Last week, the Chinese government proposed new limits on media and Internet freedoms that include some of the most restrictive in years. The State Administration of Radio, Film and Television ordered 34 major satellite stations to only broadcast no more than two 90-minute entertainment shows per week, and collectively 10 nationwide. The government is also demanding that these stations broadcast two-hours of state-approved news every evening. According to Chinese officials, “these measures were aimed at rooting out excessive entertainment and vulgar tendencies.”
Furthermore, the government has decided to crack down on China’s short-message, Twitter-like microblogs, an Internet sensation that has become a major source of whistle-blowing. “Microbloggers, some of whom have attracted millions of followers, have been exposing scandals and official malfeasance…with astonishing speed and popularity.” Managers of these microblogs say authorities are toying with the idea of requiring microbloggers to register accounts with their real names and identification numbers instead of the anonymous names in vast use.
However, despite these crackdowns, protest and expression cannot be silenced. According to an article in The New York Times, mass censorship in China is allowing the Internet to flourish “as the wittiest space in China.” “‘Censorship warps us in many ways, but it is also the mother of creativity,’ says Hu Yong, an Internet expert and associate professor at Peking University. ‘It forces people to invent indirect ways to get their meaning across, and humor works as a natural form of encryption.’” One example of these indirect ways to convey a message, is the increase of Chinese comic satire on the Internet. In order to fool censors, Chinese bloggers are hiding their messages in protective layers of irony and satire. One artist, Pi San, creates comic strips that are both ironic and contain coded language that comments on the missteps of the government. (One of Pi San’s darkest satires, Little Rabbit, Be Good, speaks of the injustices suffered by Chinese citizens during the Chinese Year of the Rabbit by telling a story of indignities suffered by rabbits, which reflect actual abuses of power by the Chinese government). The Chinese are calling this subculture: egao, meaning “evil works” or “mischievous mockery.” But, in many instances, the government has caught on. Lawyers, activists, journalists, and artists have vanished into police custody and have become lost in the Chinese jail system almost as fast as their words and images were posted on the Internet. As a result, artists and bloggers are constantly walking the line between accepted satire and jail-time. However, they continue to spread awareness through creativity and artistic expression.
Is it at all possible for the Chinese government, or any government for that matter, to completely censor free speech and artistic expression? Aren’t Chinese officials basically playing a gigantic game of “Wac-A-Mole” in which when one form of expression is curbed, another just springs up from the ground? Also, is it possible that if these government crackdowns continue, a revolution similar to that of The Arab Spring could arise in China?
For some of Pi San’s comic strips see: