Tuesday, June 21, 2005

New Chinese Words

According to "Democracy a Bad Word", an article on cnn.com, Chinese users of MSN's Spaces blogging section who type words such as "Democracy" "freedom" or "human rights" have the uniquely Orwellian experience of a warning message that pops up on their screens reading "Prohibited language in text, please delete".

The plain creepiness of this is enough to overshadow the much more important element of this story: Chinese are now able to have blogs. The China of the cultural revolution is now experiencing another revolution that would have been unthinkable even five years ago.

After reading the CNN article I opened my MSN window and saw that a Chinese girl who I had taught outside of Beijing was online. I asked her to test out the censorship filter. She got back to me in five minutes confirming that indeed she was given a warning message for some words including the "Falun Gong", and "Jiang Zemin". For awhile we discussed censorship issues before it dawned on us how strange it was that we were able to be having these discussions at all. A rural born Chinese girl and a New York Jew busy talking about politics and human rights across borders and across timezones. In the face of this, MSN's feeble word filtering (which as it turns out is only of subject lines -- not content itself) seems like a sort of death throes of a dying form of restriction.

China's entry to the world market has given large numbers of its citizens a level of individual expression that is unprecendented in world history. Millions of Chinese who can now create messages that are instantly readable (and can be commented on) by a global audience. This is simply not a genie that can be put back in its bottle.

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