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Views on technology and libraries

Information control in China: some observations

This past Wednesday, a national day of mourning was observed for the 2800 dead in the recent earthquakes in western China. At 10:00 am China time (there is one time zone for the entire country), three minutes of reflection were held nationwide, which also encouraged people in cars to honk their horns and otherwise make much noise in the observance of this. Most interestingly, for the entire day the government decreed that all entertainment of any kind should not be held — no movies, no arts & culture or popular performances, no televised entertainment, and, very interestingly, no internet entertainment!

Turning on HBO and CineMax in our Beijing hotel room on Wednesday brought up a notice that programming was not available in observance of the national day of mourning. BBC World News was still available, as was CNN, but other television channels of the CCTV (Chinese government television service) all had the same programming on, covering memorial services around the country and later a ‘telethon’ event that raised over 2.2 billion yuan (approximately US$275 million) over the course of the day, pledged by Chinese throughout the country. Stories of workers donating their wages for the day to the relief and reconstruction effort were reported in the newspapers the following day.

It was interesting to observe the singular national focus on this and the solidarity the Chinese people felt for their fellow citizens suffering from the devestation in western China. It was also amazing how the government could fairly easily control news media throughout the country and even block satellite content from outside China as well as internet sites and services that constituted entertainment.

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and others are blocked here in China (these blog posts are posted automatically to my Facebook profile page, which is why those of you discovering them from Facebook can see these). Google’s site redirects to Google’s site in Hong Kong. There are conspicuous surveillance cameras wherever one goes. It strikes one as a fairly controlled society in some things, and in others it seems very much like an open capitalist country with flourishing commerce. It doesn’t quite feel like the paternalism that we see in Singapore, but it is, as our guide mentioned, “socialist centralism” (as it is now officially known in China) in terms of political and social environment.

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Filed under: librarianship, travel reports

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