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 Though I did expand my limits to include a few relevant articles which were, by my standards, a bit too outdated, working on an electronic medium allowed my to restrict my research to the most current issues.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.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Questions for the Expert

As I've been conducting my research on China's use of technology, I came across an individual whose area of expertise supports well my area of interest. John Tkacik Jr. is a former U.S. Diplomat specializing in foreign policy and relations with China. Under the Clinton adminstration, Mr. Tkacik served as the Chief of China Intelligence in the U.S. Department of State. Now retired from active positions in diplomacy, he is a Research Fellow for The Heritage Foundation, and his article "China's Orwellian Internet" has already played integral roles in earlier posts.

The article "China's Orwellian Internet", however, was written in 2004. Hoping to hear Mr. Tkacik's opinion on more recent issues, I sent the following e-mail this afternoon:

Mr. Tkacik,

Like you, I have had the opportunity to spend a portion of my life in Asia; I lived in Taiwan for nearly 18 months and entertain thoughts for a future life on the mainland. Though your experience dwarfs that of my own, I, too, understand and appreciate the distinctive nuances of the Chinese people. I have since returned, an am currently completing my undergraduate studies in English at Brigham Young University.

It was my experience in Asia which has cultivated my current interest in the diverse issues facing both China and Taiwan. Since my return from Asia six months ago, I have engaged myself in amateur research examining China's state policies through the interpretive lenses of George Orwell's text, 1984. Specifically, I am exploring the paradoxical images associated with the Internet; human rights optimists rally behind the Internet as a weapon to attack Communism's totalitarian rule, while others realize the manipulative grip the government exercises over this digitalized method of expression as it would any other. The underlying thesis of my research is to explore the role the Internet plays against the predictions made by Orwell himself: does the advent of new technology reason an incarnation of Orwell's totalitarian state as impossible or inevitable?

It should come as little surprise that my research brought me to your door. I recently discovered your article "China's Orwellian Internet" and in your arguments found evidence to support my own. Like you, I am forced to see the Internet as another method to secure government power. Though I can empathize with those who optimistically hope the Internet will provide an avenue of free speech, my research has repeatedly proven otherwise. Referring again to your article "China's Orwellian Internet," I was particularly impressed with your numerous accounts of those individuals found on the wrong side of government favor; I have continued researching similar veins and have been particularly impressed by the government response to, as Orwell would say, thought criminals, such as Gao Zhisheng and Liu Xiaobo.

Your time, I understand, is extremely valuable; I would not want to take away from projects of larger importance. However, as your time allows, I would be very interested to hear further thoughts on the role Internet is playing in China. Do you still see it as a machine hurdling the government toward the totalitarian regime predicted by Orwell, or do you think it has already arrived? Or, contrastingly, it is really the beacon of free speech and free though so many wish it to be?

As a final thought, I have included a substantial portion of "China's Orwellian Internet" on a blog designed solely for recording my research. If you feel so inclined, it may be read under the post Thoughtcrime on the Internet on my blog New Experimentation.

Again, Mr. Tkacik, I thank you for your time and, if available, hope to hear further your thoughts on the state of affairs in China.

Thoughtcrime on the Internet

There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to love--did live, from habit that became instinct--in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.
George Orwell, 1984

The Naivety of Optimism
The Internet has become a source of optimism; perceived as an un-muzzled arena catering to the thoughtful musings, the witty antidotes, the scholarly debates, the livid cursings of both the individual and public en masse, the Internet is a free forum yielding to any thought spanning the mundane to the prolific. In the spirit of brother’s keeper, many have viewed the Internet’s infinite cyberspace as an alternate world offering freedoms and humanity denied in many regions of the physical sphere.

The truly optimistic find hope for rebellion and revolution, masked in the ambiguity of online anonymity, to finally topple the states that would deny elemental rights of humanity. If there is hope, it lies in the Internet. Such is optimism. While the Internet offers an alternative sphere of existence, China has exercised the well-attached puppet strings: the Internet it is a sphere that may be controlled like any other.

The Great Firewall of China
Most succinctly articulated by a USA Today correspondent, “No one does it quite like China, which has proved that old-school communist apparatchiks could tame something as wild as the Web.” China’s Internet is guarded by a strict set of filters and firewalls. Appropriately dubbed the Great Firewall, it has been the barrier which restricts the content available to the masses. Though it is by no means foolproof, the Great Firewall has been instrumental in exercising governmental control over the seemingly infinite void: the Internet.

