Thursday, 14 January 2010

Pictures of young Chinese laying bunches of flowers on the Google sign in Beijing remind us that there are a lot of individuals in China who do not agree with their government's censorship of the Web. From a NY Times story:

“The government should give people the right to see what they want online,” said the woman, Bing, who withheld her full name for fear that it might cause her problems at school. “The government can’t always tell lies to the people.”

A government that censors and lies may not, it would seem, possess the mandate from heaven: traditionally the quality of leadership that distinguishes a valid regime from a mere usurper.

Other stories remind us that the cyber attacks which caused Google to consider moving out of China may not even have been launched by the government, but by rogue hackers with a nationalistic outlook.

American journalist living in Shanghai, Adam Minter, has written a long piece that examines the modus operandi of Chinese hackers, most of whom support their government while operating independently of it. Minter interviews another China-based journalist, Mara Hvistendahl, who has written extensively on the subject. She says:

Probably the most ridiculous thing I’ve read in the past few weeks is the assertion that Chinese Internet cops double as hackers. That level of organization and sophistication is absurd to anyone who has had actual experience with local bureaucracy in China.

She says also that "online nationalism and hacking are very much linked":

After witnessing a few protests, I’d already decided that nationalism in China didn’t quite work the way it’s often portrayed in the Western press, which is as a government-sponsored force. In 2005, the anti-Japanese protests converged on my street. They didn’t look like a staid government demonstration. The government bears responsibility for skewed history books and persistent spin doctoring, but assuming that Chinese simply swallow government dictates denies them agency.

Another possibility is that Chinese authorities have been covertly leveraging the expertise of such individuals, and supplying them with the names of human rights activits - the people targeted in the recent attacks.

Whatever the truth, the decision by Google to leave China - no other outcome seems even remotely possible - is incredibly embarrassing for the Chinese government.

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