19.614 More China

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of David Gants) <dgants_at_ROGERS.COM>
Date: Sun, 19 Feb 2006 23:10:48 -0400

              Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 19, No. 614.
      Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                    Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

  [1] From: Joris van Zundert <joris.van.zundert_at_gmail.com> (44)
        Subject: China

  [2] From: <ian.lancashire_at_utoronto.ca> (75)
        Subject: China

        Date: Sun, 19 Feb 2006 23:00:31 -0400
        From: Joris van Zundert <joris.van.zundert_at_gmail.com>
        Subject: China

Patrick, I think this may be of interest to you (if you've not already read



        Date: Sun, 19 Feb 2006 23:01:38 -0400
        From: <ian.lancashire_at_utoronto.ca>
        Subject: China

Two summers ago, while visiting my son in Beijing, I saw some of the new

In an under-city shopping mall in Xian (state-city of the first emperor, and
now a UNESCO world-heritage site of the Terracotta Warriors), I rode up an
escalator behind a slight man about my age (early 60s), but he was dressed
out of the 1980s, with tidy, well-worn green jacket and pants, as if
transported unceremoniously from the years of the Cultural Revolution. In
bewildered dignity, he looked around at barely-clothed manikins and
customers buying anything that would make them even more attractive. Music,
bright lights, rich clothes, glittering wares from the world, surrounded

I thought, sympathetically, as he slippered down an aisle awash with luxury:
"He has met his former enemy in a social mirror."

The human-rights concerns in recent Humanist messages about freeing Internet
access in China are, in part, indignant that the Chinese might lack a full,
intimate access to how the West manifests itself online. The West, however,
is not news to the wired Chinese: its middle classes, in Beijing, Xian, and
Shanghai (in my personal experience), are beginning to live a western dream,
of sorts.

Restrictions on access to information on Google in China will also limit its
own internal political debate. Yet, is that a concern that anyone but the
Chinese should have? Of course, it's a concern that we have ourselves about
our own access to information in America and Europe. Consider the abysmal
state of public information that accompanied decisions by the US and Britain
to occupy Baghdad, and by Canada to police Kandahar.

The notion that an army of idealistic hackers should liberate the intensely
cell-phoned, hugely-online Chinese citizenry from a lack of information
reveals a blindsidedness that Robert Fisk describes in "The Great War for
Civilization" and that reminds me of Hero Protagonist in Neal Stephenson's
"Snow Crash." However, the belief that anyone should defend anyone's human
rights, anywhere, however those rights are conceived, has real standing in
the liberal West.

Former Professor of the Practice of Human Rights at Harvard, Michael
Ignatieff, argues in "The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terror"
(2004) that governments, facing terrorism, can violate human rights in their
very defence. In 2004 he supported harsh police interrogation, stopping
short of permanently harmful torture. The plight of the Kurds, for him,
justified the invasion of Iraq. He's understandably disappointed in results
so far ... but has now returned to Canada, where he sits as an MP for my own
riding, Etobicoke-Lakeshore, in the federal parliament in Ottawa, where his
education will continue.

Countries or individuals who defy international law in order to defend human
rights in another free nation-state exhibit "empire-lite" ambitions. Am I
qualified to be an information cop in my brother's house if I can't protect
freedom of information in my own house? Are we giving comfort to third-world
hackers who might want to bring down the firewalls protecting information
held by financial institutions like Visa, by government agencies, and by

If interested in helping China, consider the plight of its farmers (the
majority of its population), utterly unwesternized, and often ill able to
buy the food they must sell. Consider how worried Oxfam is by how
US-subsidized cotton exports, defying WTO practice, have undercut and
impoverished China's cotton farmers. For pity's sake, if you will, see


Ian Lancashire
Received on Sun Feb 19 2006 - 22:31:17 EST

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