Along with generic content filtering, blocking banned subjects such as the Dali Lama and the Tiananmen Square Massacre as well as social networking tools Google and Facebook, the Internet is privy to virtual raids-of-sort. Every personal article, blog, chat room discussion, e-mail—in short, any form of electronic communication—is available to official scrutiny. If not meeting the government’s ever-changing definition of acceptable opinion, in an instant the renegade comment may be altered, substituted, or deleted by government hands.

Many bloggers and online participants are often ambivalent to the government’s restrictions; harmless blogs receive the ax with neither explanation nor justification, while other sites, such as that maintained by Chinese blogging sensation Han Han, seem to dance on the government’s patience by flaunting disrespect to the murky lines established by the authorities. Once examined within context, however, an altered or deleted blog is comparatively small beans to the measures taken against those whispering threats against government omnipotence.

The Harassment, Disappearance, Arrest, and Imprisonment of Thought Criminals
In many instances, mere screening of online communication fails to satiate the government’s appetite for order; many individuals wake to find themselves, surprisingly, identified by the government as dissidents. Journalists and reporters are particularly susceptible to falling out of favor amid a government of shifting opinion. As described in the New York Times article China’s Censors Tackle and Trip Over the Internet, “Journalists and Internet publishers often discover that they have crossed the line only after their online presence is blocked, their bylines are blacklisted or they are detained or summoned to ‘tea’ with government security officers who deliver coy but unmistakable warnings.” For some, the trouble, albeit inconvenience, ends with a warning; others are not so fortunate.

A Research Fellow for the Heritage Foundation and expert on China, John Tkacik, Jr., recorded such instances of aggressive government intervention:

In April 2004, The Washington Post described a typical cyberdissidence case involving a group of students who were arrested for participating in an informal discussion forum at Beijing University. It was a chilling report that covered the surveillance, arrest, trial, and conviction of the dissidents and police intimidation of witnesses.

Yang Zili, the group's coordinator, and other young idealists in his Beijing University circle were influenced by the writings of Vaclav Havel, Friedrich Hayek, and Samuel P. Huntington. Yang questioned the abuses of human rights permitted in the "New China." His popular Web site was monitored by police, and after letting him attract a substantial number of like-minded others, China's cyberpolice swept up the entire group. Relentlessly interrogated, beaten, and pressured to sign confessions implicat¬ing each other, the core members nevertheless with¬stood the pressure. The case demonstrated that stamping out cyberdissent had become a priority state function. According to the Post, Chinese leader Jiang Zemin considered "the investigation as one of the most important in the nation." In March 2003, the arrestees were each sentenced to prison terms of between eight and ten years-all for exchanging opinions on the Internet.

Then there is the case of Liu Di, a psychology student at Beijing Normal University who posted Internet essays under the screen name of Stainless Steel Mouse. She is an exception among cyberdis¬sidents-after a year behind bars, she is now out of jail. The then 23-year-old Liu was influenced by George Orwell's 1984 and became well known for her satirical writing and musings on dissidents in the former Soviet Union. She defended other cyberdissidents, supported intellectuals arrested for organizing reading groups, attacked Chinese chauvinists, and, in a spoof, called for a new polit¬ical party in which anyone could join and every-one could be "chairman." Arrested in November 2002 and held for nearly one year without a trial, she became a cause célèbre for human rights and press freedom groups overseas and apparently gained some notoriety within China as well. Although she had been held without trial and was never formally charged, she was imprisoned in a Beijing jail cell with three criminals. In December 2003, she was released in anticipation of Premier Wen Jiabao's visit to the U.S. Yet nine months after returning to the Beijing apartment that she shares with her grandmother, Liu still finds police secu¬rity officers posted at her home. She has found it impossible to find a regular job, and police moni¬tors block her screen name Stainless Steel Mouse from Web sites.

On July 31, 2004, hundreds of villagers of Shiji¬ahecun hamlet in rural Henan province demon¬strated against local corruption. Provincial police from the capital at Zhengzhou dispatched a large anti-riot unit to the village, which attacked the crowd with rubber bullets, tear gas, and electric prods.[12] Propaganda officials immediately banned media coverage of the incident, and the outside world might not have learned of the clash if an intrepid local "netizen" had not posted news of it on the Internet. The Web correspondent was quickly identified by Chinese cybercops and arrested during a telephone interview with the Voice of America on August 2. While the infor¬mant was on the phone with VOA interviewers in Washington, D.C., he was suddenly cut short, and the voice of a relative could be heard in the back¬ground shouting that authorities from the Internet office of the Zhengzhou public security bureau (Shi Gonganju Wangluchu) had come to arrest the interviewee. After several seconds of noisy struggle, the telephone connection went dead.

