Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Man in the Mirror

I've had a chance to review exactly what this blog has become, and how its unique writing format has allowed certain liberties in my research of China's digital totalitarianism and George Orwell's 1984.

I spent a great deal of my research delving through recent articles and online discussions. As I was primarily concerned with the most recent of Chinese events, I found an abundance of relevant articles concerning the last year of history, often less. Though I did expand my limits to include a few relevant articles which were, by my standards, a bit too outdated, working on an electronic medium allowed my to restrict my research to the most current issues. If I had tried to focus on printed sources, I would have missed many events which proved pivotal to the current relevance I hoped to convey through this blog. In doing so, however, I did cut out many traditional sources which could have created a greater sense of balance for my thesis, but there are always compromises to be made.

Aside from the issue stemming from differing research methods, I really enjoyed the experience of researching and shaping a thesis in the public eye. I have never been in a situation quite like this, and felt a bit exposed at the beginning. I really did enjoy the opportunity, however, to try out some ideas, receive feedback from my peers, and approach the next post with a greater understanding of both my audience, their suggestions, their concerns, and their questions. It aids in the writing process to know the thoughts for whom you are writing.

As well as researching in the public eye, by "finished" product is there as well. Not rotting on my hard drive or on my desk somewhere. It is public for anyone with interest, and there is my contribution.

Writing a blog created a new sense of mind-set, however. Some posts may seem out of left-field and not quite connected to the main body, but it is still a relevant thought, all the same. I have a few posts which do not connect entirely to the main thesis, but it was a valid thought that I had the flexibility to record. Not every thought makes perfect sense, and I really enjoyed writing in a medium which allowed for some sense of liberalism.

I also really enjoyed the media available to a blog. Papers all look the same, especially if all are formatted in MLA or APA. A blog allows for the integration of pictures and videos which can often do wonders to instill curiosity, mood, and share greater depths of information. There is danger that the literary aspect, the text, can suffer as a picture or video clip may be used to compensate, but I still found blogs to positively expand the methods of communication. My classmate Neal, for example, would have had a difficult time elaborating his thesis without the use of video clips and paintings, as he examined the role of landscape in film. Text-descriptions would have been too distant and obscure to explain what a 60-second video clip could depict.

In terms of educational outcomes, I have examined the outcomes outlined by my university and find this mode of research to fit the bill quite well. This blog, more than anything else, has made me want to continue in my research. I have been encouraged to seek out experts and specialists in the fields I am interested. I do not need to be enrolled in a particular class to pursue these interests. Now that I have a greater understanding of online research, the gift economy, and methods of communication, I feel confident to continue researching and reaching out once my enrolled classes come to an end. This, I believe, is life-long learning and well as personally-directed learning. I have finally come to a degree of competency with the blogosphere to feel confident enough to continue and see what else I can find.

I have been most impressed with my other classmates, specifically Ben, Amanda, and Neal, in their proactive use of their blogs. They have reached out to individual bloggers, specialists, and entire communities to take their education and experience to the next level. This experience has really been education on a new level, one which integrates skills needed beyond the classroom.

Examining Online Identity

I have had the chance to review a blog of fellow classmate, Amanda, who has spent the last two months, roughly, researching the concept of online identity. Her blog Musings of a College Kid reflect the time and efforts she has made in pulling together her sources and her thesis.

Development, Focus and Cohesion
Two months can harbor a great deal of change, especially in research. Heather's blog accurately records her thesis' development through the transitions of her posts. She originally focused on shorts stories which illustrated the challenges facing immigrants adapting to new culture. Springing from this topic, her posts slowing began integrating more research sources which examined more the identity crisis, the duality, and actual presence of online identity. Throughout her research process, she seemed very focused on the themes of her thesis. She was able to integrate a greater amount of psychological research to support her examination of online identity while still maintaining integrity to the developing themes.

