Monday, May 23, 2005


Rudy Baum, a correspondent with the American Chemical Society, was part of a delegation that had recently been sent to China to conduct a purview of the general scientific situation in China. While there were some striking observations made about the state of research in China, what I found to be the most astounding thing was how the Chinese Government controls the flow of free information with an iron hand. Baum conducted a simple Internet experiment, that nonetheless had enlightening results, to say the least. Baum found out that not only has the Government banned access to many results that can be obtained through Google searches, but it also has instituted a system that can potentially trace and stifle flow of information to selected individuals. Not only that, because of this filtering, it can also specifically promote information which is obviously advantageous not just as a nationalistic and patriotic tool, but also as a means of inciting resentment against other nations...

If this does not convince people that China is still very much a closed and strained society, irrespective of it's impressive growth, I don't know what will (Although I am sure that the Chinese authorities will not surprisingly have 'logical' reasons for implementing these laws, and many more. I will let Baum speak in his own words:

"Late on our last night in Beijing, I conducted a sloppy experiment that nevertheless had fascinating results. My hotel room had high-speed Internet access for a fee, and I had been using it throughout the week to keep up with e-mail and world news via the New York Times and Yahoo. I had not perceived any filtering of the content I had been accessing. In my experiment, I logged on to Yahoo and searched on "Falun Gong," the Chinese religious movement that has been ruthlessly suppressed by the authorities. After a longish wait, I was informed "This page cannot be displayed," the standard page that appears when a website is down or otherwise unavailable. I then searched on "Tiananmen Square" and got "This page cannot be displayed." "Democracy movement in China" and "democracy" likewise could not be displayed.

Then I searched on "Japanese aggression" and got 1,090,000 hits. "American imperialism" got 1,820,000 hits, and "chemistry" got 34,700,000 hits. I tried searching on "Falun Gong" again and, again, got "This page cannot be displayed." "Chairman Mao," "Mao Tse Tung," "Stalin," "Franklin Roosevelt," "Albert Einstein," "Bill Clinton," "Charlie Chaplin," and "Nicole Kidman" were likewise not available. In fact, after my second search on "Falun Gong," nothing was available; my Yahoo search engine had been shut down.

I logged off Yahoo and the Internet and logged back on again. Here are the results of the next searches:

Albert Einstein

Nicole Kidman

Bill Clinton

Chairman Mao

Democracy in China

Falun Gong
Page cannot be displayed

Chairman Mao
Page cannot be displayed"

Baum concludes:
"China seems in many ways like a typical developing country, but it is not. For reasons that are not clear to me, we in the West seem to ignore the fact that China remains a one-party authoritarian state that controls the free flow of information and arrests its citizens for practicing free speech and expressing their religious beliefs. Yes, China is an enormous market, and the world desperately wants to do business with it. Yes, China is advancing rapidly in science and technology, and Western scientists must engage their Chinese counterparts. But let's not delude ourselves and pretend that China is just like the U.S. or Japan or a member of the European Union."

Although Baum says that the advantage of such a system could be that "China is uniquely able to focus the substantial innate energy of its citizens on efforts it deems most likely to bear fruit", trampling access to basic free information is certainly not the way to do it; if anything, it sounds like another one of those pseudojustifications for instituting 'discipline' among a country's citizens. We have one too many examples where such an experiment on a grand scale led to a grander disaster, and thank you, but we don't need to witness it again.

Glad to be living in India...


Blogger Chris said...

Just thought I'd let you know that eric alterman's blog:

has a review of a new book on oppenheimer today.

9:03 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

Since you're discussing China you might this bit of news interesting:

9:06 AM  
Blogger Hirak said...

I would not be surprised if there is another revolution in China. It is amazing how after a decade of prosperity the dam has not yet burst.

8:31 AM  
Blogger Ashutosh said...

Thanks for the links, Chris :)

10:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You might want to take a look at some of Rudy Baum's activities against open access.

8:45 PM  

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