The government is a staunch defender of its puppetized-internet. Wielding an army of cybercops 30,000 strong and counting, such aggressive measures are well within the reach of government power. While, admittedly, the examples provided by John Tkacik, Jr. are reasonably dated; current events, however, have proven government aggression against cyber dissidents, a more modern interpretation of Orwell’s thought criminals, remains as hostile as ever.

The Case of Liu Xiaobo
In December of 2008, one of China’s most prominent human rights activists Liu Xiaobo was taken by authorities for his involvement in contraband thought article “Charter 08.” Calling for sweeping government reforms, such as an end to one party rule, “Charter 08” rallied support after its appearance on the Internet. Only days after its online publication, Mr. Liu was taken from his home by authorities; following his abduction, he was kept for six months without official charges or trial. The authorities eventually channeled Mr. Liu through the judicial system, charging Mr. Liu with “incitement to subvert state power” and sentencing him to eleven years in prison. The following report offers more perspective into the reactions of Mr. Liu’s supporters, as well as the displeasure of foreign embassies:

As U.S. Embassy Officer Gregory May succinctly stated in the featured news clip, "Persecution of individuals for the expression of political views is inconsistent with Internationally recognized norms of human rights." For all the weight the sentiment has carried, however, one may just as well say, "Liu Xiaobo is another victim of the system. Nothing more to be done."

Another Winston Smith has played his part in the idealistic war against Big Brother; another last man in China has found a voice and is paying for it. Facing the red giant--its cyber(thought)police, powers of surveillance, destruction of individual rights to privacy and humanity, and stone-cold intolerance--can there be an alternative ending to the story? Who can argue with George Orwell?

Monday, June 7, 2010

Virtual Memory Suppressed

I was searching for any event or gathering concerning censorship in China when I came across an interesting article. Last Friday marked the 21st year since the massacre at Tienanmen Square in Beijing. As the events of early June 1989 are denied by the government, commemorating the anniversary openly was out of the question. However, many individuals used the social network Foursquare as a sort of virtual gathering. The network allows for friends to "check in" with their location; on Friday, many were checking in from Tienanmen Square.

No physical demonstration, but even a virtual gathering caught the government's sensitive eye. The virtual gathering did not sit well with the government, who blocked Foursquare before the day was through.

Censorship's Declining IQ

China's censorship is the creator of many problems, it seems. There is the fabrication of news and history, the infusion of pro-Communism propaganda, the unapologetic suppression of individual thought, and, least we forget, the blatant disregard for human rights. All these issues aside, however, it seems censorship is finally creating a problem the government is truly scared of: a mass exodus of brain power.

Hong Kong remains an extremely distinct and privileged city; until 2047, it retains freedoms foreign to the mainland. Hong Kong enjoys freedom of speech, multiparty government, and, most important to China's brightest minds, uncensored Internet. The most elite, most promising, most resourceful students compete for admission to Hong Kong universities, and who could blame them? In Hong Kong students have free access to Google, Twitter, and similar sites now replacing vintage forms of communication and research.

The problem facing mainland China, then, is quite predictable; having the opportunity to cross the Great Firewall of China and enjoy the freedoms from censorship, students typically do not boomerang back to their native mainland. The article Censorship causing brain drain in China? remarks on the low percentage of returning graduates: "With new freedom at hand, only a few fresh HKU (Hong Kong University) graduates have returned to the mainland. Last year, only 3 percent of HKU graduates from mainland China returned home to look for a job." China is loosing its greatest minds.

China has tried to implement incentives for returning graduates, trying to coax back their experienced graduates, but government efforts have had little effect. On a large percentage, those students who study either in Hong Kong or abroad are not keen to return. In a country whose pride lies in the resources (exploited or otherwise) of its people, this loss seems to be the greatest problem eating China. It may not think twice about the twice-stomped rights of humanity, but a brain drain is like a festering wound.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

China's Personal Ministry of Truth

A Touch of Background
A few months ago, I was an avid reader of the New York Times; I had just returned to the United States after a substantial stint in Taiwan, and found myself engrossed with any news at all pertaining to Asia. My fascination was chiefly concerned with the happenings of Taiwan and China, and my dedication to the New York Times regularly rewarded me with plenty of reading material.

