from Global Voices Online » China by John Kennedy
Those faithfully following the #China Twitter stream late on the working day on Thursday were treated to a surprise when Isaac Mao began twinterviewing Peking University associate professor of new media Hu Yong, author of several books related to Internet theory and culture.
From Mao's blog, Isaac 2.0, here is the transcript:
Q1: As one of the earliest few people in China to sense the Internet wave coming, how do things differ now from back then?
A1: At the time it was Adam and Eve and a simple garden; now, “Paradise Lost” has become a jungle. The law of the jungle prevails.
Q2: Yet in “Being Digital”, things don't seem so complicated, was it perhaps too idealistic?
A2: The main point in “Being Digital” was to point out that the society of the future would be constructed of bits, and not atoms. This can explain why so many industries today are in such dire straits, and can also explain why the Chinese government spends such vast human and material resources in patching up the wall. Of course, at that time, I was just as much an optimist as Negroponte, still believing in “shiny, happy bits”.
Q3: But I'm still skeptical, especially with regards to China; will bits bring about change in traditional thinking?
A3: Changing traditional thinking won't happen overnight. Bits have launched a process of rising cacophony: once we were completely silent, but with the first opportunity to speak, nobody is just talking, they're shouting. But we can't undervalue the role of speaking: it's the cure for a psychological wound, curing the wound inflicted on China by a thousand years of autocracy.
Q4: I want to ask about your book “The Rising Cacophony”. Everybody is making noise, and those with the most access to it seem to be the most worried, while yet those people who lack information seem to be the calmeste, does that sound true to you?
A4: Good question! Which is, why are those with more information the ones having the most dialogue and discussion. Sometimes, we arm ourselves to death with new technology; caught up in the embrace of technology as such, we forget about the fundamentals of society. China today needs to discuss a series of fundamental problems within society; a civilization which refuses to discuss major problems, if it doesn't lead to totalitarianism, then it leads itself to death.
Q5: Your experience in television media has had great impact, such as the changes at CCTV-2. Between the two, which has comparatively more significance?
A5: I object to any stance which advocates not watching, visiting, listening to or talking about CCTV news, propaganda programs or websites, because every inch of territory is worth fighting for.
Q6: In the Info-Rhizome report, you say that within the relationship between media and authority, new media seems to more radically change this kind of relationship, but at the same time are constricted within a certain degree of influence; looking at the history of media, can that ever change?
A6: Foucault once said that, “[w]hat makes power hold good, what makes it accepted, is simply the fact that is doesn't only weigh on us as a force that says no; it also traverses and produces things, it induces pleasure, forms knowledge, produces discourse.” New media, however, revolts against the high-handedness of “no”, but also revolts against the traversal of “yes”; which is why we must remember Orwell, and definitely mustn't forget Huxley.
Q7: In America, traditional media are nearing their end of days, searching everywhere for a way out. Does this sort of early anxiety signal well for the soft transition of media in China?
A7: The transition will be much easier for periodicals and books, because they are more highly market-oriented; television will find it more difficult, because of now abnormally television is structured in China, burdened by both ideology and monopoly. Regardless, an investment of forty-five billion RMB for external propaganda will not encourage transformation.
Q8: This external propaganda media leaves me feeling quite confused; is it supposed to create jobs for a lot of foreigners?
A8: Journalism professor at the University of Southern California Nicholas Cull put it very precisely. He said that the Chinese government has relied on newspapers, television and cultural exchanges in a series of attempts at what is called “internal propaganda through external propaganda”. Put another way, the way the Chinese government sees it, letting the Chinese people see that Chinese culture is being promoted to the entire world is the most important. Many people doubt the effects of propaganda, seeing it as barking up the wrong tree.
Q9: What about Chinese academics then? In the classroom, do they regularly need to self-censor? And what is the yardstick for that?
