Thursday, March 12, 2009

Chinese Internet censorship has Confucian social roots; writers get around it with pictographic metaphors


Chinese intellectuals are taking advantage of the pictograph structure of their language to write allegorical stories that, in metaphor, criticize the power structures in “The Peoples Republic of Capitalism”. Michael Wines has a story on the front page of the New York Times (Thursday March 11, 2009), “Mythical Beast (a Dirty Pun) Tweaks China’s Web Censors” here.

The writings take the form of songs about an alpaca or similar creature.

Chinese discussion forums and individual blogs have been yanked quickly and automatically when government censorship robots find objectionable “political” content, but sometimes it is possible to avoid the censorship by writing in pictograms.

The Chinese censorship issue seems to go beyond the immediate concerns of a political power structure, although that is an obvious factor. It seems that Chinese society objects to the idea that an individual stands out without taking personal responsibility for family or others in a community first. This seems to be a Confucian moral idea that relates also to filial piety. It is actually more common in the United States, too, than people realize.

Chinese society is certainly authoritarian, and it seems like a strange mixture of capitalism, and pseudo-fascism and communism (they can co-occur). The Chinese know that a rising standard of living will require "inequality" so they tend to require personal socialization (before standing out and being notices) as a way of installing some sort of "moral balance." Asian societies often place a lot of emphasis on the moral significance of individual "duty." By keeping the demands for socialization high, the Chinese believe they promote stability. For example, Ted Koppel reported last summer that the Chinese tolerate gay bars, but that most "gay men" have to "go straight" and marry and have one child after age 30, so that they have a "standing" or "stake" in material progress. Political speech, as opposed to commercial activity that would actually make money, is seen as self-indulgent and simply disruptive. It sounds antithetical to Western ideas of free speech, but actually things were this way in the United States until the 1960s. The Chinese might also fear that political speech could become nihilistic, and actually bring back the extreme Leftist ideas like "cultural revolution" that happened during the pure Communist past.

Other important news stories today report that China is buying up caches of crude oil in order to be ready when the West begins its economic recovery.

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