It’s a cliché, yes, but it has validity. I thought about this when discussing internet usage in restrictive countries in class. We discussed Bingchun Meng’s piece “From Steamed Bun to Grass Mud Horse: E Gao as alternative political discourse on the Chinese Internet.” This “hidden transcript”, as professor Hayden described it, is an art form for humor, sarcasm and critical, yet teasing, analysis.
E Gao is perhaps not as hidden as I first thought. It is a wide spread art form known by many, and I would have to assume is noticed by the government. I found this article from 2007 expressing concern in E Gao. http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2007-01/22/content_788600.htm. If E Gao has been creating worries since at least 2007, why is it still allowed. China has no problem clamping down on public forums. Monitoring and refusal of freedom of speech is not uncommon in China. So if the government does know about this, why hasn’t E Gao been shut down?
Professor Hayden discussed in class how a lot of things can be said in China, but as soon as they are expressed in a way to promote organization, China will begin censoring. So, assuming that this is the case, there are two reasons I can think of on why E Gao still creeps through the cracks. One, it’s not organized and causes no threat. Or, two, it’s in the best interest of a country to keep its enemies closer, and what better way than by allowing some unwanted activity.
I found that Ian Shapiro confirms this theory in his Washington Post article “U.S. funding tech firms that help Mideast dissidents evade government censors.” As the title suggests, the U.S. is helping fund what many believe was at the heart of the Arab Spring, access to internet and in turn human rights. A non-profit organization, The Tor Project, discussed in Shapiro’s article, helps journalists, law enforcement, intelligence agencies and even U.S. and European governments with Tor for intelligence gathering, but they will not honor requests from Middle East governments that want to conduct surveillance on their citizens.
Perhaps this is why some Middle East governments are losing their power. If you offer no freedom you must seek it out somewhere else, and that somewhere else may be more powerful. China may be keeping its society from having the need to reach out, but still keeping a close surveillance, just as each of our accounts may be closely watched by government branches in the U.S. But do we feel the need to seek other forms of accessibility? Too many restrictions and you are failing to keep your enemies closer.