This actually has some relevance since I gave a talk on the Chinese firewall at Wikimania. During the talk I made the point that I wasn’t that worried about free speech in China, since it started from a very low level and that it is likely that the situation in ten years will be better than it is now. What I’m really worried about is censorship in the United States. The US has a really good system of free speech, and I’m worried that as corporations get “used to” political censorship, that ten years from now the situation in the United States is going to be worse than it is now. Something that human rights groups need to be aware of is that relatively few people really care that much about free speech, and if one isn’t careful one might end up with the situation which is the case among young people in China and might be the case in the United States, that people just don’t mind political censorship. This is especially possible if you the censorship is mild.
One problem with HRW, is that it doesn’t answer the question, what do Chinese people think of censorship? Also, I *do not* like the idea of the West dictating terms to the Chinese government since it implies that the West knows how to run China better than the Chinese government. The West had their chance to run a country (Iraq) and they explicitly billed it as being a democracy showcase. We all are seeing how this is turning out.
Having said that I do have some problems with Ms. MacKinnon’s idea of connecting political censorship in China with a global movement for free speech. My experiences after Tiananmen left me extremely mistrustful of “global movements.” Part of the problem is that I come at things from a Chinese nationalist point of view, and I’m simply unwilling to sit at the same table with Dana Roebacher and Bill Kristol both of which I think are really “anti-China.” Also, part of my political experience was being on the same side as Lee Teng-Hui during the Taiwan democratization movement in the early 1990’s. I think that Taiwan democratization was a good thing, but I’m *really* sensitive to being “stabbed in the back” by people supposedly on the same side.
The other thing with “global movements” is that you end up with nasty politics, and you end up with bureaucratic structures that are inherently intolerant of dissent. The other problem is that it is tactically a bad thing. Having a movement gives you “high value targets,” people who organize and pass orders. One of the interesting things about the Iraqi insurgency and Hezboallah is that they have mastered the guerrilla warfare effort of having flat loosely connected organizations, and trying to punch those is like punching water. One thing that I’m convinced of is that if you want to do something like punch through the Chinese firewall, you don’t try a frontal attack, you provide information to people, and then instead of organizing them, you let them figure out what to do with the information you provide.
One of the points that I made at the Wikipedia conference was that I didn’t think in the end that Wikipedia was a threat to the Chinese government. The one wikibook I’d like to see written in Chinese is in fact a users guide to Chinese law, which the central government should welcome since it will state clearly what activities are and are not prohibited and how to use the law to do things like sue corrupt local officials that are flouting Beijing’s policy directives.
Anyway, back to Shanghai warrants. I’ve got some bug fixes to my R code.