May 24, 2005

"It's the Chinese leadership itself that is digging the Communist Party's grave, by giving the Chinese people broadband.'

Nicholas Kristof on blogging, chat rooms, and ineffective censorship in China.
I tried my own experiment, posting comments on Internet chat rooms. In a Chinese-language chat room on, I called for multiparty elections and said, "If Chinese on the other side of the Taiwan Strait can choose their leaders, why can't we choose our leaders?" That went on the site automatically, like all other messages. But after 10 minutes, the censor spotted it and removed it.

Then I toned it down: "Under the Communist Party's great leadership, China has changed tremendously. I wonder if in 20 years the party will introduce competing parties, because that could benefit us greatly." That stayed up for all to see, even though any Chinese would read it as an implicit call for a multiparty system.


Kathleen B. said...

I was just reading a post from Matthew Yglesias on why Kristof is not right, with reference to a TNR article from last year. Theoretically, any expanse of access to information should lead to a decline in a totalitarian government. I did think the TNR article made some good points, including that web use requires literacy, and thus would not be an effective oppositional tool in areas with low literacy. Anyway, very interesting!

the TNR article is:

Drethelin said...

In terms of low literacy, just as in any other revolution in history, the literate would lead those who weren't. The peasants in france largely weren't literate, but their leaders were.

If a large enough group of intelligent, literate people gets committed to the idea, they would be able to influence others.

Kathleen B. said...

but without literacy, the web is not a useful tool for influencing the non-literate. People will have to rely on other tools. So I don't mean to say that literacy is a bar to revolution, but that literacy is a bar to the internet as a tool to revolution.

Bruce Hayden said...

What is interesting to me about China is that it's revolutionary history is quite different from that of most other countries - Mao's initial revolution, and then his subsequent revolutions were almost entirely based on the rural peasants.

Contrast this with the Russian experience, where they tried to get the serfs to revolt, and they frankly refused. Rather, it ended up being a revolution of city dwellers led by intellectuals.

And this is one reason that Mao had his falling out with the Russians - though both were communist states, his was agrarian based, and their was not. A very different dynamic.

Bruce Hayden said...


Because of the history I pointed out above, I suspect that there is a growing tension in China between the city haves and the rural have-nots. The cities are where the economy is booming, and people are getting rich.

But the rural farmers are still almost as poor as they have always been. Yet, they are the real custodians of Mao's revolution.

And what needs to be remembered is that there are a lot more of them than there are of the emerging middle class. I read an estimate awhile that maybe 100 million or so of the Chinese are involved in the economic revolution going on right now. And that is a lot of people. More than in most countries in this world. But tiny compared to the 900 million still on the farm.

So, any time that you wonder why the Chinese leaders are so reactionary, just remember, they were put there on the backs of the 900 million rural dwellers, and not the 100 million or so who are benefitting so much economically.

My figures may be off now, but the point remains that a large majority of the Chinese are not really benefitting from this. And the leaders are beholden to them, due to their numbers.

Drethelin said...

Illiteracy was not a bar to using Karl Marx's work for revolution. Russian peasants may never have read the work, but all it takes is for sufficiently convincing speakers to have read it.