A9: Yardstick? No different than that for media, it extends as far as people are willing to probe. Back in the day, there was a joke in America about the definition of obscene material: ‘Obscene material? I know it when I see it.‘ In China, whether speech is inappropriate or illegal, goes about the same.
Q10: If the Internet had been around twenty years ago, do you think society would have been a bit more optimistic than it is today?
A10: Haha, back to the future…..the eighties were the best years of China over the past sixty years. Back then, we at least had the “Two Majors”, the ‘Major Affairs The People Need To Know' and ‘Major Affairs The People Need To Discuss'…if you think about it, using the Internet fulfills both the Two Majors, isn't that a bit more optimistic?
It's a very long history for China to deploy censorship system( I think the legacy came from it's ever regimes since Qinshi Huangdi, the first emperor ). So although the current communist party were ever not so agile first when Internet was introduced to this country in early stage, now seems they are more boastful on controlling it with both technical and social deployment.
On the technical part. Great Firewall (GFW in short) in China is now seen as the most complicated one around the world for it's scale, consistency and super computing power behind the infrastructure. The economic boom in this country ensures investment of the system. It came from people and used toward people. So besides of domain blocking, IP blocking and http keyword reset, the government also tried DNS hijacking sometimes to test the tolerance from communities. Many web site patterns(like wordpress.com,typepad.com, etc.) are totally inaccessible here.
Along with the technical screwing, China authority also well borrowed the methodologies from their mature ruling on old media to control the Internet hierarchically . Just in the past six years, they have release over 10 regulations to curb people's right of publishing. E.g. the real name registration of blog give people many pressure to publish their free ideas. Also they monitor people's traffic to punish those free speakers to frighten others. They sent over thousands of net police to force businesses to do self-censorship to co-hunt the mouse in the racing game(like guiding each web site to remove 'malicious' content and report in a daily manner by setting up instant messenger groups). You may also have heard that many International businesses, including Yahoo, Microsoft and Google, "have to" comply to the local hidden rules. The problem became more complicated with such compromises. And that's reason I wrote open letter to Google founders in 2007.
But things always how double-sides. The tighter the censoring is, the more enemies it generated in this country. With the most recent crackdowns on Internet content with the beautified excuse of “anti-vulgarity”, we see more and more online protest including many creative cursing like the famous “alpacas”. The escalated censorship never faces such big challenges from the booming content in web 2.0 age. The new flat network of content sharing dramatically changed the paradigm of free speech. Each time the authority add new censorship rules, the blogosphere will not only outcry loudly to the whole world but also find new ways to bypass it before next wave of reactions from censorship. With the shifting of readership to more social media space, the public awareness of censorship was raised the same time. I guess there are over 10% percent of Internet users now fully understand the wall comparing less than 2% two years ago from a survey in Chinese Blogger Conference. Then there comes stronger will for circumvention. Many users in China can easily setup a dynamic proxy, using Tor, or setting VPN or SSH tunnel to get across the system. 10% can become revolutionary, isn’t it?
But we need more time to realize revolution. Blogging and Micro-blogging plays very important role to spread the meme not only about circumvention tools but also the censored content itself. As there’re already a 40M blogger population in China, the same time emerged a lot of creative ideas over anti-censorship in the past few years. While some prominent bloggers continuously promote the circumvention technologies, some other bloggers started to collaborate on legal actions to sue the ISPs cooperating with censorship system. It also raises the hope to disrupt the whole system with totally different strategy. I'm seeing the headache from China authority because of the challenges from any corners. The horizontal collaboration also distributes the risks of being targeted by the government.
So i believe anti-censorship is not simple a combat in one country but a global war. Social media shows the power of global connectivity without competency. For example, Psiphon could have better architecture than Tor, but i'm still trying to find some better ways with more convergences with social enhancement. We should apply a whole new horizontal model rather than top-down broadcasting of a single solution. China case can be a good sample because of both the complexity of censorship against variety of solutions. Based on our experiences, designing social-media-based advocacy programs and technologies would be much more cost-effective strategy in such nanny countries.
