Confucianism and Trade Imbalances

The enlightened dictatorship of money

Posts Tagged ‘censorship

Taboos don’t just come from the government

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The Atlantic had an interesting article recently about China is opening up to its past WRT the Great Leap Forward famine – perhaps the largest in world history in terms of raw numbers.  The article includes fascinating anecdotes about how the history is being told, now that younger people are asking the right questions.  Chinese people are independently discovering some of the aspects of China that outsiders find most distasteful.  It seems some Weibo users have come close to independently discovering that the fact that Mao actually did worse things to China than the Japanese did.

Wonderful things can happen if the government would only let people freely discuss these things, right?  The byline of the article asks, “Half a century after the famine that killed perhaps 30 million people, censors have quietly loosened their ban and citizens are moving past the taboo. Why now?”

In fact, the article produces no evidence that there ever was a comprehensive ban on this subject, and it goes strongly against my perceptions.  When you try to talk about Tiananmen, my experience is that people will say, “you shouldn’t talk about that,” whereas when I talk about the Great Leap Forward famine, they say, “what?”  This site shows that the Great Leap Forward is mostly allowed as a search term.  But maybe this is recent?  I went and checked, and it turns out that Wikipedia specifies that the Great Leap Forward and associated terms have been unblocked at least since 2005, when the section on terms that were not blocked was created.  Based on this, I would say the Atlantic article is at the very least guilty of omission here.

A common misperception holds that the government is the primary force holding back people’s creativity and questions.  Outsiders often question China’s ambition to build their higher education system, for instance, based on the role of the government.  After a couple of months’ experience working at a top Chinese university, I would say it’s a little bit different from that.  It’s more a matter of lacking intellectual curiosity to begin with.  Long story short, an ordinary college professor (aside from a few superstars) can expect to make a salary about 6X times lower than I could be making right now as an English trainer.  The government doesn’t operate in a cultural vacuum; it’s the entire country that works this way.  Westerners like to focus on the government, because it’s something tangible, but that sometimes causes them to miss the real story.


Written by Maofucious

July 26, 2012 at 10:09 PM

Posted in Confucianism

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