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

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