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.
I quite agree. A friend of mine thinks we should drop off thousands of PlayStations in Iraq, and provide people with computers and free internet access out there. That’s why tyrants and religious nuts have been banning and burning books all this time – the freedom of information is dangerous to a closed system. Glad you featured this article and your thoughts; very intereting.
Thanks. Yeah, at it’s core, fundamentalism is all about denying and eschewing change. Unfortunately, opponents bearing guns only strengthen the resolve of fundamentalists. That kind of isolationism will only fail from a denigration from within.
Why am I always the one to disagree with you? I am with you until you start talking about the naysayers. I agree with on the potential of the internet in China, but one of the central pillars of a totalitarian regime is the willingness of the regime to use force. Show me a revolution and I will show you a regime that has shown weakness and refused to use its power effectively.
China is very interesting. On the one hand it reaches toward capitalism (out of necessity), but has still shown itself willing of crushing opposition (Tianamen Square in 1989 and a massive prison system). The internet loosens the bonds, but the government can still slap everybody in shape. The real question is whether the changes that the chinese leadership has introduced/allowed has reduced the leadership’s willingness to use force.
I think that Iraq is a vastly more complicated issue, imo, and we can argue that if you want. I agree fundamentally with the comments on fundamentalism, although again I would say that it is a simplistic statement, because fanatics of all stripes limit access to information regardless of the place on the liberal to consevative spectrum even those we would assume to be the most open.
You know this is the article that I really wanted you to comment upon. The others made me laugh, but this one was the more thought provoking for me.
Sorry. I’ll think about your comment and then re-comment.
So have you read Eric Hoffer’s “True Believer” yet? I know that I loaned you a copy, so you really have no excuse. And it really is very short. I know that you would like it. And any one else who is out there.
Right now I’d just like to amend one of your statements. One of the central pillars of a totalitarian regime is the willingness of the regime to use JUDICIAL amounts of force. You said to show you a revolution and you’ll show me a weakened regime. I think the pendulum swings the other way as well. Press too hard and the oppressed will eventually press back.
I thought I’d read it. But last night before I went to bed I looked at it again and I don’t remember it. I’ll reread.
1 You are a feret on the book thing.
2 You can’t push back if you’re dead. I think you need to define how you mean JUDICIAL. Show me the case where the regime pushed too hard? I think that a regime can start using force and then lose its nerve. As you said, when you are at the survival level you don’t have the same thoughts. That whole hierarchy of needs thing.
The regime doing the pushing needs to make sure they don’t push so hard, that the oppressed feels like they have nothing to lose in pushing back. That’s all I meant. They have to use their force judicially, and violent and despotic force can be used that way, to intimidate and scare, without prompting rebellion.
I feel like were are in “The Princes Bride” looking sown the cliff and Inigo says to Vencini, “I don’t think that word means what you think it means.”
Do you mean judicious use of force. The size of the population that thinks that there is nothing to lose is never enough to change the government. Often it is when the government has tried to make some reforms to improve the situation that there is a revolution.
That is were China is in danger. They are making some reforms, but have those reforms weakened the governments willingness to use force to maintain control. Right now i would say no, but there willingness to use power is the central question, imo.