By Gady Epstein
25 June 2010
If you’ve been spending too much time reading books lately, including the China books recommended on the last Sinica podcast, you may be missing out on real life — by which I mean, of course, the series of tubes that make up the Internet. On the new Sinica podcast, four people who have actually used the Internet in China discuss Beijing’s ambivalent relationship with the online world: Host Kaiser Kuo (now more firmly entrenched in the Chinese Internet as a communications bigwig at Baidu), Jeremy Goldkorn of the Danwei blog, China Tracker contributor Bill Bishop of the blogs Digicha and Sinocism, and your Forbes Beijing bureau chief.
The impetus for discussion was the Chinese government’s first white paper on the Internet. Whether you are a student of the Chinese Internet or of Communist Party doublespeak, it is a fascinating document — I recommend reading Part III: Guaranteeing Citizens’ Freedom of Speech on the Internet, and Part V: Protecting Internet Security, in which you learn about the many exceptions to those things they just said about guaranteeing free speech. Rebecca MacKinnon, an expert on Internet freedom and a visiting fellow at Princeton’s Center for Information Technology Policy, nicely vivisects some of the best parts on her blog.
On the podcast we also discuss a phenomenon that was abetted by the Internet, the mung bean-snake oil guru Zhang Wuben, written about in detail here. Listen to the mp3 here for a wide-ranging discussion of the Internet’s role in citizen speech, social control and commerce. Bottom line: Whereas at one point Chinese leaders might have feared the Internet more than they appreciated it, they are clearly more confident in their approach to the Internet now. It will be interesting to see where China’s Internet policies lead.