Chinese whispers

by Henry Farrell on December 17, 2005

I’ve been quite skeptical in the past about the power of the Internet to change politics in authoritarian states. If this “Washington Post”: story bears out, I may have to change my mind.

bq. In Memory of Ms. Liu Hezhen,” which Lu Xun wrote in 1926 after warlord forces opened fire on protesters in Beijing and killed one of his students, is a classic of Chinese literature. But why did thousands of people read or post notes in an online forum devoted to the essay last week? A close look suggests an answer that China’s governing Communist Party might find disturbing: They were using Lu’s essay about the 1926 massacre as a pretext to discuss a more current and politically sensitive event — the Dec. 6 police shooting of rural protesters in the southern town of Dongzhou in Guangdong province.

bq. In the 10 days since the shooting, which witnesses said resulted in the deaths of as many as 20 farmers protesting land seizures, the Chinese government has tried to maintain a blackout on the news, barring almost all newspapers and broadcasters from reporting it and ordering major Internet sites to censor any mention of it. Most Chinese still know nothing of the incident. But it is also clear that many Chinese have already learned about the violence and are finding ways to spread and discuss the news on the Internet, circumventing state controls with e-mail and instant messaging, blogs and bulletin board forums.

This shouldn’t be overestimated – it sounds as though discussion is only confined to a smallish elite, and in any event, _contra_ blog evangelists, argument over the Internets is not in itself a major political force for change. But it’s something new, and perhaps something that’s going to become more important over time.

Reverse Humiliation

by Henry Farrell on December 17, 2005

“Scott McLemee”: wrote a little while back about reading Colin Wilson as a teenager.

bq. But I have a certain fondness for that novel [Wilson’s _The Philosopher’s Stone_], having discovered it during Christmas break while in high school. It set me off on a fascination with Wilson’s work that seems, with hindsight, perfectly understandable. Adolescence is a good time to read The Outsider. For that matter, Wilson himself was barely out of it when he wrote the book.

I too had a Colin Wilson thing when I was a teenager; something I’m a little embarrassed about today. But nowhere near as embarrassed as I am about the “Erich von Daniken”: phase I went through when I was ten or so. Which seems a nice topic for a weekend discussion thread. What is the most embarrassing book that CT readers idolized when they were teenagers or pre-teens? Painful confessions welcome.