I haven’t blogged in a while because I’ve been lost behind the Golden Shield — that is, the Great Firewall — and haven’t had time to investigate setting up anonymizing tools so I can get around it. I’ve installed and am running Tor to anonymize my surfing. So far, so good — I’m pretty happy with it. It’s fairly easy to use, I recommend at least checking it out.

As you might expect, WordPress is blocked in China. Things have been interesting here, and though I don’t have the energy to relate them all at the moment, if you click over to my Ego blog, there are a few entries there that I managed to crank out. The interface ain’t no WordPress, but it worked while I was away. I’ll be returning to Hong Kong soon and things will be back to normal. The nice thing about Tor though, it keeps people from snooping into your business while you use the internet. Very important not just in China, but also in the States, where someone is watching your every digital move.

Speaking of watching your every move, Naomi Klein had an article published in a recent issue of Rolling Stone about the state of surveillance in China…er…state surveillance in China? (The state of state surveillance.) It made checking back into the five-star Wenjin a bittersweet activity. Interestingly enough, it turns out the police do do random searches of foreigners here, and it happened to someone on my trip. Conveniently enough, the day we moved out of the youth hostel, one of my tripmates had her passport taken during a police search of her hostel room. You need to show a passport to check into hotels here. They scan your bioinfo page and your visa page, and according to some sources (including Ms. Klein) they send that data to the police. Luckily my tripmate got her passport back, but it was definitely a sober reminder that we are in China.

One of the things that always surprises me here is how readily both Chinese and Westerners equate economic freedoms — property ownership, freedom to start enterprises, and the ability to make money, for example — with political freedoms, like freedom of speech, of assembly, and of the press. I’m guessing that for my dad’s generation, the economic freedoms are enough. He was five when the People’s Republic of China was founded, and so the ability to change one’s economic status is probably one hell of a thrill. However, the fact that people still need to use proxies to access some sites on the internet — and the fact that Shenzen has 2 million CCTV cameras for a little over 12 million residents, as an example — doesn’t seem to wig people out.

Maybe this’ll come with time. I’ve been reading Clay Shirky’s book Here Comes Everybody and I am trying to fathom how to apply these sorts of things to Chinese situations, especially since the internet is so restricted. Caroline Watson from Hua Dan also pointed out to me that anyone who is not a member of the rising middle class or above doesn’t have access to computers and the internet. They do, however, have mobile phones, and that seems to me to be an untapped resource. People are starting to normalize this technology in their lives. The next step is coming up with an innovative use for it…and in my experience, the people of China are very innovative. I’m interested to see what comes of it.

On the flip side, the Chinese government is pretty ace at packaging even the stuff that leaks out on the internet — look at what happened earlier this year in Tibet. Most of the information that came out of the Lhasa riots was disseminated by the Chinese state media. The few citizens, journalists and bloggers who were able to get information out don’t seem to be recognized by the mainstream media, and it’s really hard to read who’s being serious about what. What does a technologically-savvy Chinese population have to do to break this trend?

I think a major reason the Chinese government was able to spin these protests was the fact that by and large there were not all that many people posting images to the internet. I wonder if many more people began posting images and even tweeting from their mobiles (Twitter, by the way, is not blocked by the Great Firewall), the government might have a harder time sweeping up after itself.

By and large people seem to keep in line here. There is no violence to speak of in this city, which is amazing, but certainly a result of the fact that the government is so stringent about its rules. But as the country gets more economically liberal, will people begin demanding further political liberalization?

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