Sunday, July 3, 2016

Quotable: Three scholars on the departure of China’s internet czar

Friday, July 1st 2016

Lu Wei image from

On June 29, state news agency Xinhua reported that Lu Wei, the often combative official known as China’s internet Czar, will step down. The unexpected announcement also named Lu’s successor, Xu Lin, a former deputy of Chinese leader Xi Jinping. The personnel change comes after several years of mounting web restrictions. The stakes are high.”  This was the lead of a July 1, 2016, ChinaFile roundup of comments on the leadership change, “A Grim Future for Chinese Web Freedom.”  Here are a few pithy comments:

David Bandurski, researcher at the University of Hong Kong’s China Media Project:

  • . . . under Xi [Jinping]’s leadership — the idea that control, even high-handed control, is a necessary condition of freedom, one that we must all accept whether we live in Dalian or Denmark. Far from apologizing for China’s curbs on internet freedom, or feeling bound to global norms or values, Lu articulated a new vision of what amount to a vibrant splinternet — separate national gardens of cyber innovation and brilliance where no one dares eat the fruit of knowledge.

David Wertime, co-founder of Foreign Policy magazine’s China channel Tea Leaf Nation:

  • Lu surely presided over a period of internet repression sufficiently effective to surprise and astonish Western experts and web evangelists who felt that the web’s decentralized architecture automatically militated against central control. And there’s no question Beijing has become increasingly savvy about wielding the tools of social media both to project its voice and to stifle others.

  • But let’s remember that Lu’s signal accomplishment — at least, as Xi would likely define it — is Lu’s use of fear and violence to quell public opinion, not his eloquence or his technical savvy.

  • Lu’s chief insight, if it can charitably be called that, was that the communal ties between and among China’s “keyboard heroes” and “big Vs,” meaning influential Weibo bloggers, ultimately were no match for the state’s monopoly on violence.

  • Starting in August 2013, after Lu organized an in-person sit-down with several big Vs, the Party began a campaign of arrest, detention, and prosecution directed at several influential micro-bloggers. Their backgrounds, like the charges against them, were diverse, with online hyperactivity the common red thread. Some of the targets were marched on television and made to confess, then thrown in prison. New rules made explicit that criminal prosecution would attend widely shared or read opinions posted contrary to the party line.

  • Lu and Xi simply did what their predecessors were either unwilling or too disorganized to do: they consciously marshaled the machinery of violence against the online world. Web users in China now well know they risk their livelihoods and perhaps their physical freedom if they use the social internet to shape opinions that Beijing disfavors. The threat they face is corporeal and real. That is enough.

Jeremy Goldkorn, founder and director of research firm Danwei  
  • . . . where’s China’s internet headed after Lu departs his helmsman’s seat at the Cyberspace Administration of China? Same place it’s been headed for quite some time: It will remain a dynamic marketplace of ambitious entrepreneurs and world class engineers, used by hundreds of millions of digitally engaged citizens for a million purposes.

  • China’s internet also will continue to be censored, controlled, and restricted. Limits on free speech, activism, and anything the government does not like will get stricter and stricter, while the government funnels ever fatter budgets into increasingly slick propaganda.

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