Censored China crumbling?

Censorship increased on social-networking websites in China in the wake of the fall of Bo Xilai and the torrent of rumors about his decline. On popular Chinese websites like Weibo, a Chinese equivalent of Twitter, words relevant to the political incident and any conspiracies surrounding it were banned after speculative discussions had surfaced among bloggers.

The recent escalation in online censorship reveals the distrust between the Chinese government and Chinese citizens. The censors indicate that government officials do not trust the masses to disregard the rumors and remain unquestioningly loyal to the regime. The people, on the other hand, have become more speculative as censors foster the impression that the government has hidden certain details of the incident from being publicized.

The censors also reveal disconnection between the two parties. The censors abridged or distorted the information available to the public, thus the knowledge in public domain is incomplete. The government, however, has full access to the details. The lack of transparency caused by censorship only worsens the disconnection between the government and the people.

A couple of years ago, an equally controversial censorship incident in China dissolved the business relationship between the state and Google. Chinese government officials reportedly requested that Google adhere to its censorship policies for certain search results. Google refused to abide by those measures on ethical grounds.

The extensive history of censorship in China is also a strong indication of the lack of trust in Chinese society in general. In an recent Economist article about this very issue, it is noted that the lack of transparency and unbiased media organizations, unconfident officials and the history of Chinese politics have resulted in a society in which the government cannot give its citizens the benefit of the doubt when it comes to loyalty to the regime.

The article also makes a good point about the failure of censorship in the modern world. To begin, censorship only worsens the lack of trust and prompts people to doubt because it gives them reason to think that there is something hidden. In addition, rapidly evolving technology has enabled the average online blogger, or in general the average internet user, to obtain unauthorized access to censored information as well as disseminate that information at a fast pace. In fact, a recent movement to protest censorship through Chinese word-play has gone viral.

The online world of information will only become more complicated. The Chinese government cannot expect to continue its censors. Censorship is not addressing the real problem, which is that the fundamental issue lies with the lack of trust in China. It would be wise to consider possible political reforms to make things more transparent.

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