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.

1 comment:

  1. Makes me think that the privacy that we cherish so much might actually be harmful. If we knew who we were talking to then we would be more informed. I have often thought that privacy is an artificial construction, it is the result of urbanization. When people lived in tight agrarian societies privacy was at a minimum. I don't really see privacy as hugely beneficial.

    With the technology changing and the capacity to monitor more constantly improving, I wonder if privacy should be entirely removed, with everyone having access to all conversations, phone calls, cameras, etc... Though people would no doubt abuse any system that we come up with, I believe that more information is better than less.