Post Variety, Media, Personality, Interactivity, Community, and Links
Heather did a great job at integrating personality into her blog. Her background is very fun, while it doesn't overpower the body of the text. Her posts throughout the month of May lacked media, however, and they, as a result seemed a bit bland. She made a complete 180 in June, however, and began integrating catching pictures for nearly every post. Having made that simple change, her blog started to really pop and draw greater attention to the themes she developed. She did not use any video clips or media related to that particular vein, but each research topic lends itself differently to various forms of media.

She has a great variety of posts. She reviews books, looks to specialists, and connects with other bloggers to bring a new dimension to each post. In doing so, Amanda demonstrated a open attitude to look to others beyond a classroom setting and try to engage in issues discussed now. She has been a very active participant in the blogs of others as she has been one of the most consistent participants in the blogging-world, and her posts often receive a fair amount of return comments themselves, such as her post Events.

Each post includes impressive links, referring to articles and other forms of information. She has provided easy ways for readers to follow her line of thought, while including the sources she references. Her sidebar also provided links to other relevant sources, especially articles features on a Diigo group, which is beneficial to others searching related topics.

Sum Up
I have been impressed with Amanda's efforts to provide a cohesive examination of online identity. Her blog is easily understood, filled with great resources and experiences, and is filled with her own voice throughout the posts.

Orwell in Context

Goldstein's book, you understand. . . . It may be some days before I can get hold of one. There are not many in existance, as you can imagine. The Thought Police hunts them down and destroys them almost as fast as we can produce them. It makes little difference. The book is industructible. If the last copy were gone, we could reproduce it almost word for word.
Orwell, 1984

Accompanying my research in China's digital totalitarianism and 1984, I have been musing over Orwell's place in the mess of it all. While my posts relating to China's Personal Ministry of Truth focus mainly on the affairs of China in the light of Orwell's novel, I spent time considering Orwell's larger role. Can 1984 become a symbolic representation rather than just an obscure point of comparison? I believe it can.

1984 is a futuristic look at the world Orwell feared would soon come to fruition: a totalitarian governing body which denied the rights of speech and thought. Armed with military power, torture chambers, advanced surveillance techniques, and propaganda, and entire body was conquered and manipulated by the force of Big Brother. Beneath the authority, however, in a deep underground, is a resistance and a book to accompany it. Untitled, known only as the book, this records the first days of Big Brother's regime, the world before his advent, and the methods by which he maintains control. Written by the foremost traitor to Big Brother, Emmanuel Goldstein, the book is the most threatening piece of truth attacking the Party's rule; naturally, it is forbidden and it is destroyed immediately once discovered.

As I reviewed the role of Goldstein's book, I could not help but connect it to Orwell himself. 1984 is banned in China; it questions government authority and exposes the dank recesses of totalitarianism. 1984 reveals the methods by which governing bodies manipulate power, brainwash its citizens, fabricate truth and history, censor the media, and condemn those who would dare think or theorize. 1984 exposes it all, and China cannot have that.

The Summation of Thought

"Will Big Brother ever die?"
"Of course not. How could he die? Next question."
Orwell, 1984

Thus Far
In a grouping of posts centered around China's Personal Ministry of Truth, I have recorded my findings and thoughts in comparing China's digital age to the dark world created by Orwell in his novel 1984. Thoughtcrime on the Internet deals primarily with the Chinese government's uncanny ability to censor, restrict, ban, and monitor online activity. Even a whiff of dissidence to the government or party leaders will cause a reaction from authorities. From blocking an unsatisfactory blog to threats, harassment, abductions, and terms in prison, China maintains maintains totalitarian control both on and off-line. This uncompromising hold on information can hardly escape comparison to thoughtcrime, thought criminals, and the Thought Police of Orwell's novel. Individual thought in China is becoming more contraband every day.

IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH discusses China's talent of not only restricting and monitoring Internet usage, but to infuse it with thickly spread propaganda. Gearing up paid officials to enter the digital world and, as "normal" citizens, praise the government actions and policies to high heavens, China has ensured that their blogosphere, as well as physical sphere, remain safely red.

