China’s reputation for oppression and censorship is truly notorious, in both past and present. There’s a reason why traders call the divider between research and the trading floor a ‘Chinese Wall’: it supposedly prevents any information whatsoever from leaking through. China is surrounded by metaphors and connotations linked to walls and censorship; the Great Firewall of China for example prevents law-abiding and innocent Chinese citizens from educating themselves about the world around them: they have no way of learning about China’s history other than to absorb the government propaganda administered on a daily basis; they genuinely believe America consists of nothing but greedy corporations bullying China and taking advantage of Asia; according to their version of Google, baidu.com, nothing ever happened in Tiananmen Square. Killings, what killings? Nothing happened here. Oceania was never at war with Eastasia… For those without access to the real world, what the government tells them is the real world. Those who control the present control the past, and if an entire population is being indoctrinated with clearly false information about historical events, it’s probably safest to hide underground for a while when that population is freed and told otherwise.
China’s methods of protecting her citizens from the ‘scary truth’ are multifarious, immoral and, in my opinion, largely disgusting. Already the immoral nature of the Great Firewall of China, a huge blocking mechanism which denies access to any online information on the tragic parts of China’s history to citizens, is clear and reflects badly on the government responsible, but to make things worse, Google was bribed into censoring search results for terms like ‘Tiananmen Square’ and anything pertaining to the worst parts of China’s history. Even users of Skype, vaunting about end-to-end security and enhanced privacy, were shocked when the creators of the supposedly secure service succumbed to the temptation of China’s monetary offer and surrendered users’ privacy to the Chinese government. And now, as if to confirm suspicions, even internet cafes, used by many for anonymity, are under attack: China has decided to take photographs of all internet cafe customers.
The whole Chinese system of hierarchy is actually rather worrying. In the modern age, certainly in the West, the entire nature of hierarchy has undergone a revolution, most markedly in education. In the past, the teacher-student relationship tended to take the guru-apprentice approach, in which the teacher is infinitely wise and the student never questions and just absorbs. Today, with the explosion of information, the student often knows more than the teacher in specific areas of interest, and the role of the teacher has changed to a guide, someone who teaches the student to teach himself – more a mentor than a guru; indeed, the student is invited and encouraged to challenge established theories with new evidence and question what is often taken to be true. Even the law is often questioned, and the presence of sceptics (in the true sense of the word) in the West has blossomed, and a substantial fraction of a generation has been bred of people who do not just follow rules blindly and instead think intelligently about politics, policy and law before making decisions. China on the other hand has been left behind in both areas, both in terms of information and a culture of questioning. Information on the real world, and on real word politics and history, is simply unavailable to the majority of the population, and the people are forced to obey rules blindly lest they end up imprisoned or, more likely, shot. China has a culture of no questioning, of blind obedience to some higher authority. For the government this is wonderful and it’s a success for internal politics – many Chinese simply believe whatever they are told by their government no matter how blatantly false or one-sided it may be, accept the indoctrination and are blindly patriotic, supportive of a a political structure built on lies, censorship and corruption, and this is actually very dangerous. As China slowly develops into a Capitalist country, and as information becomes increasingly free, the government is going to have to change at some point. Germany was bad enough at the end of the first world war when their citizens believed it was a defensive war, so when – and I think it is a case of when rather than if – China’s government collapses, her citizens will be confused and angry, and 1.3 Bn angry and confused people is really not very funny: political stability will become something of yesterday, the economy may well collapse, and international relations will certainly suffer.
I was actually full of hope that the Olympics would change things. The huge campaign on human rights was given so much exposure that I genuinely believed China would be forced by the rest of the world to accept that it could not continue to oppress information. They even opened access to the BBC website, something I hoped would set a precedent for further steps towards sanity. Sadly China’s human rights and censorship situation, as far as I’m aware, is still very much the same as before.