Internet-based campaigns have pressured the Chinese government to do many wonderful things in recent years: releasing prisoners, launching investigations into scandals, and imprisoning corrupt government officials. “The Internet has empowered the Chinese people more than the combined effects of 30 years of [economic]growth, urbanization, exports, and investments by foreign firms,” says Yasheng Huang, a China expert and professor of international management at MIT’s Sloan School. “China may not have free speech, but it has freer speech, because the Internet has provided a platform for Chinese citizens to communicate with each other.”
At the same time, however, China has intensified its attempts to suppress Internet speech. Like its economy, China’s Internet is exploding. The country now has a nearly a quarter of the world total Internet users, plus millions more mobile-phone users, many of whom use those phones to access the Web, reports China Travel Trends. “That rapid growth of the network, coupled with the remarkable creativity and boldness of its users, is shaping the Chinese Web at least as powerfully as is government control.”
A fine example of the Chinese users’ creativity concerns the recent announcement of the first-ever Chinese Nobel Peace Prize winner which caused quite a stir both in China and overseas. Online pages are blocked wherever the Chinese name of this particular Nobel Prize laureate appears. However, this is where the local ingenuity really kicks in. Apparently netizens have not been deterred by the ban and have continued to discuss the laureate and his work. How? By using the pretense of discussing another person – in this case, a famous actress who happens to have a similar name to the new laureate. And, instead of referring to the Nobel Prize, they talk about her recent win of the “Hundred Flowers Award” for best actress (actually, she didn’t – I just checked the list of award winners on Wikipedia), a prestigious award in the Chinese film industry. Never mind small technicalities – after all, why let facts get in the way of a good story?
This reminds me of a much earlier case of local users’ ingenuity. To get around the little problem of censorship on foul language in the cyberspace, netizens came up with a mythical creature that sounds rather similar to a popular swear word – if you play around with the tones a little. And so every time a local user has the urge to utter the classy three-character-word (Unlike English where swear words usually consist of four letters, popular Chinese counterparts are made up of three characters), s/he would simply refer to the mythical creature. Not surprisingly, the mythical creature, which looks surprisingly like a llama with an extra long neck, has sprouted her own line of merchandise. Talk about finding a way to evade the prying eye of the powers that be AND making a buck in the process – how cool is that?
Anyway, I digressed. To read the article in full (it’s not blocked, yet), go here.