Today, I categorized the circumvention strategy into 3 layers, the connectivity, technology and fabric. The physical layer is important because of connectivity, so sometimes we need FON like project to maximize the possibilities of connections. I believe more entrepreneurs will find new business ideas to enlarge this layer for any incentives.
Above connectivity, Tor/VPN/Psiphon like stuffs provide tunnels to enable people to get across the firewall for any individual. Sometimes they are powerful because any censorship will be invalid theoretically. However, till today, I didn't see any technologies can fit for all circumvention requirement. The technical redundancy let people fed up, the same time introducing more technologies.
So there's the 3rd layer, Social Fabric, is emerging since 2007 by the co-computing of people networks and machines to spread information. Friendfeed, Twitter, Google Readers, etc. are playing as building blocks of this layer, forming the real many-to-many fabric like super-dense pipeline system to reach best result. As there are tougher crackdowns in China this year, we can see how RSS and twitter meme spread even faster . That's the possibility we can assert Social Media is the future weapon to disrupt censorship.
Btw, youtube.com was reported hitting the wall timely in China since yesterday in the period of annual Congress. And once again twittersphere kept best watching by over such a case which leads to a further step closer to freedom.
I believe it’s true not as two people conversation but reflections within one blogger’s mind in micro-level. We have many meta ideas in mind deciding whether we share, the thinking process itself is valuable if we try to understand ourselves and find the magic co-incidence from others.
Not surprisingly, there’s already a Chinese edition of Rebecca’s blog post in two days from Yeeyan.com community. The censorship system is really complicated in China, however, the social media mouse is gaining lead in the race.
On the panel of "Digital Community" Winners talk I moderated two days ago in Linz, the three speakers, including Iris Wu from 1kg.org, David Sasaki from GlobalVoicesOnline.org and Jeana Frost from PatientsLikeMe.com, all present the beautifulness of their web site and communities. So I call those rewarding winning sites "Social Art", and of course the people behind them are Social Artists.
So what really Social Art is? Let's try to define it. Social Art is very dynamic creation by crowds with 6 degree of separations. Someone with creative ideas can start from a small core by building framework to foster a community(for sure nobody there the first minute). However, the core framework can grow organically with open DNA and consistence on Sharism philosophy. The beautifulness, of course, is the big picture of so many mirco-behaviors vibrate in such community. So it can be seen as dynamic social artwork. Just like the big cluster of the clouds from the window of flight, Social Art is always changing to attract everyone of us to fly into it, or zooming in and out of it.
Then we need more social artists to create such core frameworks. Lets hope the rains of social creativities.
Domain registrar Godaddy.com was blocked in China about one week ago just after the closing of Olympic Games. Same as usual, there's no any official explanation from authority on this blockage. Some bloggers like William Long in China guessed that it's because Godaddy provided a way for people to bypass CNNIC(The root institution managing .cn domains) to prevent people from registering domain names featuring the names of Chinese gold medallists.
Isn't it funny? But the most ironical thing is that Godaddy ever cooperated with China authority last year to suspend some human rights sites without warning last year to please China government. This time, not surprisingly, the rope hang itself.
When I read recent comments from Google CEO Eric Schmidt at “The Big Tent” event in Denver, I realized why these two G- are wrong:
Schmidt noted that the Chinese have a “Great Firewall” for censoring internet work and is so secretive that it’s illegal to describe it. “A rough summary is that if you don’t say Falun Gong,” it’s okay. The question, said Schmidt, is whether the Chinese are better off with Google than without.--- via Portfolio.com
Either blind about Google China's operation or doesn't telling the truth, Eric misled the audience that Google can do nothing in China but compromise. However, the truth is Google China made more self-censorship rather than just complying the local laws. Google China management wanted to satisfy authority to exchange some space for surviving. But they are wrong as Godaddy, the government won't buy in because there's never contract or agreement to protect them. The hidden rules in China will change all the time. Just like Godaddy's case, any cases can become your nightmare whether it's an event, a people's name, or a domain name. And the worst thing you can never recover is that you lost the support from users. There's only one government one business can please today or tomorrow, but there are millions of users one can't be fooled.
