Monday, November 7, 2011

The Dying Giant

Today, there are two great stories in The New York Times on censorship in China. Specifically, the stories describe how the internet is being used to circumvent the rigid controls placed on artists by their government.

“The worst effect of the censorship is the psychological impact on writers[…]”

Murong Xeucun (pen name of Hao Qun) has described himself as a “word criminal” and his books have been described as “violent” and “nihilistic.” When he showed up to received his first literary prize last year, he held up a white piece of paper and made a zipping motion across his mouth – as if to signify that he was unable to speak. Later, he posted the contents of that paper on the internet. It said, in part: “Chinese writing exhibits symptoms of a mental disorder […]This is castrated writing. I am a proactive eunuch, I castrate myself even before the surgeon raises his scalpel.”

Murong first started writing because he found it fun. It was only later that he learned that writing in China has to go through many layers of editing and revisions. He has found a way around this, and in turn has grown his fanbase. Murong has decided to publish censored books in China but publish the uncensored manuscripts online. By publishing in China, Murong is giving a wink-and-a-nod to his fans to find the uncensored work online. In fact, given his intense online following (he has nearly 1.1 million followers on China’s twitter-esque service) he will frequently publish upcoming chapters of his books to get crowd-sourced plot suggestions. This allows the crowd to come up with potentially subversive material organically. Even if the material is later removed via the editing process, the words remain alive in the collective consciousness of Murong’s millions of fans.

The impact of censorship in China is great on a writer, according to Murong. Despite being successful, he describes times where he will “think of a sentence, and then realize that it will for sure get deleted. Then [he] won’t even write it down. That self-censoring is the worst.”

The internet is a great tool for getting “the” word out. Right now, we’re seeing artists in China dance around the margins of the government will allow. However, the internet doesn’t respect social boundaries, it doesn’t respect geographical boundaries, and it certainly doesn’t respect boundaries imposed on it by governments. If there is one lesson to take away from the Arab Spring, it is this: where there is a group of people, committed to an open society, coupled with sufficient technology, a small spark has the power to destroy any barriers in its way.

“On Sunday, after [Ai Weiwei’s] Weibo account was disabled, dozens of people began arriving at the gate of Mr. Ai’s studio … [and] a number of people had folded 100-renminbi notes into airplanes and tossed them over the walls of his compound.”

The story of Mr. Weiwei’s imprisonment by the Chinese government is still ongoing. Currently, he’s being held under house arrest and accused of evading taxes. Because he is unable to work, Mr. Weiwei’s supporters took to the internet to pay off his $2.4m yuan tax bill. Despite being given only 15 days to come up with the money, his supporters donated upwards of $5m yuan since Tuesday. "These are tens of thousands of people bringing in the money," Ai Weiwei told the BBC. "They all have one message: we're supporting you, we're behind you, we have to let the people know solidarity and we know what it is and we know the accusations are fake, they're unreal."

No longer must we languish in silence. The internet made this possible…

Pushing China’s Limits on Web, if Not on Paper.

Online and by Paper Airplane, Contributions Pour In to Chinese Dissident

No comments:

Post a Comment