My Thoughts on China's Status
As I began researching the connections between China and 1984, I honestly thought I would find the Internet to be a source of liberating avenues; I had assumed that digital revolutions and online worlds could escape the restrictions placed on the physical body of China and lead to freedoms long unrealized. The Internet can be so secretive, so ambiguous, naturally I thought it's role would distance China from 1984's world of constant surveillance and fear, giving its citizens the escape needed to organize and potentially instigate change. Surely China can't go on forever in this state--the people will escalate and rebel at some point. I thought perhaps the Internet would be the tool to facilitate change. Well, nothing pops your bubble like thorough research.

The Internet: Use It and Lose It
As my previous posts have already established, China hasn't missed a step as the government straddles both the physical and virtual worlds. Another sphere is under communist control; the Internet has become an marionette, it seems, which obediently bends to the official hands tugging at its strings. The Internet is saturated with cyber-police, which easily bring punishment in the physical sense to those "crimes" committed on a virtual level. There is no safety, no anonymity online. There is no chance for change without the quick backlash from government power.

The government is quick to shut down anything that poses a threat. While many blogs and sites are scrutinized against government policies, the real danger comes when online gatherings pour into the physical world. China fears opposition, China fears masses of people united and gathered. Any hint of a riot throws China into a frenzy. These threats may usually be stopped, however, before the fear actually materializes. As mentioned in Virtual Memory Suppressed, China wasted no time in shutting down a virtual gathering to commemorate the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre.

A few individuals traveled to Tiananmen Square only to report on their Foursquare account their location and time. A few more followed, and a few more. There was no physical gathering to attract attention, just mute participation before leaving the cite just as quickly. Even a gathering of such minute proportions did not sit well with the government who, after catching on to the virtual gathering underway, blocked the site before the end of the day.

This instance only involved the blocking of one site; other behavior leads the government to block the Internet entirely. Returning again to those sentiments expressed in An Endless Battle?, the Chinese government banned the Internet for a span of 10-months following a riot in a Western province. The riot, which began as a protest against the government to investigate earlier conflicts between the different racial groups in China's Western provinces, culminated in the death of 156 people, with many others wounded. The government blamed an ethnic group for orchestrating the protest, via Internet, and as punishment banned the Internet for a span of 10-months.

This instance, more than any other, help demonstrate the extreme power the government holds over the Internet. Right now, it still proves a veritable tool which lends itself to government surveillance and exploitation. If the day arrives, however, that online dissidents gain too much power or pose a real threat to China's governing party, the Internet may just as easily disappear. Almost like a parent could simply remove the toy that causes too much noise or distraction or breaks some household lamp, China has the power to preserve itself at cost of unplugging entirely.

My Summation of Thought
1984 has arrived because of, not in spite of, the digital age. In power now is a government which can tap into nearly every method of life. The Internet is controlled, limited, monitored. In a delicate balance of risks and advantages, the government will exploit it and abuse it so long as it serves a purpose. There is little chance for rebellion without detection, little space to voice independent thought, and little hope to change. It seems the China has played its cards well. Thank you for your insight, Mr. Orwell.

Monday, June 14, 2010


Who controls the past controls the future, who controls the present controls the past.
George Orwell, 1984. Slogan of the Party.

I have been researching the Chinese government's use of technology. In earlier posts, specifically China's Personal Ministry of Truth, I have examined the government's Internet censorship protocol as well as other restrictions placed to limit the freedoms of the digital world. I have repeatedly turned to the Orwell's novel 1984 to examine the sympathies binding China's restricting policies to the dark future dominated by Orwell's Big Brother and the Thought Police. Thoughtcrime on the Internet concentrates on China's efforts to ban unsatisfactory ideas while counteracting those who would threaten complaint in the public sector; the focus thus far has been methods to keep the bad out. China, however, is clever enough to recognize an exploitable tool when it sees one. The Internet, as used by the Chinese government, it not simply an ambiguous world in need of censorship; it is a tool which writes history and dictates the present.

