For some reason, the Wall Street Journal is regarded as a right-wing publication. In fact, it’s editorial guiding policy is unmistakably liberal. On can see this from their recent article on censorship in China, which is an almost chemically pure specimen of liberal idiocy. Below the jump are excerpts from the article, with my comments bracketed and in bold.
So, is it true after all, what they say about clashing civilizations? It is tempting to see the official Chinese response to Hillary Clinton’s speech on Internet freedom in that light. Spurred by Google’s announcement that it might pull out of the Chinese market in protest over censorship, Mrs. Clinton talked about Internet freedom in terms of universal human rights. Her speech was promptly denounced in a Communist Party newspaper as “information imperialism.” Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu claimed that China’s regulation of the Internet (banning references to Tiananmen, Tibet, Taiwanese independence and so on) was in keeping with “national conditions and cultural traditions.” [Notice that it’s the communists who are making the essentially conservative points: that it is legitimate to restrict individual freedom in order to maintain a community’s fundamental character; that each people has it’s own history and circumstances, so there is no uniformly best way of governing.]
The claim of universality is indeed an important facet of American culture, rooted in the American Revolution and Protestant ethics. [Monstrous pretention is an important facet of American culture? Perhaps, but this is nothing to boast about.] It is considered proper for a U.S. secretary of state to give voice to the ideal of universal human rights. Just so, a Chinese official sees it as his duty to assert the uniqueness, or even superiority, of Chinese culture. [Note that it’s the American’s idea of “proper role” which is the aggressive one. The Chinese position is essentially defensive.] This was true of Confucian scholar-officials in the imperial past. It is still true today.
Thought control, in terms of imposing an official orthodoxy, is a very old tradition. [Does the author really imagine that, e.g. the Tang dynasty had the level of thought control we see today on American universities?] The official glue that has long been applied to hold Chinese society together is a kind of state dogma, loosely known as Confucianism, which is moral as well as political, stressing obedience to authority. This is what officials like to call Chinese culture. [What an outrageous insult to one of the greatest moral traditions in the civilized world! Does the author actually mean to deny that Confucianism is a real tradition? Does he mean to imply that it’s not really an integral part of Chinese culture? Does he really imagine that there’s something sordid in encouraging obedience to legitimate authority?]
One can take a more cynical view, of course, and see culture as a mere fig leaf meant to hide the machinations of political power. [One can see things this way only if one is a doctrinaire Marxist.] The latest Chinese salvo against the U.S., blaming the Americans for instigating rebellion in Iran through the Internet, reveals that the current spat has a hard (and opportunistic) political core. And the assumption that Google, as a Chinese editorial put it, is a “political pawn” of the U.S. government, is a clear case of projection.
In any case, instilling the belief that obedience to authority is not just a way to keep order, but an essential part of being Chinese, is highly convenient for those who wield authority, whether they be fathers of a family or rulers of the state. [Note for the record: the Wall Street Journal publishes authors who don’t recognize the authority of fathers or of the state. This author is an all-out anarchist. He also has no idea what it means to be a people. He finds something offensive in the claim that “obedience to authority is an essential part of being Chinese”. Let’s think about this for a second. I’m an American. An essential part of being an American is recognizing the authority of the U.S. federal and state governments. If I defy the authority of the government, I’m a criminal or a traitor. If I don’t recognize the government’s authority over me at all, I am in no meaningful sense an American citizen. Therefore, obedience to authority is an essential part of being an American. Is America a particularly authoritarian place? Of course not. Recognition of authority is an essential part of being a social being.] That is why in their efforts to promote democracy after World War I, Chinese intellectuals denounced Confucianism, with its rigid social hierarchy, as an outmoded orthodoxy which had to be eradicated. [And look at what those intellectuals replaced it with.]
This is why foreign criticism of Chinese politics, or Chinese infringements of human rights, is denounced by government officials as an attack on Chinese culture, as an attempt to “denigrate China.” And Chinese who agree with these foreign criticisms are treated not just as dissidents but as traitors. The term “information imperialism” is clearly designed to evoke memories of the Opium Wars and other historical humiliations. Chinese are meant to feel that foreigners who talk about human rights are doing so only to bash China. [Let’s see: this particular foreign rights advocate has just spent the first half of his article trashing the most sacred parts of Chinese culture. Can you understand why someone might detect China-bashing?]
