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?
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