Questions still remain about how aggressive the Chinese government is going to get in their crusade to censor all information available to their citizens (although, in an ironic twist of hypocrisy, they have recently accused Google of censorship). The word “brainwash” comes to mind when one thinks of the behavior of the Chinese government towards its citizens; clearly the government’s goal is to keep their citizens from harboring any negative beliefs about their country, or knowing anything about their country’s dark past. In America, where Glenn Beck calls the President a racist on national television and refuses to apologize, and where some 40% of the country agrees with him, this seems absurd at first blush. But upon further reflection, one thing stands out: people believe what they are told. People believe all sorts of political propaganda, for example, regardless of origin. If the only images presented to the Chinese population are ones of a benevolent government, how will they know they are being lied to? 1984 comes to mind, naturally.
That said, will China bother to maintain their censors? For now, it seems they will.
Ways of bypassing the internet censorship include Tor and UltraSurf. These programs re-route traffic through external IPs to avoid censors. It is within the Chinese government’s power to block these IPs, but until recently they had not done so. Tor was blocked in the days leading up to China’s National Day of October 1st, but UltraSurf remains unblocked, although it is apparently fairly easy to do so. Why? One imagines China is aware of the tool, but perhaps the threat is sufficiently small. A few thousand people among China’s billion-plus are hardly worth bothering about. With UltraSurf available, users may not have incentive to find more devious ways to get around the censorship, which is exactly the sort of behavior the government wants to discourage.
As long as the truly objectionable sites are blocked to the public, and relatively few users are bypassing the censors in the first place, China need not worry. For example, China recently blocked a page called the Berlin Twitter Wall, a site which intended its users to share their thoughts and memories of the fall of the Berlin wall, but turned into mass criticism of the so-called Great Firewall of China. But a small percentage of internet users use UltraSurf. A very small percentage would read or post on a site like this. The overlap must be essentially nil, and as long as it’s sufficiently small, it can cause only limited harm.
In fact, fostering a minority opinion is not even so bad for China. One would not go so far as to deem it a goal of theirs, but having a minority opinion appear weak can bolster support for the majority opinion. To this end, the Chinese government does need to ensure that the majority opinion lies in their favor, or at least seems to. China is effectively paying people to post opinions backing the government to make it appear as if most people support the government. Then, of course, more may be swayed and recruited to the bogus cause: the strategy is “fake it ’til you make it.” And if enough lies are spread to enough people, it may be difficult for the people of China to know what to believe, regardless of how aware they may become of the other (true) side of the story (i.e. real history). And if that happens, censorship is no longer necessary – much like the way propaganda works in the U.S. today. Is Obama a hero or a villain? It’s not clear. Perhaps the Chinese government will find similar murky ground as a stepping stone on its quest towards a golden public image.