The Cultural Revolution and Little Red Book
China is no novice in the art of propaganda. In fact, one may say they wrote the book on it. In 1966 Mao Zedong was the chairman of Communist party in China. Disgusted with old ideologies and believing the past to be corrupting the possibilities for a purely Marxist future, Mao's regime authorized the Cultural Revolution spanning from 1966 until, arguably, Mao's death in 1976. this revolution was a radically destructive era. This revolution annihilated China's religious, dynastic, and historical legacy; with disregard and disinterest, Mao encouraged the systematic destruction of monasteries, literature, landmarks, temples--anything which might recall old thoughts or old ideals. Slaughtering thousands in the process and driving more to humiliation and suicide, Mao's regime smothered the people in the present ideologies and removed all traces of the past.

Having eliminated all unsatisfactory influences from the presence of his people, Mao set his sights to the molding of their psyche. As mentioned in The Past. The Future? Mao also instigated the Little Red Book, a small compilation of the teachings and ideologies of Chairman Mao. As unwritten law, citizens were obliged to carry the book at all times, turning to its pages throughout the day to dominate their minds with the words of their leader. The Little Red Book allowed Mao the power he sought: he controlled the past by elimination, the present by indoctrination. What worries could there be for the future?

New advancements on the technological front have done little to sway China from their propaganda prominence. While Mao effectively controlled China's mindset through the printed medium, the Communist government is applying new tools to old tricks as they continue to manipulate the minds of the masses through their use of technological propaganda.

A Government-Infused Medium

Who controls the past controls the future, who controls the present controls the past.

China still maintains a firm grip on the past. Massacres such as that at Tiananmen Square never occurred, as testified by historical documents and Internet sources. The effort to ban such topics, arguably, fall within the realm of censorship. Beyond these efforts, however, rests a more active effort to distort the public understanding, reaction, and opinion of current events and governmental measures. The Chinese government employs others to puppet the minds of citizens online, swaying opinion towards government favor. From the New York Times, the article China's Censors Tackle and Trip Over the Internet attacks directly the government's efforts to brainwash the masses via government proxy:

Another strategy is manipulation. In recent years, local and provincial officials have hired armies of low-paid commentators to monitor blogs and chat rooms for sensitive issues, then spin online comment in the government’s favor.

Mr. Xiao of Berkeley cites one example: Jiaozuo, a city southwest of Beijing, deployed 35 Internet commentators and 120 police officers to defuse online attacks on the local police after a traffic dispute. By flooding chat rooms with pro-police comments, the team turned the tone of online comment from negative to positive in just 20 minutes.

According to one official newspaper editor who refused to be named, propaganda authorities now calculate that confronted with a public controversy, local officials have a window of about two hours to block information and flood the Web with their own line before the reaction of citizens is beyond control.

China is willing to don as many masks as necessary, it seems, to maintain the control and power it enjoys. Taking lessons from Mao himself, technology has only aided the Communist party as it employs savvy methods to disrupt the memory of the past as well as the present. It seems, again, as if Orwell was right on mark. One of the foremost slogans of the Party, the governing power in Orwell's futuristic London, is the phrase IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH. There is great power for the ruler of the ignorant. By maintaining ignorance to the past, ignorance to the true present, ignorance to identity, ignorance to potential, maintaining IGNORANCE itself, the threat for rebellion almost disappears entirely.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

A Response from the Expert and Thoughts on the Telescreen

Continuing with my study of the use of new media in China, I recently received an e-mail from an expert of on the subject. I have been looking specifically at Orwell's text 1984, and analysing whether technological advancements, such as the Internet and digital forms of communication, push the Chinese government towards the totalitarian world of Big Brother, or if these advancements prevent such a transformation from ever occurring. As I mentioned in my earlier post Questions for the Expert, I sent an e-mail to John Tkacik Jr. whose article "China's Orwellian Internet" has already been influential to my research. This afternoon, he was kind enough to respond:

Allison --- The emergence of IPv6 (Internet Protocol version 6) as the standard internet language for China will make it far easier for the state to identify specific IP addresses on specific machines – making it far easier to identify the precise machine that any communication comes from, and far simpler to cache all messages to/from that machine. So, I’m afraid China’s internet is now less of an instrument of free expression and more of an instrument of state repression . . . but it can be used by the regime to induce State-approved thinking. . .

