Posted by: Andrea | June 2, 2009

China blocks twitter, hotmail, youtube, flickr (and others) before Tiananmen 20th Anniversary

Photo by Jeff Widener

With the 20th Anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre looming, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has gone ahead and blocked popular social media sites access including Twitter, YouTube, Blogger, Hotmail, and Flickr.  Although internet censorship is nothing new in China, the timing is surely ironic.  Students and intellectuals protested for civil liberties and democracy in 1989 and twenty years later, civil liberties have been truncated before the protesting has a chance to begin.

As a 2nd generation Chinese immigrant living in North America, I hesitate before I join the outcry of protestations.  What choice does the PRC have?  If you understand their philosophy, then you know that in general, they are trying to do what they think is right and best for China as a whole and it’s just their approach that is in dispute.  Their method: the sharp discipline of a controlling parent.  We all know that it fails at times, and the deaths that occurred at Tiananment twenty years ago can testify.  But we also know that where the United States government has failed, we can see where the PRC has not.  Take Hurricane Katrina for example, and contrast that against the PRC’s response to the earthquakes in Sichuan.   Consider the BBC’s survey of Chinese citizen reflections on the earthquake one year later; one writer comments, “I think the Chinese government did a good job and deserve more positive attention among international communities. Problems might still exist, but efforts were astonishing, when one talked about the issues in China, the thing people should keep in mind is that China was not a developed country. China is just trying to provide their people a good living standard.”   Meanwhile, one year after Hurricane Katrina shows a much bleaker evaluation.   Now, I admit that criticism will always abound.   But if we anthropomorphize China as a single country entity, and assume that the PRC will always do what is in its “best” interest, then it is easy to understand why the PRC might want to stem the criticism they know it going to happen on Thursday in all the social networking sites.   If people don’t talk about it, then maybe they’ll forget it did happen.  If people don’t talk about it, then maybe it didn’t happen.  If it didn’t happen, then we can continue on business as usual and keep on our track of economic liberalisation.

Being a child of both worlds, western by nurture and eastern by nature, I have the liberty of shrugging off my cloak of western socialization to see the issue from multiple points of view.  It is a complex issue because it cuts into the very grain of the PRC’s philosophical foundations: they are not democratic.  They may liberalisation policies to appear democratic, but the underpinnings of the PRC remain staunchly communist: all privileges are the country’s to grant.  They are not seen as rights.   And if Tiananmen was any example, trying to force China’s hand through protests and trade blocks will not work.   Diplomacy and peaceful collaboration over time and a focus on influencing the next generation of leaders will be the more appropriate answer.

Additional reading on Tiananmen can be found on the Council of Foreign Relations website here.

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