A Chinese Hero

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Way back in May, I learned about a very brave man, Li Xinde, a blogger in China, through this article, "Death by a Thousand Blogs", which is very good and still available. From that article, it might be worth recalling what Li has to do to blog.

Li travels around China with an I.B.M. laptop and a digital camera, investigating cases of official wrongdoing. Then he writes about them on his Web site and skips town before the local authorities can arrest him.
Think about that the next time you get cranky about the inconvenience of blogging, as I did a little today after a really crazy week both on and off the job. Puts things into perspective just a wee bit.

At any rate, I'm glad to hear that Mr. Li is still kicking despite the best efforts of the three stooges, Yahoo, and the Chinese authorities. Interestingly, as Cox and Forkum report, censorship is being challeneged from within China. (If the government loosens up, it would probably be for no nobler reason than the fact that they simply aren't succeeding and they're hoping to "liberalize" so they can take credit.)

I've blogged about the gargantuan task of clamping the lid down on Chinese censorship here and here, as well as on civil unrest. Cox and Forkum quote the New York Times.
"At the turning point in our history from a totalitarian to a constitutional system, depriving the public of freedom of speech will bring disaster for our social and political transition and give rise to group confrontation and social unrest," the letter [by some former Communist Party officials and some scholars] said. "Experience has proved that allowing a free flow of ideas can improve stability and alleviate social problems."
Blogger Li Xinde, however, says, in a very interesting article, "too late!"
Chinese Communist Party elders and U.S. lawmakers fired shots at China's powerful censors this week, but Li Xinde says muck-raking campaigners like himself are undermining the country's barriers to free speech every day.

Li is one of just a handful of Internet investigative reporters, exposing corrupt officials and injustice on his China Public Opinion Surveillance Net (www.yuluncn.com). [Link added, but you'll need to know Chinese. And: Why didn't Reuters add a hyperlink?]
Here's some more on how he blogs and how effective he has been.
[Li] spreads his often outrageous, sometimes gruesome stories on some of the 49 blogs he uses to slip past censors.

"They shut down one, so I move to another," he told Reuters.

"It's what Chairman Mao called sparrow tactics. You stay small and independent, you move around a lot, and you choose when to strike and when to run."

Li, 46, lives in Fuyang, a city of 360,000 in the rural eastern province of Anhui, and he is far from a household name among Chinese readers, even Internet enthusiasts.

But some of the cases he first reported became notorious after other reporters, even state-run television, took them up. Li's Web site has become a magnet for discontented rural citizens hoping to turn his spotlight on their complaints.

In 2004, Li helped bring down a corrupt deputy mayor in the eastern province of Shandong after posting bizarre pictures of the official kneeling before his one-time business partner, apparently begging her to stay silent.
And oh yeah. He makes a living at this and says something Larry, Sergey, and Bill (and quite a few others) need to hear.
Before embracing the Internet in 2003, Li was a soldier who joined the Communist Party and and then worked as a reporter for a series of small newspapers. Now payments from well-wishers and reporters who use his leads give him a small living.

Several Chinese journalists who have written for Internet sites abroad are in jail, and in two cases Yahoo provided evidence used against them.

Li said it might make business sense for international companies such as Yahoo and Google to comply with China's censors, "but morally it's wrong to sell people's freedom". [link and bold added]
Li's efforts are heroic and bode ill for the Chi-Comm's efforts to maintain authoritarian rule, but do they portend a revolution or merely a revolt?

On loading Li's site, I noticed that a wallpaper of Communist symbols appeared in my browser while I waited for the site to load. Also, Li mentions Mao at one point during the article and at least has been a Communist. It would be interesting to know whether Li now considers himself a Communist, and whether many like him who are unhappy with the government merely think it is no longer properly implementing Communism.

A quick search unearthed this article, from a site produced in Hong Kong, but hosted in the U.S., which holds a more pessimistic view of the impact people like Li can have, and has this to say about him.
Li Xinde's website is decorated with a banner featuring a picture of Hu Jintao and animated Party slogans like "Completely implement the Three Represents" (reproduced above). Li Xinde is himself a Party member.
Although being a Communist in China may be about as significant as being a member of a union in America, I have heard often about Chinese citizens who do not see Communism as a big problem. (Indeed, many in the U.S. spy for China.)

As heroic as Li's efforts are, then, any optimism for China has to be tempered by the realization that even some of its most heroic dissidents may not fully grasp the connection between Communism and their present state of serfdom. A revolution that is not animated by ideas more conducive to freedom than Communism may weaken China militarily and might improve the lot of her people in the short term. But in the long term, the Chinese people will not become free if they replace their fascist state with a more truly Communist one.

-- CAV

Updates

2-17-06: A commenter pointed out a very good article on efforts by the Falun Gong to undermine the "Great Firewall of China". I think you will agree that the article is both disturbing and hopeful.
Peter Yuan Li--a key figure in the Falun Gong's technologically sophisticated attempt to undermine the Chinese Communist Party--was brutally attacked and beaten in his home in Duluth, Ga., as Forbes was going to press with its cover story on how the spiritual movement is penetrating the Chinese government's hi-tech censorship. At 11:15 A.M. on Feb. 8, according to the Fulton County Police Department Incident Report, Asian men stormed the house of the Princeton-educated information technology technician, bound and gagged and beat him, before fleeing with two 16-inch Sony laptop computers, Li's wallet and yet unknown material from his files. [bold added]
I am incensed, however, that Li is an American citizen and yet this is the first I have heard of this incident.

2 comments:

softwareNerd said...

Check out this story. The Chinese government may be closer than you think!

Gus Van Horn said...

S.N.,

Fascinating article! Thanks for pointing it out.

Gus