Why China owes its strict censors: or how Google and Facebook met their match
I am writing in response to the article “On internet censorship, China can tell the US: told you so”, (September 16).
It is traditionally assumed that censorship suppresses creativity by controlling what artists can work on and what they cannot. However, censorship can also encourage creativity and innovation as netizens think of interesting ways to express the same set of ideas.
Scholars have summarised that Chinese netizens negotiate political control in cyberspace through three major strategies: rightful resistance, artful contention, and digital hidden transcripts – jargon for smart channels to test the boundaries of what can or can’t be discussed online. Meanwhile, new technologies also create new space and communication modes which directly foster user engagement and fuel creativity.
The creativity reflects how Chinese society views the government and current affairs, but too much can become a “language barrier”, not between the government and the netizens but among netizens themselves. Some terms are too creative and confusing and some fade within a few days. This may be why there has been no systematic compilation of the online political jargon – it disappears too quickly.
Besides, if the government did not impose such strict censorship, China might not have developed many well-known IT enterprises, such as Baidu, Weixin, and Weibo. The strict censorship can be seen as a shield to protect China from the competition of international enterprises and allow local people to develop their own social media or online products.
Without outside competition, local enterprises can ensure their income. If there were no shield, the China market might have been dominated by Google and Facebook, rather than Baidu and Weixin.
In this sense, China’s censorship encourages creativity and innovation, rather than suppressing them. Language, as a tool of human communication, will be constantly changing, morphing, transforming, and improving, and this undeniably requires the concerted determination and effort of individuals.
Adrian Lam, Kornhill