You may also be interested in “Trojan Dragon” which Heritage published in early 2008. . .


I was very grateful for the time he took to respond, and more so for the suggestions he offered. I spent a little time looking into IPv6, and while comprehension of the cogs which run the Internet-machine are not my speciality, Mr. Tkacik's brief summary of its larger uses help illustrate the danger. The Chinese government, it seems, is finding increasing power with every technological advancement, and not vice versa.

While the Chinese government has already proven its ability to track and find cyber-dissidents, this particular advancement will make the process quicker and more efficient. Which leaves more time for the judicial process to take over.

At the risk of changing the subject entirely, Mr. Tkacik's e-mail has started my mind in an interesting direction. In 1984, the governing body, INGSOC, is a glutton for surveillance. In every pubic arena, facility, bar, institution, and home is found a telescreen, a device which is part television, part security camera. The telescreen is always on; only the most elite members of the government Party have the power to turn it off. All day it emits news, reports, ration alerts, war updates--anything to spew Big Brother's propaganda. As it sends propaganda out, the telescreen also takes a great deal in: anything within sight and hearing is recorded and may be scrutinized--at any time--by the Thought Police. Perhaps the phrase BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU is familiar. Well, as Orwell writes, he is watching. Though the telescreens he sees everything.

Returning again to China, their implementation of IPv6 is a more refined process of linking online identities to physical persons. The distance between the government and the individual is becoming thinner and thinner as technology develops. How much longer before the Chinese government--or any organization--can work the same magic as Big Brother's telescreen? With webcams and microphones automatically built into most computers, how big of a jump is it to recreate Orwell's methods of surveillance?

I'm starting to think more and more that Big Brother's telescreen was not an immediate process. I have a difficult time imagining technology of this caliber appearing overnight in the homes of the masses. Perhaps it was merely the slow transformation of technological tools already in wide use. We've come to rely so heavily on our media; televisions, computers, scattered throughout every home. The technology is already in place, it seems. There only waits for a government to utilize the tools already available. Orwell wrote the book on totalitarian surveillance, and it appears China is reading it.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Physically Returning to Orwell, Digitally

Following the suggestions of my professor Dr. Burton, I am returning to the basis of my research in China: George Orwell's text 1984. This return, however, is not the traditional sense of grabbing my personal addition and again scour the pages for appropriate quotes and references. Instead, this return is to examine the process of Orwell himself, to explore the text beyond the publicized page. Using the advancements technology has supplied, I have returned the the text as Orwell worked it: his manuscripts.

A very primal draft. One thing I find particularly interesting is Orwell's meticulous use of capped letters. In the official publication of 1984, the slogans of the party here represented--WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH--are capitalized, expressing deserved volume. The manuscript shows that Orwell intended this detail from the beginning. He meant for the slogans to scream.

This version is more formalized than the previous manuscript, or was, I suppose, before Orwell painted it with his pen; it is the first page of the first official draft. I had never appreciated the process Orwell undertook to collect his thoughts and ultimately finalize them to produce the finished novel. This page has been absolutely torn apart; Orwell took very seriously the thoughts he transmitted to paper.

As I look at this draft in particular, I really am amazed at the process Orwell drafted, deleted, reworded, restructured, and revamped what is arguably his most poignant novel. To bring in a touch of the biographical, Orwell was suffering from the debilitating effects of tuberculosis. The years he formed 1984 were particularly difficult as he constantly battle the disease he knew was killing him. I find myself with little to say, simply overwhelmed, in a sense, to appreciate the efforts of a dying man, meticulously forming his last words.