countless PLA demonstrations.
For our final paper in the class we were asked to reflect on protest in China. I choose to write about my doubts in the effectiveness of the CCP’s “Great Firewall” and its policy of censoring content it deems sensitive. With the 30th anniversary of June 4th 1989 having just passed, I thought it appropriate to post that essay here.
Dear Mr/Mrs Chinese Visa official, I would very much like to be approved for my visa and to visit your country. I hope you can appreciate that this essay is very much in the spirit of Dengism and trying to seek truth from facts. Hopefully it doesn’t matter if the cat is white or black; if it catches mice, it’s a good cat.
1.4 Billion Ambassadors - An Argument for Soft Power over Censorship in the PRC
Techopedia defines a copypasta to be “a block of text that has been copied and pasted multiple times. This often leads to a kind of generic or stilted result, or something that is slightly jumbled or disjointed” (Copypasta, Techopedia). More innocuous than chain letters sent in analog and early digital times in the hopes of avoiding bad luck or finding riches, copypasta such as the “Navy Seal” copypasta and the script of the Bee Movie spreads virally across the internet because senders think they are funny. In the West, copypasta and their cousins, memes, serve as a way for people to express themselves on the internet. Chinese so called “netizens” also enjoy using the internet as a new medium for expression, but its levels of censorship lead Freedom House to denote it “the worst abuser of internet freedom in 2018” (Freedom on the Net 2018, Freedom House). While China’s government has become increasingly aggressive in the content they limit and the degree to which they suppress any mention of the Tiananmen Incident, it is fighting a battle it cannot win as its citizens become more globalized. The Chinese government would be better served conveying a convincing story to its citizens rather than censoring content and having a limited voice when its citizens inevitably learn about the things it seeks to hide.
There are many ways to elicit censorship from the what has become known as the “Great Firewall of China.” From puns that turned a viral musical homage to President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan (Daddy Xi loves Mama Peng) that have come to elicit references to marijuana (daddy - 大 + mama - 媽 is similar in pronunciation to 大麻 - marijuana), to images of Winnie the Pooh also deemed to be a mockery of Xi, censors and their increasingly sophisticated algorithms remain busy (Why China is Banning Puns, Quartz). If one wishes to have their entire website censored for an indefinite time, users on the popular forum site Reddit recommend the following copypasta:
动态网自由门 天安門 天安门 法輪功 李洪志 Free Tibet 六四天安門事件 The Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 天安門大屠殺 The Tiananmen Square Massacre 反右派鬥爭 The Anti-Rightist Struggle 大躍進政策 The Great Leap Forward 文化大革命 The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution 人權 Human Rights 民運 Democratization 自由 Freedom 獨立 Independence 多黨制 Multi-party system 台灣 臺灣 Taiwan Formosa 中華民國 Republic of China 西藏 土伯特 唐古特 Tibet 達賴喇嘛 Dalai Lama 法輪功 Falun Dafa 新疆維吾爾自治區 The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region 諾貝爾和平獎 Nobel Peace Prize 劉暁波 Liu Xiaobo 民主 言論 思想 反共 反革命 抗議 運動 騷亂 暴亂 騷擾 擾亂 抗暴 平反 維權 示威游行 李洪志 法輪大法 大法弟子 強制斷種 強制堕胎 民族淨化 人體實驗 肅清 胡耀邦 趙紫陽 魏京生 王丹 還政於民 和平演變 激流中國 北京之春 大紀元時報 九評論共産黨 獨裁 專制 壓制 統一 監視 鎮壓 迫害 侵略 掠奪 破壞 拷問 屠殺 活摘器官 誘拐 買賣人口 遊進 走私 毒品 賣淫 春畫 賭博 六合彩 天安門 天安门 法輪功 李洪志 Winnie the Pooh 劉曉波动态网自由门 (r/China, Reddit)
Each of these topics comes with their own sensitivities — and all use the traditional script the Chinese Communist Party has worked to replace — but the copypasta highlights well just how many things are limited in public discourse within China. While many of these items such as the The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, and Liu Xiaobo’s Nobel Peace Prize remain in recent public consciousness, others such as the Cultural Revolution are not so personal to most (People’s Republic of Amnesia, Lim).
The disconnect between issues relevant to the youth and what is relevant to China’s leadership is perhaps something the CCP has missed as the age gap between them grows ever wider. Deng Xiaoping, China’s leader for two decades and the most influential man in China until his death in 1997 joined the communist party in 1923 (Deng Xiaoping, Biography.com). Mao — whose portrait remains on all denomination of the Renminbi and hangs in Tiananmen Square — is known to have been fond of Nikita Khrushchev’s declaration that “revolutionaries never retire,” and this has manifested itself in the leadership of the CCP (79-218, Weiner; We Revolutionaries Never Retire, Armageddon Letters). Xi Jinping — whose father Xi Zhongxun participated in the “Long March” of the 1930s — assumed the position of China’s Paramount Leader at the age of 58 — younger still than several of the previous Paramount Leaders (The CCP’s Age Problem, The Atlantic).
Beyond the Great Firewall, China has grown the state’s soft power strategy to perhaps the largest in the world (Gaining Face, The Economist). Between CGTN, China Daily, People’s Daily, Xinhua, and the Global Times, have perhaps 300 million followers on Facebook — representing five of the top six global new site. With an order of magnitude more engagement than Russian trolls during the 2016 US Election, and a $10 billion capital annual expenditure on soft power like this, China has built itself a bullhorn able to reach nearly 10% of Facebook users in Africa, and nearly 20% of Mexican and other Latin American users (Gaining Face, The Economist). Largely innocuous, these channels seem to follow the state owned Russian broadcaster — RT’s — strategy wherein sensational stories are seeded amongst real news (Agents of Doubt, Washington Post). The strategy appears to be working. As The Economist notes, “most popular posts [on Chinese media pages] are Orwellian titles such as China human rights report notes violations in us and “Why is Tibet a target for Western countries to pick on China?” (Gaining Face, The Economist). From hosting the 2008 and 2022 Olympics, the sponsorship of 500 “Confucius Institutes” at schools and 2,000 Chinese New Year celebrations both across 140 countries, the Chinese government is deeply focused on its image abroad (Subtleties of Soft Power, The Economist). This too appears to be working. Surveys find younger audiences across counties to have more favorable views of China than their elders — especially in countries like the United States and Japan (ibid).
Chinese youth may too follow the trend of approving more highly of the CCP than their parents. While the government has a hard time discussing sensitivities within its border and defaults to censorship, when asked to answer for troublesome periods outside the Great Firewall, it has answers that many accept. Leveraging its enormous populations to be messengers of its narratives would be an effective way to build national cohesion, pride, and further endear it to its citizens. With the events of 1989 nearing 30 years in age and a population that is increasingly realpolitik and removed from the events of June 4, China could stand to loosen its censorship of events — even as significant as this one. The social credit system, facial recognition technology, and monitoring of WeChat will persist.
Active at major tourist spots around the world they call Truth Sites across the world, the Tuidang movement seems to exploit the PRC’s suppression of news by talking to visiting Chinese about incidents they don’t hear about on the mainland. Tuidang has helped over 300 million people quit the CCP.
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