Scepticism of Pre-Olympic China, and of Great Firewall Metaphors

Photo: Chinese flagThe US-China Economic and Security Commission held hearings today on access to information and media control in China. There’s more than a little scepticism about promises of openness being more talk than action.

IP blogging hero Ron Coleman also came right out today and essentially called China’s recent IP reform announcements a PR effort, which are unable to have any real effect because:

The problem is that China has opened to free enterprise, but it has not opened to the rule of law.

The Myth of the Great Firewall Paradigm
Scepticism, of course, works both ways. Rebecca MacKinnon also wrote an interesting post today about the Chinese Internet Research Conference. She recounts Kokman Tsui’s contention that “our use of the Great Firewall metaphor leads to blind spots that obscure and limit our understanding of Internet censorship in the People’s Republic.”

The firewall metaphor suggests that if the wall is ripped down, then the Net’s truth and goodness will flow freely to the Chinese people, from whom it has been kept. Instead, MacKinnon points out that polls suggest that Chinese people want government filtering and policing of anti-social Net uses, and that such government network management is both censorship, service, and allocation of resources. A better image, she suggests, is a simultaneously benevolent and evil nanny (or group of nannies) governing the Net, rather than a uniform and static wall:

What’s tough for many Westerners to get their heads around is that on the Chinese Internet all of these metaphors can be true simultaneously. The “great firewall” is not a total myth—it’s indeed a fact that China has the world’s most sophisticated system of Internet filtering. But that is only one part of a very complex and often contradictory, confusing whole.

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