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.


  1. Just a few thoughts:
    Our society is very open about their public lives, FB, blogging, texting, etc. that this becomes a scary factor when you don't live in a country with free speech. In her post on Tuesday, Amanda talks about how studies show self expression is good in these forms and actually contributes to the individual. Could this censorship of governing body, limiting people's self expression/discovery, be comparable to BIG BROTHER's Ministry of Love (that's what it's called, right?) torture techniques to brain wash their citizens. Just as BB tells citizens what to think, the Chinese govt. is currently inhibiting the people from discovering more of their selves and in a way telling them what to think by not allowing them to self discover enough to think. Does that make sense? It may be a bit of an over statement, but I think it could be a valid argument.

  2. It looks like your project is really coming together. Your new angle of exploring how governments could use webcams, etc to spy is interesting. This story, about a school district that allegedly spied on its students using webcams installed on computers it distributed, came out a couple months ago.

  3. Great job at restating your research at the beginning of your post. Your writing technique is easy to follow and I can see your thought processes through your writing.

    Clearly the Chinese government is exercising surveillance of the people. I wonder if in any way in future discussion of the topic if you somehow related that to the American government's surveillance of the citizens and telephones.

    You clearly are headed to discovery though and I enjoy reading your posts!

  4. I also noted the story Ben referred to, suggesting that Big Brother type surveillance is more than a possibility in the US. Even Google appears in on this, though less from a directly evil perspective as from a marketing one. Nevertheless.... (see