Last year, in my open letter to Google Founders, "The more compromise, the worse". I explained in some other occasions why Google lost market share time by time even they self-censor themselves a lot in this country. The China team not only did a very bad job losing all frontiers to their competitors in this fastest and biggest Internet soil, but also lost trust and loyalty from their existing users. With the same effort and resource to make self-censorship(they put more and more people on filtering system), they can fight back with their guns(technology, laws, user supports, etc.). They didn't complete any missions without accountability.
Once in a private talk with one senior officials of Google China, he was surprised when I told him the story China netizen helped Google back in 2002 when it's blocked in China the first time. Since they've forgotten it (are they googlers?), they won't care users too much today. However, Big Brother can never be satisfied, even one single day. Godaddy.com proved this thumb rule. Godaddy.com was blocked in China. Surely it's so bad to their business benefit from Chinese users. But some Chinese users said, "It deserved! No tears".
Some links to this summit(#gvsummit08) I'm attending from 25th-29th
Live stream: http://www.mayvelous.com/?p=402
Twitter channel: https://twitter.com/gvsummit08
Twitter summize: http://summize.com/search?q=gvsummit08
Photos on flickr: http://flickr.com/photos/tags/gvsummit08
I'm now in Bali Island but not for the legend sea shore and historical views. It's the first time that I'm here joining the 3rd Global Inter-media Dialogue(GIMD), a conference backing by two distinction countries, Norway and Indonesia. Deputy Minister Wegard Harsvik shared me the story how this GIMD was founded three years ago: Indonesia was one of three countries(China, Indonesia and Vietnam) Norway conducted talks on human rights with. And eventually after those talks, Indonesia become more democratic and healthy on politics today. They win the friendship of Norway as well. So the two governments set up the conference quickly in month in 2006.
I enjoyed some of the sessions especially those about local issues and community practices, but more happily to see old friends( Ying Chan, Kavi Chongkittavorn, etc.) there. I was surprised with the coverage of this conference because the organizers did invite a broad range of journalists from almost around the world. Amazingly, Cuban journalist, Lic. Magda Resik Aguirre, almost flied around world to attend this conference. The first session I joined was about the minority coverage problem of current media where a guy called Said Ibrahimi came from Afghanistan added me more knowledge about this country on the situations of reporters, as well the problems in that not-far-away country. What should global journalists do with such issues? Be more participatory or be more professional watcher? How to keep ethics in extreme situations?
If we just think about such issues in traditional ways. I can't help because they are actually the all time issues bothering journalism the whole discipline. The common problem to journalism in any countries, of course, its prejudice and ethical correctness. In our session called "Global Happenings" most on China issue, I quickly shared the future journalism could be the best collaborative spectrum between amateur journalism and professional journalism by applying the new technologies especially those web 2.0 ones. The stories in China were actually telling not only the possibility of such blurring between amateur and professional journalism, but also the possibility to approach truth.
About the truth, actually it'll be forever issue in our society but a real challenge to current traditional media. Even we can see some stories from the mainstream media covering minorities timely, it may be easily eclipsed by the limited bandwidth and persistency of the media. However, since everyone of us has more channels today to get information, you can sense how important the future journalism will be with new media technologies. Further saying, if people can provide and well use the throughput of new information channels, they can find more supporting materials to support their co-perceiving the truth. Obviously, the traditional media and journalists should change themselves proactively to fit for the trend.
The last minute before I click "publish" of this post and go to the Bali beach, there's a new notification from Twitter telling me one of my friends Maria Trombly recommended a new article about journalism: The future of journalism. Though there are different perceptions on the future of journalism, the holy thing to me in Sharism age is that you can meet magic of coincidence with new technologies all the time. Isn't it part of future journalism?
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