In the news headlines this morning we see the Chinese have shut down the internet cafes that have been surging in popularity behind the Great Red Wall. Few “products” have ascended in popularity like the internet; its ability to carry a message to the masses is unequaled. This message today will be carried around the world by the same tool that allows a people bound by the throws of communism to experience just a screen shot of the free world.
Using the guise of fire safety, the Chinese government has systematically shut down over 2400 internet cafes (some 2200 of them illegal mom and pop shops) in the capitol city of Beijing. In wake of a tragic fire in an internet cafй that left two dozen dead, the Chinese government ordered the cafes closed. For years the communist government has been attempting to shut down the flow of information from the free world. Rumors of secret scanning programs and random hard drive checks have kept “approved” owners of internet cafes toeing the line. Who would have thought the Chinese would use the fire code as the coup d’ etat for those seeking cyber-time. This move will at least allow the Chinese government to further implement the far reaching secret police that patrol the internet cafйs.
Although a scant 27 million people have access to the internet in China, the government must see the problem in the harshest of terms. Information about the repressive nature of the Chinese government is traveling like wildfire online, information about China’s rampant problem of youth suicide and forced abortions flow freely across the copper wire. Just ask Hong Kong businessman Li Guangqiang, who was given a death sentence for smuggling 16,000 bibles into China at the beginning of the year. Later freed due to pressure from the Bush Administration, Mr. Li may tell you that the internet promises a better way to get a Big 5 Bible through customs. You want to get Cantonese MP3’s of the Bible behind the Great Wall? Good luck. You want to get online and make some copies yourself, well click over to AudioTreasure.com and do it yourself- just the thought of such activity has the Chinese government seething.
In centuries past, just the thought of an illegal printing press spreading information was enough to incite the ire of an autocratic monarchy. In our era of high technology, one can only imagine how endangered the Chinese government must feel by the humble copper wire and modem card, effectively making each person their own printing press. Those now-hallowed days of the renegade pressman disseminating information have been replaced by 27 million people each looking up the things that are banned by the government. If you catch the drift, not too many Chinese people get on the net at a pay-by-the-minute cyber cafй and read the People’s Daily.
An oppressed people are exploding at the seams looking for freedom from Chinese communism. Shutting down the internet cafes that allow just the slightest form of appeasement will only aggravate the problem. Better yet, it shows the willingness of the Chinese government to further oppress their people by isolating them from the information that could be used to free them. Do we see a 4000 year-old culture of central control wobbling at the sound of a dial-up modem? Sounds like it to me.
Stephen A. McDonald
The choice of the city of Helsinki is not incidental as the capital of Finland had hosted US-Soviet negotiations on the limitation of nuclear stockpiles in 1969