Friday, November 16, 2007

Encounters with the Great Firewall of China

Encounters with the Great Firewall of China

During my second year of graduate school I learned a great deal from my lab mentor who was born, raised, and attended University in Beijing. He loved to talk about Chinese culture and I enjoyed listening. During our discussions we inevitably reached the subject of Tibet. On this topic we vehemently disagreed about the reasons and effects of Chinese occupation. He consistently claimed that the people of Tibet were wholly better off because of the occupation and that Chinese rule had made the more barbaric practices of “lamaism” (as he called Tibetan Buddhism) illegal. He went so far as to claim that the lamas (the high priests that surround the Dali Lama) had practiced human sacrifice up until the 1950’s.

The argument between he and I remained civil but lasted for 3 months. After he had sent me an e-mail with the claims of human sacrifice backed by scholarly references I inter-library loaned these references. Some came from obscure private libraries at Harvard. The only evidence I could find in all my research was reference to ancient Tibetan texts describing human sacrifice in the 1300s. I found no modern evidence for human sacrifice in Tibetan Buddhism anytime close to 1950. My mentor stuck to his ideas though and we agreed to disagree, but I did learn that Tibet was not the Shangri-La that it is normally portrayed as in western media.

This encounter was a clash of ideals and resulted in a discussion that left both parties more informed about the facts. My second encounter was far more real and ultimately one-sided.

My friend Philip Razem is currently a Peace Corps volunteer in Chongqing, China where he teaches English and American culture to college students. I received an interesting reply e-mail from him the other day.

I recently began to write a blog and wanted to share it with my friends and family. I had sent the link to Phil and he replied saying he would enjoy reading this, but had to do so through proxy servers from his host home in Chongqing, because the “Great Firewall of China” had successfully blocked access to my blog from servers in mainland China.

These first hand encounters with governmentally approved censorship renewed my appreciation for my U.S. citizenship. These cases mark a key contrast between democracy and socialism. It also points out that free press and free speech transcend the quibbling of Republicans vs. Democrats into the realm of universal human rights. So, why does the Ministry of Public security of the People’s Republic of China care what I have to say?

There were several reasons for me to start writing a blog this past October, but my involvement in the public opinion hearing held by the BSC was the last straw in pushing me into the blogosphere. On September 27th I was contacted by Kristen Sullivan the news coordinator at Google News. My name had shown up in enough news articles that day to elicit a response from “Big Brother.” She had asked me to write a comment on the news stories I was quoted in. At first I was hesitant to respond but then realized that Google was providing a public forum for debate and the faster I responded the more likely people reading the news would read what I had to say. So I used this opportunity to challenge the biased coverage of the BSC hearing among the Denver News affiliates and express my opposition to the war in Iraq and provide detailed reasons for opposition. I specifically stressed that the barbaric profanity of pre-emptive war is supremely more offensive than a four letter word.

Google News kept my comments attached to stories relating to F-bush editorial for 30 days after publication. From this experience I do believe that corporate media can and must play a crucial role in a healthy democracy. From these comments evolved my blog.

An unfettered press was the inspiration for the American Revolution and will be the key to fair cultural globalization. People in general are compassionate and when exposed to the truth behind genocide and general injustice will come to the aide of afflicted peoples.

The right to a free press is at the core of American Democracy. Ideas cost nothing to export and have the ability to change minds, markets and eventually governments themselves. The global information age has brought with it unprecedented cross cultural communication and with this raised global consciousness. I do not think it too much to ask that these ideals be upheld in the nation of their birth.

As Ben Franklin said…

“Any society that would give up liberty to gain security will deserve neither and lose both.”

-Kristopher Hite

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