This is not always entirely irrational. If Chinese chauvinism is defensive, American chauvinism can be offensive. The notion that the U.S. has the God-given right to impose its views about liberty and rights on other countries, sometimes backed by armed force, has provoked precisely the same reaction in many places as Napoleon’s wars for Liberty, Fraternity and Equality once did. [At least he makes that admission.] No matter how fine the ideals, people resent it when they are pushed down their throats. [You see–no one can actually object to liberalism itself; any stated objections to the liberal evisceration of one’s culture can be dismissed as rationalisation. The Chinese just don’t like the way it’s being presented.] Besides, the Chinese are not alone in mixing politics with morality. The history of Christian missions in Asia, or indeed Africa, cannot be neatly separated from imperialism; they were indeed often part of the same enterprise. [This is simply not true.] Even scientific ideas, such as astronomy or medicine, which might be considered to be neutral, came with values that were anything but. The earliest missionaries in China, such as the great Italian Jesuit Matteo Ricci (1552-1610), introduced science as part of their aim to spread the Christian faith.
A very similar debate is going on today between those who believe that applying Western notions of human rights and democracy to China is counterproductive. Many a politician, businessman or media tycoon has argued that adapting to special Chinese conditions is surely more effective if one wishes to have any influence in China. The fact that this argument is usually self-serving does not make it necessarily wrong, but so far it has certainly not been proven right. Chinese human rights have not been noticeably advanced because of foreign compromises with Chinese illiberalism. [Note that the pretense that we’re not interested in foreign meddling has definitely been dropped.]
Once China opened up to the world for business again in the late 1970s, under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping, the old problem of information control emerged once again. Deng and his technocrats wanted to have the benefit of modern economic and technological ideas, but, like the 19th century mandarins, they wished to ban thoughts which Deng called “spiritual pollution.” The kind of pollution he had in mind was partly cultural (sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll), but mainly political (human rights and democracy). [Did you catch that: even the communists–THE COMMUNISTS–are appalled by the licentiousness of our culture!]
On the other hand, there are also plenty of Chinese who have applauded Google’s defiance of the authorities. When hackers, operating from China, targeted the Gmail addresses of Chinese human rights activists, Google decided that it would no longer help to police online information. As the Google CEO Eric Schmidt put it this week at Davos, where he repeated his criticism of Chinese censorship of the Internet: “We hope that will change and we can apply some pressure to make things better for the Chinese people.” Even as government spokesmen criticized the US for interfering in Chinese affairs, hundreds of Chinese Internet users laid flowers at Google offices in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. This is why it is too simplistic, and even noxious, to see the conflict over Internet freedom simply as a cultural clash. Those who would like to enjoy the same freedoms that people in democracies take for granted are Chinese too. [Let’s not let this statement of cultural nominalism go unremarked. Does Chinese culture have any essence of its own? If someone born into Chinese culture can be brought by outside influences to accept proposition X, does that mean that proposition X is necessarily consistent with Chinese culture?]
The question, then, for Western companies, as much as for Western governments, is to decide whose side they are on: the Chinese officials who like to define their culture in a paternalistic, authoritarian way, or the large number of Chinese who have their own ideas about freedom. [The hundreds of millions of Chinese who support their leaders’ efforts to keep their culture from degenerating in to a liberal, hedonistic, nihilistic shithole also deserve mention here.] Google has made its choice. It strikes me as the right choice, for not only will it encourage a healthy debate on freedom of information inside China, but it could serve as a model of behavior for companies operating in authoritarian countries. Even for enterprises aimed at maximizing profits, it might sometimes pay to burnish their image by being on the side of the [fallen] angels.
I should emphasize that there are many policies of the Chinese government to which I object, particularly those that encourage contraception and abortion and those that attack the autonomous authority of the Church. However, the things China is criticized for here seem to me legitimate government acts. Governments should protect the traditional culture, public morality, and their own authority; they should supress pornographers and dissidents. Censoring the internet could be a legitimate means to these ends.