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Sunday, April 29, 2012

Internet Escapes Grasp of China

According to the Huffington Post, the “surprising escape” of Chen Guangcheng, a blind legal activist, from house arrest to the presumed custody of U.S. diplomats was “buoying China's embattled dissident community” even as the government lashed out, “detaining those who helped him and squelching mention of his name on the Internet.” Two points bear further scrutiny.

                                   Chen Guangcheng, after his escape, with Hu Jia.   

First, that Chinese security officials “reacted angrily” strikes me as strange. It is as if institutional interests naturally prompt strong human emotions as though an insult were taken personally. In other words, unless the dissident had insulted or otherwise directly harmed the particular officials, it does not make sense that they would angrily inflict pain on the dissident’s supporters who were taken into custody after the escape. An institutional loss is not a personal affront. To treat the former as if it were the latter is essentially to anthropomorphize a given organization.

Second, the “squelching mention” of Chen Guangcheng’s name on the internet must have been a mission of futility in 2012. “Anything vaguely related to Chen [was] blocked on Chinese social media sites, such as posts including or key word searches for Chen, Guangcheng, GC, or even the words ‘blind person’.” The inclusion of the latter term is almost funny in its overkill; it certainly points to the futility of tracing millions of blog posts and emails on the incident. After savvy internet users used “Shawshank Redemption” to refer indirectly to Chen, that movie title became a banned search term. The Chinese government was definitely playing defensive ball at that point. My point is that the game of snuffing out communication on the internet had already been lost—assuming the Chinese government does not prohibit the internet itself in China.

The government officials’ antiquated responses—both in terms of emotion and technology—suggest that the Chinese regime was still holding onto the ways of another century. This could be an indication that that regime will not survive the twenty-first. As technology continues to widen and deepen, antiquated means of control will become less and less efficacious through the century. Given the habit of officials reacting in “anger,” we can expect the increased difficulty with control to lead to more pain being inflicted on citizens. This in turn should lead to more popular resentment. In other words, the antiquated responses of government officials could be the seed of the regime’s destruction.


Alexa Olesen, “Chen Guangcheng Escape: China Activists Inspired by Blind Dissident Lawyer,” The Huffington Post, April 29, 2012.