Chinese “not oppressed on the net”

The Chinese government does not restrict the web as much as people in the west believe, according to a US academic at the Hong Kong University.


“There’s a real contradiction that’s difficult to explain to the west and the outside world about China and about the internet,” says Rebecca MacKinnon, an assistant professor of new media at Hong Kong University’s Journalism and Media Studies Centre.

“On the one hand, you have a lot of efforts, and fairly successful efforts, to control content on the internet and control what people can access. Yet on the other hand, the space for conversation thanks to the internet has grown tremendously in China.”

The ‘Back Dorm Boys’, who took the Chinese internet world by storm with their lip-synching video of a Backstreet Boys song, are a good example of how popular the web is becoming in China, says MacKinnon.

“I showed this video to people in Washington, and their reaction was oh my goodness, they’re just like my teenagers and they’re doing the same things. They’re not acting repressed and they’re not acting oppressed. They’re not spinning around being angry about not being able to do this or that on the internet.”

She argues that censorship is targeted at opposition groups so effectively that China has avoided the internet-organised “colour revolutions” that countries such as the Ukraine have experienced.

Self censorship is also an effective tool, she notes, especially on blogs where content objectionable to the government is removed by websites who are afraid of being shut down.

In saying this, she does acknowledge that the government can crack down hard when it wants to, pointing to examples of people jailed for expressing their opinions online. However, she believes it’s important to put it into perspective.

“Overseas people often have this impression that internet users may be living in fear or something, or always very worried about the police calling up or knocking at their door. Actually what’s happening is much more subtle.”

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