The Great Fire Wall Of China

(^MK) The story of The People’s Republic of China, PRC has been remarkable over the last few decades but remains a contradiction in many ways.  It is an economic superpower with markets becoming more open and free, yet its people are denied basic democratic rights, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.  In the space of three decades, PRC has been transformed from an underdeveloped Asian nation into, what experts say, will be the economic powerhouse of the 21st Century.

China, the great…

  • With 1,338,612,968 people as of July 2009, China has got the world’s largest population.
  • China not only has the world’s largest Army, but also is a nuclear and space power.
  • With a real growth in GDP of 9.8% (2008), China is among the top economic powers in the world. With its recent growth rates, China is rapidly escalating up the world economic order:
  • China is a net lender to the United States and Russia. China became the largest U.S. Treasury holder overseas last year.  The position of China as financier to the rest of the world, according to some threatens the position of the US dollar as the reserve currency.
  • Chinese cities are becoming modern metropolises; Shanghai, with 20 million inhabitants China’s largest city, is growing at an unseen pace: Rapid development has created a skyline to rival New York’s or Tokyo’s.

These and other aspects present China as a golden opportunity for businesses that want to develop and expand, but:

Don’t rely on social media, yet…

In terms of Internet and social media, China is still in its infancy and it is far from clear whether the government will ever allow it to grow up. China is a communist state, ruled by a party that is intent on remaining in control. So the big question is whether social media can exist in such conditions. One class book Personality Not Included, written by our instructor Rohit Bhargava, defines social media as “enlightenment,” in which “people are moving from simply consuming content to creating it.” Clay Shirky’s book Here Comes Everybody posits that social media “provides a remarkable increase in our ability to shape, to cooperate with one another, and to take collective action.“  Shirky’s subtitle, The Power Of Organizing Without Organizations, suggests the influence of social media on society: In his book, Shirky makes the point, “new technology enables new kinds of group-forming. When we change the way we communicate, we change society.”  Social media is a powerful tool for countries that are to open to societal change but it is questionable whether China is one of those countries.

China censors Internet usage

There are two very recent and pertinent examples of why social media may not be successful in China. The Chinese government actively censors Internet usage. Most domestic Internet sites and services are closely monitored and controlled by the Chinese Government.  A recent Guardian article reveals that Chinese censors blocked access to Twitter, Flickr and Hotmail only two days before the 20th anniversary of the crackdown on democracy protests in Tiananmen Square.  This action was part of a long series of attacks on democratic ideals.

The latest brick of the Great (Fire) Wall: filtering software

The Chinese government’s latest effort to control the Internet has been to propose that computer manufacturers include filtering software into new personal computers. This filtering software, called Green Dam, is a form of censorship software and presents yet another threat to freedom of expression. Green Dam is ostensibly designed to filter out pornography and other “unhealthy information” from the Internet, but reportedly is also programmed to censor content including political information.  The Government has given itself the right to determine what is unhealthy information. Heavy international protests forced China to postpone the introduction of Green Dam – for now.

These two examples are amongst many where the Chinese authorities have taken action against any attempts to promote democracy.  Social media is an efficient and effective way of promoting it to a wide part of the Chinese population.  Until the Great Firewall of China comes down, it is hard to see social media being successful despite the country’s burgeoning economic successes.

-Moritz

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One Response to The Great Fire Wall Of China

  1. Though I don’t necessarily agree with your point of view on the potential of social media within China, you do a good job of bringing in enough supporting evidence and taking us through your reasoning on why you think the censorship rules in China will ultimately limit the potential for social media. As many of our readings this week seemed to indicate, the Chinese citizens are as active as any culture in finding ways of sharing their thoughts online despite the limitations. Still, you take on board my comments from previous weeks and stick to a single point of view and it is clear from early in the post what side you will fall on. (4)

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