Home People LibTech: Xiao Qiang on China

Disclaimer: I have done my best to transcribe the comments of these speakers at the conference on Liberation Technology in Authoritarian Regimes, and I apologize for any errors.

Xiao Qiang is the next speaker at the conference on Liberation Technology in Authoritarian Regimes. He is a professor of journalism at UC Berkeley, Principle Investigator at Counter-Power Labs, and founder of the China Digital Times. He starts by starting that by 2013, 53% of the Chinese population will be online and a quote by Hu Jintao about the importance of maintaining socialist culture and the stability of the state as the Internet grows. As a result, there is registration of web site owners and many filters for publication on the average Chinese news site. He also shows a map-like image of different arms of the government encircling and controlling the content available to Chinese citizens.

Despite this, the Internet has allowed a resistance discourse to exist that was not possible in the broadcast era. It has also allowed forbidden discourse to exist outside of China. As examples of resistance discourse, he gives the examples of the viral sateirical memes of “river crab” (homonym for “harmony” and a critique of censorship – “my blog was harmonized”). It allows bloggers to speak of censorship under the radar (these discussions are not blocked inside China). Another is “grass mud horse,” (“f*ck you mother”) and “valley dove” (“don’t be evil”, motto of Google ), the opponent of the river crab, which are depicted in videos, images, and cartoons inside China. “35th of May” is new to me, it is a way of talking about the Tiananmen massacre, which occurred in April.

“It is not only resistance, it is visible resistance,” says Qiang. Regardless of the source of these memes, there has been an information cascade effect, changing the way the public views censorship. A recent poll showed that 48% hate the censorship of the Great Fire Wall, and 38% believe it should be taken down.

“So what? Where does it lead for China,” says Qiang. There is a increased discourse on universal values, on the right to know, participate, express, and control. The number of people talking about the memes and has increased dramatically in the past few years, though it remains a tiny percentage of the number of total blog posts in China – the online opposition in tiny but growing.

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