China with Polish Characteristics

January 15, 2008

Farewell to good entertainment?

Filed under: Uncategorized — chinatalk @ 1:35 pm

This is not breaking news, but the rumor has it that starting with January 31 of this year, most of the independent video-sharing services (like youtube for example) will be banned from the Chinese cyberspace. This seems to be the latest result of increased “media freedom” which the government introduced in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics. As the 2007 Foreign Correspondents Club in China report states:

When Beijing was bidding for the Olympics in 2001, Wang Wei, Secretary General of the BeijingOrganizing Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad (BOCOG), promised to giveinternational media “complete freedom to report when they come to China.” Up to now, the surveyshowed, more than 67 percent of foreign correspondents felt Beijing has yet to live up to that pledge.During the Olympics, China expects to host at least 20,000 accredited and 10,000 non-accreditedforeign reporters — more than twice the number of athletes.

Reportedly, there were over 180 cases of interference with the journalists’ work since the introduction of more open reporting environment for the Olympics last January, and clearly, the ‘people’s journalism’ can have just as dismal consequences for the Party as any official newspaper. If not more so…

It’s true, that with the advent of cell-phone movie making, the online video posts became a potentially explosive source of information – more striking than photographs, often more direct than the ambiguous news reports. I guess it was a matter of time before something like that was introduced – blogs and websites are being deleted, rights activists and peasant petitioners jailed – so why not to kill the video? Starting with February, only the mainland based and operated video-sharing providers will be left in existence, under strict supervision of the state. What is most fascinating about all this (after a while, one simply becomes resigned to the censorship and state control) is how the entire scheme of media and control information develops. What are they going to do next?? Think, there are still seven months left till the Olympics! There is a whole range of things and people they could suspend, jail, or banish – a truly meaningful and fulfilling effort for the authorities. Ultimately we will end up with an Olympic environment of peerless sterility and backstage drama. Yet, while terrible human rights violations are happening here on a regular basis, part of me is basically fascinated with what the Party will manage to pull off. And what will happen after the Games.


Given the approaching demise of youtube in China, I would like to pay it a brief tribute. While this video from Singapore’s Media Development Authority has been around for a while, I consider it a timeless classic and apt expression of the city-state’s “vibe.” Although I have not visited Singapore (and sincerely hope I won’t ever have to), for a long time it struck me as one of the most clean, orderly and boring places on Earth. Put humanity in a straitjacket, dump it on a desert-island and tell it to have fun – as King Arthur (from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, naturally) would have remarked: “Let’s not go to Singapore, tis a silly place.” With the video below, I rest my case.


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