Coming Soon: Thomas the Tiananmen Tank

Sunday, February 19, 2006

While savages in one part of the world continue to use the excuse of the publication of some cartoon images (of my blog's mascot of all things) to commit murder and violate property rights, thugs in another part of the world are using a cartoon of their own to put a "smiley face" on what amounts to exactly the same type of behavior.

Via Matt Drudge, I found this story about the latest in Chinese censorship, along with the image shown here.

With their big blue blinking eyes and their quirky personal websites, there is no denying the cuteness of the cartoon cops at the front line of China' battle for control of the internet.

But the role played by Jingjing and Chacha, the animated online icons recently introduced by police in the southern Chinese boomtown of Shenzhen, is entirely serious.

The cartoon couple patrol the city's news and discussion websites to scare off anyone who might be tempted to use online anonymity to break China's laws, says Chen Minli, director of the Shenzhen City Public Security Bureau's Internet Surveillance Centre.

"Now internet users know the police are watching them," Ms Chen says in an interview at the Bureau's gleaming new 28-storey building in central Shenzhen.
How adorable!

And, at least by the metric used by their creator: How effective!
But the no-nonsense Ms Chen and her comrades in the Surveillance Centre are proud of the online enforcement role played by Jingjing and Chacha (whose names are made up of the Chinese characters for "police").

"All around the world there are internet police, but they always operate backstage...." No other internet police have stepped to the front of the stage," she says. "We really feel that this is a historic breakthrough."

Jingjing and Chacha operate by appearing as clickable adverts on local websites and as virtual users of the hugely popular QQ instant messaging system operated by Nasdaq-listed Tencent.


Ms Chen says the mere appearance of the icons makes users think twice before posting sensitive messages. When Jingjing and Chacha arrived on local websites, the number of postings that had to be filtered out because of suspect content fell more than 60 per cent.

When the pair send warning messages to websites under investigation for alleged fraud, the sites' operators often immediately shut them down, she says. [bold added]
"No-nonensense"?!?! Let's lick Comrade Chen's combat boots while we report this atrocity, shall we? It's discouraging enough to hear how shoddily the Chinese government treats its own citizens without the Western press protesting only ritualistically before calling some power-hungry bureaucrat "no-nonsense".

But if bureaucrats are known for being power-hungry, they are also known for being dull-witted. I suspect, based on other news about the Great Firewall of China that I have recently encountered, that these adorable little Gestapo members really only warn people that the government is on to their site and that it's time to move elsewhere, so perhaps this story is good news in disguise....

But this is what I found truly appalling. This story also gives us, by accident, a vignette of a little girl, excited about the Internet, with a beast like the "no-nonsense Ms Chen" for a mother.
Ms Chen, a police technology veteran, says inspiration for the personal sites came from her 15-year-old daughter who keeps her up to date on new internet possibilities.
And as Ms. Chen learns of these possibilities, she systematically destroys them.... I wonder, sadly, what will become of her daughter.

But it is the end of the story that takes the cake.
... Ms Chen suggests US officials might want to consider adopting their own Jingjings or Chachas to police Google services following the US company's refusal to share information about its searches with the government.

In any case, she says, overseas critics should not judge China by their standards.

"In my family, if my child does not lay her chopsticks down properly, then I will smack her, but maybe in your family you are too relaxed about such things," Ms Chen says. "Each family has its own rules and countries are the same."
"Too relaxed about such things"? The gall of this control freak is amazing! She dismissed, based on subjectivism, the American respect for man's right to free speech: "Each family has its own rules" while also asserting that what she feels to be better, is. Namely, threatening people for daring to voice opinions beyond the limited scope of what she is willing to consider. And notice the revealing analogy she uses to justify what she does: Her behavior is supposedly like a mother teaching a child proper chopstick etiquette! So whether we respect the right of others to voice their opinions or jail them for doing so is no more important than our choice to eat with chopsticks or a fork?

Man has an inalienable right to free speech, which stems from his right to live, and his nature as a rational animal. Man may have a choice in something incidental like how he lifts food from his plate to his mouth, but he has no choice about his need to think to survive. In the context of a society, freedom of speech is necessary so that men can learn from each other.

What kind of a mother would "smack" a child over her use of chopsticks, but then train her not to think with cute policeman characters? The Financial Times may call her "no-nonsense", but I would call her a comprachica.

What's next in China? Thomas the Tiananmen Tank?

-- CAV

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