The little braveries of China

If you want to be inspired, depressed, amused and appalled all at the same time, I recommend that you read this article by Jake Maxwell Watts on Quartz. It tells the story of how some of China’s Internet users are sidestepping, with enormous creativity, the granite inhumanity of that country’s censors.

On China?s popular microblogging service Sina Weibo, authorities have banned a huge list of blocked search terms that might be potentially used to voice dissent or pay homage to the June 4 demonstrators. In past years online users have been able to refer to ?May 35? instead of ?June 4,? but that?s no longer allowed either.

Censors, which are experimenting with increasingly sophisticated online methods, have refused to allow any references to today, yesterday or tomorrow. And also … ?big yellow duck.?

Why big yellow duck? Because of this use of Hong Kong’s giant duck installation:

tiananmen_duck

 

There’s another extraordinary example on the Quartz piece, dug up by buzzfeed from Chinese website Netease.com. This image was inserted into a slideshow about children’s toys which were released to celebrate Children’s Day in China on June 1.

tiananmanlego

Taken in isolation, these images are amusing, the stuff of Twitter chuckles over lunchtime sandwiches. But think for a second. Think of what it took to put these images online in a country where censors are both so sophisticated and so dumb that the phrase ‘big yellow duck’ starts being censored because of a single image. A country where, on the anniversary of Tiananmen, the word ‘today’ was censored.

China has become so central to our global economic wellbeing that we can forget this central fact about the country: that it attempts, day upon day, to engineer the way its people talk to each other and thus to engineer the way its people think. This is the essential infringement of human rights from which all other infringements flow. We cannot stop saying this, because if we do we dishonour the little but profound braveries of the people who put these images on the Chinese Internet.

And a final irony: a great deal of Lego is made in China, these days.

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