Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A sobering conversation in NYC with an exchange graduate student from China

On the way back to midtown Manhattan from the Columbia University area and the Riverside Church early Sunday afternoon. I encountered a flood of exchange students from Columbia who were there for only a few months.  I happened to talk to a young woman from China. She seemed to be about 22 and spoke perfect English, with little accent.

She said that life was OK in China for people with connections or education.  Internet freedom didn't seem to be missed by people who somehow had opportunity.  She said that I should go.  I wondered if the visibility of my blogs would get me in trouble there. They are supposed to be blocked, but my recent stats show increased traffic from China (and other authoritarian countries, including the Muslim world and Africa -- but I haven't seen the DPRK yet).  Banning or blocking content by governments doesn't seem to have much effect, but I wonder what happens to the blogger if he travels there.

I asked her why China's government is so skittish about tolerating criticism, and seems so vulnerable to "Mr. Nobody" bloggers.
 
She said that China's government knows what happened to the Soviet Union at the end of 1991 and really  fears the same thing is going to happen to them.  As I recall, the 1991 collapse seemed sudden, but it had a long build up, after the Berlin Wall fell (resulting in Leonard Bernstein's famous Christmas Day concert of the Beethoven Ninth in Berlin in 1989).

She didn't mention Tiananmen Square in 1989, but that event would fit in, too.

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