At the time, China was a hot topic of both conversation and controversy as its rocky relationship with the global company Google started attracting attention. Unwanted notice followed as journalists highlighted the government’s thorough system of Internet filtering, a process government leaders deny with the repetition characteristic of broken records. As I read headlines and articles, I could not help but find an eerie-sort of familiarity resonating between the Chinese government and the dark totalitarian world depicted by George Orwell in his epic novel, 1984.

The Comparison Explored

I do not pretend this is a novel comparison; I am not the first and most certainly will not be the last individual to see the red giant as a shadow of Orwell’s dark utopia, but I could not help but see the parallel images created by China’s numerous propaganda departments and 1984’s Ministry of Truth. The Ministry of Truth is one of four governing ministries which promulgate the power of a totalitarian government. While other ministries concern themselves with war, famine, and torture, the Ministry of Truth is concerned with information-control. Utilizing, ironically, a complex system of fabrication and deceit, the Ministry of Truth is able to manufacture truth.

Using rudimentary tools applicable to Orwell’s mid-twentieth century understanding of technology, 1984's government employees, known as Party members, alter, destroy, distort, and otherwise fabricate any part or portion of media deemed unsatisfactory by the leaders of the nation. The range of influence is baffling; This process of continuous alteration was applied not only to newspapers, but to books, periodicals, pamphlets, posters, leaflets, films, sound tracks, cartoons, photographs—to every kind of literature or documentations which might conceivably hold any political or ideological significance. All this is accomplished without the scope of technology now taunting governments of similar sentiments.

Legitimate Fears?
My thoughts as I scanned the series of newspaper articles frequently returned to a dominant vein of questions: will our contemporary technological advancements permit the creation of the totalitarian super-body envisioned by George Orwell? Will technology, with its intricate system of loopholes and bypassed firewalls allow for a rebellion considered impossible in Orwell’s world? Or, conversely, does technology prove totalitarianism’s best friend, creating a government force capable of omniscience surpassing that feared by Orwell himself? What role does technology have in dictating power distribution? With a nation saturated with the advancements of technology, is China’s totalitarian transformation an impossibility or inevitability?

These themes deserve a more calculated look. The following posts will discuss these questions in greater detail:

Thoughtcrime on the Internet
The Summation of Thought

Friday, May 28, 2010 The New Toy.

The entire text of 1984. Sadly, it does no justice.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Naivety Gone, Thank You Orwell

Thus far, this blog has served as an expansive space to explore, in a sense, my research and own thoughtful musings. I have been researching the role Internet and new media play in the lives of the Chinese people and in their powerhouse government. More specifically, I have been examining new media from the perspective of the spectrum's counterpoints: an avenue for rebellion among the underground (emerging?) human rights activists or a seemingly invincible government weapon capable of annihilating any hope for revolution.

I can honestly say I approached the research process with as little bias as possible. I had never really studied the freedoms either opened or barricaded by the contrastive uses of media. I tried to understand the activities on both sides of the spectrum as well their respective repercussions. I am sorry to say, however, that in true Orwellian style, the government remains the victor.

True, there are plenty of counterarguments regarding Chinese activists rallying anti-government sentiment, however, the countless instances of government intervention, notable abductions and disappearances, and the point-blank removal of Internet services entirely only prove that the government's power is safe. Safe and sound and is likely to remain so.

If you have never read George Orwell's 1984, you may want to stop reading now.

In an oddly transcendent sort of way, realizing the seemingly impenetrable power China holds with its mouse and keyboard took me back to the night I finished Orwell's 1984 for the first time. It was some years ago, but I can still remember my hopeful naivety as I struggled through the last chapter. I still, in a way, hoped for redemption, but with every paragraph, every sentence, realized it would not come. I believe I even cried a little when I finally put the book down and accepted Orwell's future hell. Focusing on China, now, and finding myself nose to nose with a manifestation of Orwell's prediction is quite an unsettling experience, to say the least.

I wanted to be wrong; I wanted Orwell to be wrong. I wanted technology, new media, these creations unpredicted and unforeseen by Orwell, to somehow defy any government's efforts to establish totalitarianism. However, I have to return to Orwell again, I have to admit defeat again and resign my naivety yet again. China is as Orwell predicted; new media, Internet, technological advances have served Big Brother well.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Return to the Text

Lately I have spent a concentrated amount of time researching censorship, Internet restrictions, and the role of new media under China's Communist stronghold. Today, however, I wanted to return to the text that inspired the research in the first place, George Orwell's 1984. I sat at my computer and simply Googled "orwell and china" and was interested by the results.

