Thursday, October 27, 2011

From Censorship to Creativity

It's not uncommon to hear people in China, both non-Chinese and Chinese, claim that to China's detriment creativity is stifled there -- whether due to traditional Chinese education methods, censorship, or other reasons.  It's an important issue as China hopes to play a bigger role in the world both culturally and economically.  Whatever the case may be, the Chinese government should feel assured that at least in one way its policies are helping to foster creativity.  The engrossing article "Where an Internet Joke Is Not Just a Joke" by Brook Larmer in the New York Times Magazine explains:
No government in the world pours more resources into patrolling the Web than China’s, tracking down unwanted content and supposed miscreants among the online population of 500 million with an army of more than 50,000 censors and vast networks of advanced filtering software. Yet despite these restrictions — or precisely because of them — the Internet is flourishing as the wittiest space in China. “Censorship warps us in many ways, but it is also the mother of creativity,” says Hu Yong, an Internet expert and associate professor at Peking University. “It forces people to invent indirect ways to get their meaning across, and humor works as a natural form of encryption.”

To slip past censors, Chinese bloggers have become masters of comic subterfuge, cloaking their messages in protective layers of irony and satire. This is not a new concept, but it has erupted so powerfully that it now defines the ethos of the Internet in China. Coded language has become part of mainstream culture, with the most contagious memes tapping into widely shared feelings about issues that cannot be openly discussed, from corruption and economic inequality to censorship itself. “Beyond its comic value, this humor shows where netizens are pushing against the boundaries of the state,” says Xiao Qiang, an adjunct professor at the University of California, Berkeley, whose Web site, China Digital Times, maintains an entertaining lexicon of coded Internet terms. “Nothing else gives us a clearer view of the pressure points in Chinese society.”
The article goes on to discuss the efforts of Wen Yunchao and Pi San who have each found their own methods of expressing their ideas creatively in a heavily censored environment.  They each have also had concerns about the impact it could have on their own safety.  The Chinese government may bemoan the treatment it receives by the foreign press, but it's hard to see how they could be any more hard hitting than what has been expressed by Wen and Pi.

There is much more I could say, but for now I just highly recommend reading the full article.  If you're not yet convinced, then maybe the cartoon below (may not be suitable for children due to violence) by Pi San will compel you.  As noted in the web magazine Danwei:
Kuang Kuang’s adventures are pure fantasy, but to many Chinese people born in the 1970s and 1980s, Kuang Kuang’s school experiences are all too familiar. The animations are also the closest thing China has to South Park.

In the episode you can watch below, Kuang Kuang is madder then hell, and he’s not going to take it any more, so he blows up his school, something many overworked Chinese school children have probably fantasized about.
Here's the video:

1 comment:

  1. I applaud the fact that the Chinese populous strains against their free speech chains. The cartoon is telling but let's hope we don't have yet another SOUTH PARK - not my cup of tea! W.C.C.