I’ve been thinking about the stymying of connections to Western internet websites one experiences, if one uses China based internet connections. I recognise that first sentence is an awkward one—most absurdly, perhaps, because I don’t want to call it, right off the bat, “censorship”. I do this because, if one does so, one automatically prejudices and introduces biases into one’s consideration of China, its government, and its people.
Common (liberal) wisdom asserts that this is an inherently negative behaviour to engage in, bearing and raising all kinds of problems for the economy, academic and scientific research, work (though, if recent Vice op-ed is to be believed the problems more strictly concern porn, Google, and finding out “what actually happened” in world affairs), and other forms of knowledge production. Maybe so, I can neither confirm nor deny such statements.
However, I want to try something different. I want to at least put forward a rationalisation that puts this particular behaviour of internet stymying in some kind of socialist, anti-colonial struggle—counter to The New York Times’ (NYT) cynical attitude toward Beijing’s claims regarding ‘“hostile foreign forces” it says are seeking to undermine the country through the Internet.’
My thoughts begin with a claim from Frank B. Wilderson, III: “Narrative itself is structurally anti-black” (54:30). Now this may seem unrelated, but that is only partially true. It is quite true and fair to recognise that white supremacy is quite real and creates a world that is utterly unliveable for people of colour.
If one takes the chief reasons given against the blocking of Western websites in China, according to the NYT: let’s say, 1) the economy and 2) knowledge production, I am somewhat given to believe one could plausibly claim the Western internet is structurally anti-socialist. Hardly a claim without some merit given private and state interests in monitoring and capitalizing it (it doesn’t escape me such things might be said to be true of China; though what I would say in response is that the first may not have the totalitarian consequences often assumed, and the second requires one fully understand the nature of China’s socialist ideology).
If it can be granted that China is not simply ironically socialist—i.e. that there is a revolutionary agenda in mind—and that its socialism sits in a history that is anti-colonial and anti-imperialism—which must always form the basis for understanding the Chinese approach to foreign relations—and wise to Western moves in recent history to isolate and debilitate China; then one may appreciate the nature of the claim.
This embraced; one can see the most innocuous aspects of the internet as possibly the major sites—outside of the obvious economic and military posturing and cyber-spookery—given the internet’s importance and absolute integration into contemporary life, for the proliferation of counter-revolutionary energies and anti-socialist views among Chinese people.
This is a problem that has already been surely recognised. In recent months the Chinese government has made moves to be increasingly vigilant in the creation of what amounts to a socialist, rather than liberal, education. Government officials have gone so far as to say, “Western values” should not be promoted in classrooms—perhaps wise given the objectively toxic nature of what Western values have achieved in the world (one need only think of its unique brands of slavery, racism, white supremacy, capitalism, and the like). This pedagogical aim is being pursued not least because China’s pragmatic utilisation of capitalist reforms has created a situation defined by a lived, rather than known, ideological shift in the lives of young people, from socialism to neoliberalism, which they have not been adequately prepared for.
A quote from Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth (Penguin Modern Classics) bears this impasse out in uncanny fashion, if one can open oneself to the rapid and dramatic China has made for itself in little more than four decades (I reproduce it in full, acknowledging the Africa thrust of the quote, but not finding inappropriate for a wise mental switch of subjects being made):
It is to the youth of an underdeveloped country that the industrialized countries most often offer their pastimes. Normally, there is a certain homogeneity between the mental and material level of the members of any given society and the pleasures which that society creates for itself. But in underdeveloped countries, young people have at their disposition leisure occupations designed for the youth of capitalist countries: detective novels, penny-in-the-slot machines, sexy photographs, pornographic literature, films banned to those under sixteen, and above all alcohol. In the West, the family circle, the effects of education, and the relatively high standard of living of the working classes provide a more or less efficient protection against the harmful action of these pastimes. But in an African country, where mental development is uneven, where the violent collision of two worlds has considerably shaken old traditions and thrown the universe of the perceptions out of focus, the impressionability and sensibility of the young African are at the mercy of the various assaults made upon them by the very nature of Western culture. (157)
How might this situation be assisted if access was blindly offered to Western media and Western people’s utterly manufactured, conditioned, and propaganda generated anti-socialist, anti-Chinese positions? One might hazard that it would be profoundly damaging—not least because almost without fail every op-ed, think piece, and news reports from major outlets portrays and critiques China from an explicitly liberal point of view. The rationale, of course, in the West’s tiresome claims to objectivity in its views on China is, considering the marriage of politics and market interests, one of tracing new avenues in the pursuit of imperialist and hegemonic state capitalist policies. It is not necessary to have recourse to the West’s interference in Hong Kong or its historically colonial aspirations in the support of Taiwan, the production and dissemination of anti-socialist forms of “knowledge” online is quite immediately a more principle danger—especially if one bears what Fanon, above, calls attention too.
This Sinification of the internet is, one might appreciate, commensurate with a movement in China to search and look within itself for solutions to its own unique problems and situation. The answer is not on Facebook, or Instagram, or Google. Anti-socialism and colonialism, and its forms of knowledge, cannot answer socialist and anti-colonial questions. This is not minimally related to the rejection of “Western values”. What is needed is a coherent formulation and application of uniquely Chinese socialist values. The answer to China’s questions and its future are Chinese ones, and for which the responsibility of a political education in and fostering and development of is required among the people. Roland Boer has keenly made this argument in regards the renewal of interest in Confucius, from a specifically socialist point of view.
All of this coalesces in a Chinese attempt to formulate a new mass line between the party and the people that is aware of Western machinations and utilisation of the internet in anti-socialist manners; alive to the histories of imperialism and colonialism and how these form and shape present day relations; slippages in China’s own attempts at developing socialism; and its willingness to generate a space within the world so that it may look within, in the attempt to constitute greater national independence and resolve, as it pursues its own answers to its own questions.
Here I close with another quote from Fanon to bring this all home:
To educate the masses politically… [means bringing about a] movement from the top to the bottom and from the bottom to the top should be a fixed principle, not through concern for formalism but because simply to respect this principle is the guarantee of salvation. It is from the base that forces mount up which supply the summit with its dynamic, and make it possible dialectically for it to leap ahead…
To educate the masses politically is to make the totality of the nation a reality to each citizen. It is to make the history of the nation part of the personal experience of each of its citizens. (159; 161)
(This might strike some as an utterly implausible understanding of the situation, and perhaps so. I am not a Party official. I do not know Xi’s mind. I’m not even entirely sold on my own account, insofar as I feel I am given to views that border on typical Western, ideological rationalisations: hegemonic control of China is certainly an economic achievements for elites, creating a closed national space with little external information entering is useful to maintain control, and so on. While I’m in little position to clearly contest these sorts of views—in which there may be some truth—I find the erasure of real history and politics in these accounts immensely reductive and somewhat insidious in how they tend to other and rarefy another nation often primarily for one’s own ideological benefit. It’s for these reason I have pursued another account.)