Sympathy for the Censors


It’s hard not to feel sympathy for Chinese leadership. Acts of suppression must really take their toll on the division in charge of such things. Imagine that poor group of bureaucrats that undoubtedly sit around the Monday morning meeting asking themselves: “How are we going to impress the bosses today?” The pressure must be intense.

Well, worry no more for the fine folks working down there at ‘don’t speak your mind central.’ They have come up with a new way to stop their brethren from thinking about new ways of thinking. Forget actual physical coercion, Internet monitoring, late night knocks at the door–that is so 2009ish. The new target of free speech foiling: Copy Machines.

Yes, the technology that brought you your co-workers butt crack, has now been deemed an “enemy of the state.” In Tibet at least, where, according to the Lhasa Evening News, print shops must now register with the government and will be required to take down identifying information about their clients, as well as keep a record of the specific documents printed or copied.

Someone down at the government bureau is looking at a nice little bonus for his worthy efforts.

The driving idea behind the initiative is to go after Tibetan intellectuals who might get the wild idea to publish their thoughts. This method has enjoyed success in other parts of China where those with an inkling to ink about freedom of expression must now do so from a jail cell. But with that “unrest” thing in Tibet and the whole world watching, the folks down at the bureau have to be a bit more delicate (read “sly”) with how they handle things.

This from The New York Times:

Basically, the main purpose is to instill fear into people’s hearts, said “Woeser,” an activist who, like many Tibetans, goes by one name. In the past, the authorities tried to control ordinary people at the grass-roots level. But they have gradually changed their target to intellectuals in order to try to control thought.

Man, can you imagine the boss coming into your office one day and giving you that task?

In defense of the team whose job it is to actively supress, I must call attention to the fine work they have done at their assignment thus far. Just on the Internet alone, maintaining the “Great Firewall of China” requires managing a massive workforce of 30,000 Internet Police, actively surfing the blogosphere and erasing unfavorable comments, developing software that cleverly removes the article, but not the actual web page, and a whole host of other methods making sure that you are unsure of what is going on. Fine work being done, yes sir.

Not that there aren’t the occasional missteps and ill-thought out measures that fail to find success. Projects such as the “Green Dam Youth Escort.” This flight of antsy required that all computers sold in the Republic of China come with software which would allow the Internet Police to, as they put it, “build a green, healthy, and harmonious online environment, and to avoid the effects on and the poisoning of our youth’s minds by harmful information on the Internet.”

You gotta give them credit for the creative cover-up. Protecting children initiatives always poll well with the masses (just ask any western politician), but this one didn’t quite fly. After an international and domestic outcry, the plug was pulled. All computers in schools are now required to run the software, which at least gives a grain of truth to the original reasoning behind the initiative.

And now it is photocopiers. I imagine Kinkos will be holding up any plans they might have had on further expanding into China. Which is really unfair, because Chinese people should be entitled to the same overpriced photocopies and hourly Internet usage fees that the rest of the world pays at Kinkos.


Overall, the situation on the net for the Chinese is not so dire. One can render the firewall ineffective with a little effort by determined parties who make use of proxy servers outside the firewall. So if you just have to get on Facebook or Twitter (both banned in China) to see what your friend had for breakfast, there are ways to do it. That’s a relief.



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