My first experience with censorship was when I first moved to Dubai. When I first moved there, I tried to log into my OkCupid account. Instead of the blue and pink login page, I was directed to a grey and red warning sign that told me that this site was restricted. I was stunned. Growing up in Canada, I had never had an experience where I couldn’t access a website due to government censorship. I eventually got a VPN and accessed whatever I wanted. However, I vehemently disagree with censorship in any form, personally and professionally.
When I was working as a librarian, I made a pledge to provide equal access to information and to fight censorship. China, with its great firewall, blocks thousands of websites and services, most of them from the West. Obviously, the Chinese policies regarding the internet and the dissemination of information have never sat well with me. However, now living in Hong Kong, reading about how the Communist Party of China (CPC) is controlling their populace and using their wealth to control other countries’ foreign policies and economies brings a chill down my spine.
On August 6, I read an article in The New York Times, A Generation Grows Up in China Without Google, Facebook or Twitter. It describes a group of Chinese millennials who grew up with social media sanctioned by the CPC. Unlike the rest of the world, they didn’t use Google, Facebook or Twitter. Except for one student who studied in Australia, the young people interviewed for the article either don’t know about western social media or don’t see the need for them. They basically trust whatever is fed to them through Baidu, WeChat, Tik Tok, and Weibo:
“Accustomed to the homegrown apps and online services, many appear uninterested in knowing what has been censored online, allowing Beijing to build an alternative value system that competes with Western liberal democracy.”
What worries me is that these young people have zero curiosity over other ways of thinking and a lack critical thinking skills. They will not question or hold their government accountable.
It gets worse:
“These trends are set to spread. China is now exporting its model of a censored internet to other countries, including Vietnam, Tanzania, and Ethiopia.”
This is a digital colonialism.
Back in April, I wrote “China’s New Silk Road” where I talked about the Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) and how it’s changing political and economic policies in Central Asia, West Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. In some ways, BRI is a form of Chinese colonialism, where the CCP can exert control over and gain strategic advantages by investing in foreign countries. This in itself is scary enough, but now, they are entering another realm importing their internet to African countries.
Am I being paranoid, or is China trying to take over the world through their version of the internet?
I am sitting here trying to grapple with my fear. Why am I so freaked out? Other people who read The New York Times article might pick up on the fact that this article is not legitimate—it is merely Chinese propaganda on the New York Times—after all, no sensible Chinese citizen would speak out against the CPC and its policies, especially to a foreign newspaper. To me, just the fact that the New York Times printed the views of these young people shows that they want to normalize this alternative, Chinese approach to the internet. It’s like they are saying, “Look, censorship is working. We’ve just brainwashed a population of young people who aren’t curious or critical and would not defy the government.”
Remember the man who stood in front of the tanks during the Tiananmen Square Protest? He wouldn’t have existed in the year 2018.
Using the power of technologies and harnessing the wide reach of the internet, the CPC has bred the perfect citizens under a dictatorship. And, it only took less than a generation. We should be worried, very very worried.
For the last month or so, I have been writing personal stories, such as lessons on love and my first marriage. I almost forgot that this quest to tell my story and discover my Taiwanese culture came from a deep-seeded fear of China’s influence. I don’t want to live in a world where the government restricts our access to information. I don’t want to live in a world where people are passive and uncritical of their surroundings. I don’t want to live in a world where activists, writers and artists and jailed for speaking up against the government and challenging the status quo.
I can feel the chill as the shadow of the Middle Kingdom creeps closer. I don’t really know what to do about it. I don’t know if I can do anything about it. All I do is read news about the growing influence of CPC around the world, be horrified by it and write about it.