A Quiet Glasnost

Be sure to read today’s Nick Kristof. He reflects on going back to Beijing for the Olympics after having spent part of the ’80s and ’90s as a journalist there:

What makes the news from China is usually the bad news: the arrests, the raided churches, the blocked Internet sites, the overzealous security goons. That’s the way journalism works — we cover planes that crash, not those that land.

Yet the underlying trend in recent years is the opposite. For all the continuing repression, Chinese live far freer lives now than when I lived in Beijing in the 1980s and ’90s. Ordinary citizens can now easily travel abroad, choose their own housing and jobs, and move to whatever Chinese city they want to.

Then there is the Internet.

It’s true that the government censors critical Web sites and closes down troublesome blogs. Yet there aren’t nearly enough censors to manage the job, and many Chinese are quite adept at technological ladders over the Great Firewall of China. Objectionable posts are deleted by censors, but then are quickly reposted on 50 different platforms.

The section on internet censorship is interesting, of course, but I really want him to elaborate on that second paragraph. We hear a lot about increasing economic liberty in China – the housing and jobs choice he mentions – but if regular Chinese citizens really have freedom of movement both in and out of China, that’s huge. That’s certainly freer than the Soviet Union got until Gorbachev. Hu Jintao knows what he’s doing, certainly more than Gorbachev did, and I highly doubt he’ll let the situation spiral out of control. But even if it doesn’t serve as a harbinger of the Communist Party system’s collapse, it’s a positive development in and of itself.

2 thoughts on “A Quiet Glasnost

  1. Regarding internet censorship: certainly it’s good that censors are relatively ineffective, but that doesn’t really change the fact that there ARE censors. Having a government that’s bad at censorship is still pretty far from a government that supports free speech.

  2. Indeed. But I think Kristof’s piece is good at establishing that there’s very little chilling effect from the presence of censors, the creation of which is their purpose in a system that’s impossible to entirely monitor (like the Chinese web).

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