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.
For different kinds of social application, we can now link them easily by importing/exporting their RSS/Atom feeds. In this way, they can be connected like a pipeline system(Do you still remember the classic fun game "Pipeline"?). Meme with XML format can flow over different pipes to reach different users eventually . There are different kinds of pipeline building blocks in the system including pipes, Tee joints("T"), and elbow joints, etc. Since there are more and more such type of components can be chosen by users, the system becomes more complex than a traditional one-to-many system(like the urban waterworks). The many-to-many relationship between those building blocks can generate non-linear chain effect that maybe possible to amplify little voices into big bang. It's the new type of media, "Social Media".
I'm making an illustration on "Social Media" big picture by putting some typical "Micropipeline" applications on one map to show how information could flow from one person to mass population by routing those pipelines and possibly generate impact. Of course, the value of the original meme should be recognized along the path. Traditional media like "Reuters" is no more than a super node on such a big map. The picture is not finished yet, but I would love to share some draft works to get your comments to improve it.
Someday in near future, I think the connection between different pipeline application won't be just limited to RSS. They can eventually "talk" to each other in more flexible and semantic way. Some new kinds of authentication methodologies like OpenID could be applied in such scenario to ensure that information are authentic enough. And I'm sure XML-based Microformats will play key roles in future picture.
Micropipeline will be more important to some totalitarian countries like China to confront it's censorship system("Great Firewall", or GFW in short). Those seems-redundant building blocks(like Google Reader v.s. Bloglines) just more helpful to build fault tolerant media pipelines to serve people in such countries. E.g. It's found that Soup.io were blocked two weeks ago by GFW in China:
As feared, we've been blocked in China again.
This is an unsatisfactory state of affairs for our Chinese users – but as much as we'd like to, we can't just keep changing our IP address every day.Sorry! :( ---[via Censorship evades Soup, has stronger kung-fu]
Bloggers got very angry(Chinese) on such blockage with curses all the time. But they are now becoming smarter to build more complex personal pipelines to avoid of single point failure. They switched to FriendFeed.com as the alternative solution to burn their social feeds as life stream. And their subscribers can response as well to keep their information pipes flowing at normal level. The same trick applys to Yahoo Pipes! when people found Feedburner was blocked in China half year ago. If it's a mouse and cat game, the mouse seems faster and smarter now.
For the draft illustration shown above. I'm actually using Zooomr as the picture link here instead of Flickr since the later one has been blocked in China as well. However, I believe they can't block every picture sharing site around the world to kill themsevlves. So I think it's a great hack that we Chinese can survive in such a Social Media age. We can even change the country in a longer extent for sure.
During the talk over "Social Media" as Luncheon Addresss(Slide) at the conference of "Changing Dynamics in the Asia Pacific: Power Politics, Economic Might, Media Challenges", I also presented the situation of the "lonely family" of Hu Jia.
There were bloggers tried to send powder milk the small girl last week, however, it's still impossible to break the cordon to enter and conduct. They didn't give up though. More tools will be expected to be used to make things smarter. You can find Hujia's house in a vivid way from Google Maps(same using Google Earth). More bloggers are called to join the action to update the map time by time. And furtherly the leaks can be found anyway to save the baby.
I hope the audience really understand Sharism in such a context because it's really relevant to each of us. And most importantly, I've got a lot information from the local bloggers meetup last night and some insights from other speakers in different panels.
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