I found an article by John Bennett which poses the question, Was Orwell Right? His text, though radical in some paragraphs, lists out many of Orwell's themes in relation to global events. While addressing war, censorship, propaganda, and other issues, Bennett also highlights Orwell's infamous slogan Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.

This helped me return to the basics, in a sense. In all my research, I have been caught up in tangents stemming from China's exploitation of new media to further drug the people with pro-Communist propaganda and weeding out those "radicals" which would use new media as an avenue for human rights. Stemming from propaganda and censorship, however, is a far more basic principle which governs the actions of the Chinese government. Again, Orwell says it best: Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.

For me, the control of history is somewhat distinct from mere censorship; censorship is the way, but the conquest of history is the why. Censorship can erase individuals and events. Entire lifetimes deleted or manipulated. Censorship in China is not to restrict Mr. Chen's privacy or networking space; it is to control Mr. Chen. It is to distort the memory and mind of Mr. Chen, as well as the minds and memories of every other Chinese citizen. When all you hear is support for the government and devotion to the state, what room do you have for complaint? disagreement? rebellion? How can you generate disgusted resentment when, by every account, Tienanmen Square is merely a mausoleum with beautiful grounds?

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Past. The Future?

I was reading the comments from my previous post regarding China's 10-month Internet ban when I came across an interesting question by James. He asked how the Chinese government could maintain such control over the people when their actions seem to only mistreat and abuse. I decided to go back a bit in history, and came across An Illustrated History of the Communist Party of China which shares the context of the rise and adaptation of the Communist party in China. Very interesting read, as it is written entirely from a Communist perspective.

As I was reviewing these pieces of history, I could have hit myself for overlooking China's original--and most poignant--form of propaganda: Mao Zedong's Little Red Book. After Chairman Mao came to power, many of his sayings were recorded and published as a small red book. It became unwritten law to carry at all times for continual indoctrination into Communist ideology. It was produced in mass quantities, and as a result, was the most printed book written in the twentieth century.

Accompanying the shift into digital age, I began thinking of the resources the Chinese government could exploit to publish its propaganda. Without the complicated resources of paper, ink, binding, labor, etc., needed to mass produce billions of Little Red Books, what can China accomplish (is accomplishing?) with the seemingly unlimited resources of new technology?

Friday, May 21, 2010

An Endless Battle?

I was able to research in greater depth the question of technological authority. Again, I'm researching the issues specifically in China, but on a basic level looking at the Internet as a weapon for rebellion or another warhead for government power.

After a 10-Month Ban, Western China is Back Online

I've been sifting though a number of articles which toss the issues back and forth. Colleagues Ben and Dr. Burton suggested some very applicable articles which gave my research a bit more insight. No one has an answer, obviously, as these technological advancements are without precedence. No one can tell whether it will prove totalitarianism's downfall or invincibility. I did, however, find an eerie article that leads me to think the Chinese government would destroy the Internet before it could lead to a revolution. Almost a year ago Chinese governments had to suppress an ethnic riot in the Western region of Xinjiang. In punishment, the government banned full use of the Internet for 10 months. Yes, 10 months. Many individuals whose jobs and livelihoods depended on the Internet were forced to move and the government proved its willingness to cut off a region entirely.

This article really helped me gain perspective. China is balancing. They are content with filtering the Internet, monitoring sites, and imprisoning individuals who seem just a tad radical, however if they felt their infrastructure was truly jeopardized, I would not be surprised if they pulled the plug.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Technological Power Trip

Just to recap, I am writing on the various uses of technology. My last paper began a comparison of China to 1984 where I examined governmental use of Internet filtering and gross information restrictions. To extend the argument, with this paper I am mainly focusing on the opposing forces at work here. On one hand, with the rise of new media and continuous advances in technology, there seems to be an unlimited opportunity for opposition to launch counter-government attacks to undermine Communism's staunch authority. On the other hand, however, the government is adapting just as quickly. They are utilizing new means to squish out any form of opposition be it in the physical world or cyber space. To link in again with my continuing comparison to 1984, I am examining new media as a marker: whether it prevents Orwell's hypothetical world from ever truly existing, or if it will lead to its inevitable domination.


This is my specially-created English 295 blog. The excitement is brimming.