According to this New York Times article, the Chinese internet company Tencent has become the largest and most dominant internet company in China. The article describes Tencent as an amalgamation between YouTube and Google, and its instant messaging program, “QQ” is used by over 100 million users, which is roughly 80 percent of the Chinese market. Seventy percent of Tencent’s users are under 30 years old, and they use various Tencent programs ranging from instant messaging, online gaming, and virtual worlds similar to Second Life.
Traditionally, Chinese consumers have been quite hesitant to use the internet as a marketplace, but Tencent has been able to break through that barrier as well, and Chinese users are using Tencent to buy all kinds of things online. Tencent also offers its virtual users the opportunity to use “Q-coins” on the network. These coins aren’t supposed to have any value in real life, but there are reports of users trading these virtual coins for real life services.
Predictably, the Chinese government is very, very concerned about all of this. I have to admit, if I was a Chinese government official I’d be worried about this kind of thing, too. The New York Times quotes the creator of Tencent as saying, “I think every Internet user likes personalization.” I’m sure that kind of talk makes the communist government all twitchy. Individuality and personalization is anathema to Communism. Communism is all about ignoring the individual in favor of the collective, and if there’s anything that’s a danger to the collective it’s a free internet. The internet and social networking provide users with the opportunity to escape their lives. It offers them the ability to dream of another life. And most importantly, the opportunity to communicate with other like-minded Chinese citizens that also yearn for something more.
I’m a firm believer in revolutions, and in particular intellectual and ideological revolutions. Physical revolutions are meaningless without a shift in perception, and I’m hopeful that the internet will provide Chinese citizens with the means to see beyond their limited and oppressive government. Once you’ve given someone the taste of freedom it’s very difficult to take it away from them.
I can hear you pessimists sighing and decrying my outlook on Tencent as starry-eyed idealism. Oh yeah, you say, well what about Iraq, huh? We’re offering those people freedom and they’re giving us the finger…along with a few IEDs and some carbombs. Well, we haven’t really offered the Iraqis freedom yet, have we? Truthfully, it doesn’t matter if we’ve offered it to them or not because you can’t empower someone with freedom. To believe we can do that is an act of hubris. Regardless, all they’ve gotten from us is some lip-service and an open invitation for all the fanatical Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds to make a quick and violent powergrab to try and rule the new government. The people that count, those brave Iraqis that voted last year, we aren’t offering them anything except some spotty bodyguarding. They don’t have time to sit down and think about philosophical luxuries like individuality, community, and brotherhood. No, they’re too busy dodging bombs to be concerned with nonsense like that.
And in a way, they have that in common with the China of old. The oppression under Communism stifles the hope of revolution, because the “citizens” are so busy worrying about poverty and censorship that they don’t have time to contemplate a different life for themselves. And so it is in Iraq. The horrific violence precludes the hope for anything else besides self-preservation.We’d do more to engender freedom in Iraq if we hooked everyone in country up with a broadband connection and a new Dell.
Look, I don’t mean to make light of the situation in Iraq; I just want something good to come out of the whole debacle. What we’re trying to do now is force a people to undergo an intellectual and ideological revolution via violence. That won’t work. It won’t ever work. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no pacifist. Some things are definitely worth fighting for, but when the time comes to take up arms and begin a revolution the people need to decide to do it for themselves, or the whole fight is just an exercise in futility. The violence will simply beget more violence.
Revolution begins in the mind and heart before it can begin with the fists. The people in China are slowly locating the possibility of freedom through education and the internet. If the youth in that country keep progressing similarly to the present day, then I have no doubt that in thirty years time China will no longer be a communist state. Sadly, if things in Iraq keep progressing similarly to the present day, then in thirty years time there won’t be a fucking thing left standing in the Middle East.
Freedom does not go “on the march” like some weird, jack-booted army. No, freedom is more like a friends list on Facebook or Myspace. It slowly spreads from person to person, connecting people with similar interests and mindsets, and ultimately creating a group of self-empowered people willing to come together for a common cause, be it a kegger at the dorm room down the hall or a democratic revolution.