Firewalling History – Part 2

Banning and protecting images reminds us of the great dictatorships of the 20th century and the control of information, literature, and images that could potentially fuel dissent and disagreement with the current status quo. Lenin and his effacement of Trotsky’s images, Hitler’s book burnings and the Khmer Rouge’s execution of intellectuals in Cambodia all come to mind – and they are not nice reminders. In China, two images are extremely sensitive and problematic, and are not easily found on search mechanisms, let alone be shown and carried around. Shane Richmond’s blog in the Telegraph has more information on this.

Two banned images from Chinese search sites. The ‘tank man’ of Tiananmen Square 1989 protests for inciting protest, the second for the Dalai Lama considered as a traitor and responsible for China-Tibet tensions.

Certainly this video would definitely cause the Chinese government to shut down my blog:

So how should Google position itself in relation to these bans? If it accepts to ban one thing and then another, then the list could be endless.

After such horrific regimes and their destructive ‘media politics’, one would imagine that in the now ‘free’ world, one would be able to retrieve lost archives and withdraw bans on all sorts of information, especially through the redeeming quality of the open-for-all Internet if only to follow what George Santayana once proclaimed that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” However idealistic one may be in this regard (and I am), we must realise that censorship is still alive and kicking using similar tactics, and will not relax its grip on visual culture anytime soon. Actually, the reverse happens today with the creation of media feuds, censorship laws, and the benefits that such mind-control creates in the name of economic and cultural ‘stability’. Should governments have the ability to control what we see and think?

Perhaps these bans are not even that relevant from the point of view of the public. The interest in history is waining among the young of today and shunned as something that prevents one from looking forward into the future. Perhaps in the West we place too much importance in the past whereas it might be different in Asia – a few comments made by Chinese users on blogs point to that direction. In Chinese contemporary art, however, there seems to be an uncovering of identity and a treatment of archival and historical motifs if only to create a history and Chinese visual culture as a place for critique.

Bloodline: Big Family No. 3 by Zhang Xiaogang via NYT

The greatest example of this is the firewall in China, which, we all now, is bravely trying to protect its Internet against the mongooglian invaders. It is enough to look at history and see that the Great Wall of China, despite being a magnificent construction and the biggest piece of land art ever seen, was at best mildly efficient in its defense of the invaders. Not a very towering wall (much shorter than the concrete wall that now divides Israel and Palestine, for example), the Wall is built on rugged ground which is in itself a barrier to entry, it functions best as a display of technological superiority over its disorganized tribal invaders and thus assumes a greater psychological function than one of actual protection.

The Great-firewall of China may very well be thought of as adopting the same strategy. Even though it is very effective, there are loopholes where one can circumvent the barriers and jump over the fence – one just needs to notice the tactic in order to beat it.

A friend of mine in China has access to the rest of the Internet by paying VPN access at home and can therefore read blogs and connect to Facebook, etc. Even though the barrier is real and Twitter and other social media can be cut off on a whim (remember the recent conflicts in western China last year), China would not make such a sharp cut in access if it is to integrate to the outer world, especially if there are practical gains on the horizon. In fact, mirror versions of Flickr and youtube do exist, albeit with filtered content.

They can’t do without web 2.0, can they?

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