Saturday, June 27, 2009

Green Dam: The CCP Gives Itself a Virus

China's internet censorship is always news (if not exactly front page news) in the West. Far rarer, I think, is that censorship looms prominent in Chinese public discourse. Usually the regime is content to engineer things behind the scenes: implementing the so-called 'Great Firewall of China' in order to block or slow access to foreign websites covering topics it is frightened of; making backroom deals with major Chinese websites as well as local versions of major foreign web companies--such as Google--to encourage and enforce 'self-censorship'. Most of the Chinese public probably doesn't consider the topic in depth either, because (a) most of this occurs behind the scenes, (b) they've adapted to this sort of stifled environment, (c) many Chinese have been so bored-to-tears by communist rhetoric that they view all forms of political discussion as equally boring, and besides which (d) nationalist, pro-Han Chinese arguments reduce sympathy for such things as democratization (a Western import, not that they turn up their noses at BMWs, Gucci bags, or indeed, communist doctrine, Western imports all) and ethnic minority cultural protection.

The CCP's latest public relations blunder has changed all that: both bringing censorship directly into common discourse here in China as well as stirring vocal public resentment at such intrusion. I'm talking about the recent requirement for all computers in China to be sold with 'Green Dam' censorship software (onstensibly to combat access to porn, but also to extend control and oversight of other topics the regime doesn't want Chinese to see/discuss). Most foreign news readers have already read the coverage there. Of particular interest to me is that Chinese netizens have begun to fight back: hacking the Green Dam website, making death threats to the company, etc. Since the government has often fanned nationalist flames among its young netizens when such flames happened to benefit the government line or distract from its deficiencies (namely when death threats were being made to foreign media company offices in China, during the run-up to the Olympics), it is interesting to see the flames turn in the other direction. Death threats either way shouldn't be condoned, but raising the ire of Chinese hackers should probably be given more consideration by self-important bureaucrats in Beijing before they mandate such ill-conceived measures.

The end result? China's netizens are quite capable of pooling resources and hacking talent when it comes to subverting such an obvious method of censorship, particularly when the prize is pornographic goodies (which quite a few of the boys at least would be interested in), rather than forbidden political topics (which many Chinese youth profess disinterest in). I'm sure we haven't heard the last of hack attacks on this company, or other mass methods to subvert the software (when present in net bars, for example, where uninstalling or reformatting are not options). Perhaps those who oppose the CCP can even use software to compromise government computers, if the security loopholes are as bad as has been reported.

Even more importantly, the CCP has made censorship a solid, rather than abstract concern for millions of young Chinese by: (a) directly interfering with the internal software of their computers (a very personal, beloved piece of technology) rather than relying on less visible/personal forms of censorship; and (b) by making this a fight against porn (which many Chinese might find interesting, even somewhat educational given that sexual health education is skipped in the Chinese curriculum) rather than political abstractions that many Chinese youth find boring or have little sympathy for.

By solidifying the concept of censorship and what it means to the average Chinese netizen, people's resistance (if I might borrow a phrase :-D ) to it will also solidify, as indeed it has in regard to this 'Green Dam' incident.

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