feel pretty safe in my little netbar across from one of the biggest
vegetable/meat/fish/assorted goodies markets in Chengdu. I am surrounded
by Diablo (the latest computer game craze to take China by storm)
playing young fellows, dirty side streets, hot pot stalls and peasant
construction workers tearing down the old city.
I walk a couple of blocks to the Mother River, I enter one of the
more privileged parts of town. Here one finds high-end apartment
complexes being built next to already existing high-end apartment
complexes, empty but grandiose shopping malls and the dust of last
centuryís streets and shacks. On the second floor of one of these
ugly-yet-modern buildings is the new wave of netbar sweeping the
nation. Clean, huge and equipped with RMB5000 computers, ADSL and
the latest games, these netbars are no more expensive than the run-down
dirty one I visit and they serve coffee and tea to boot.
these new netbars are also card-based. Users are issued a card after
they present their passport or identification card and these cards
carry certain perks free cup of Joe after the 1 millionth use and
so on. Last month, several of these new bars opened up for business
with a fresh, gleaming, golden plaque atop the reception desk proclaiming
the endorsement of Chengduís finest. They also close at midnight or
should at least.
new nationwide ordinance requires all net surfers to present
identification so that their activities can be monitored by the
proper authorities. Enforcement is spotty due to the proliferation
of hole-in-the-wall netbars but rest assured that every new net
bar applying for a license must abide by these rules. The owners
of the Red Star Net Bar in the affluent district are not any richer
than the owners of the hole I visit, but they receive a hefty subsidy
from the local government in exchange for their cooperation in keeping
the public misinformed.
the boss of my net bar, shrugs aside the regulations.
they donít come and search, which they wonít, then there is no problem.
Weíre too small for (the police) and they have no time to bother
on the heels of the Harvard Law School study that confirmed what
net users in China already knew that the government is definitely
behind the slow connections, unreachable sites and pointed punishment
of those who check out "subversive" information this seems
to be naught but a continuation of Old Dengís Open Door with a Very
Visible Iron Hand policies. Amazingly, with all the money and time
spent on blocking 20,000-odd sites, the pop up sites when I open
my browser are usually porn sites of some kind.
worse is that the government, according to the study and my own
web surfing experience, is doing a decent job of controlling the
flow of information. Ashcroft must be licking his chops ...
Kong, duped into believing that Beijing would keep its paws off
of the Special Administrative Region after handover, is now facing
a nigh-inevitable lockdown of civil liberties under the ambiguous
and typically Chinese-worded Article 23.
legislation covers subversive activities, sedition, incitement,
unauthorized disclosure of state secrets and otherwise nasty anti-government
doings. The Falun Gong, a favorite whipping boy of Jiang, is able
to practice unmolested in Hong Kong and I have always wondered how
long that will last. A recent conviction in Hong Kong of several
teenagers engaged in an "illegal peace protests" under
the Public Order Ordinance was seen as foreshadowing for future
prosecutions under Article 23 and the future of Hong Kong in general.
South China Morning Post has not exploded all over the story
as one would hope, but ever since the appointment of Tung Chee-Hwa
as Beijingís boy in Hong Kong, the paper has come under fire for
being less aggressive in reporting on the mainland than it could
of Security, Regina Ip Lau Suk-Yee has watched her popularity drop
even as she rigiorously defends Article 23 as a "necessary
tightening" of existing laws which will be interpreted correctly
by Hong Kong courts. She bases her defense on the ability of the
courts to remain politically neutral and to interpret words such
as "incitement" and "intimidation" according
to common law and not Beijing law. Of course, the courts in Hong
Kong need to become politically neutral first. Then perhaps they
should move out of Tung Chee-Hwa/Beijingís shadow.
consequences of making Article 23 part of the basic law could be
disasterous for the SAR if the US Congress listens to the neo-con
lobbyists warhawking about the capitol. Kagan and Kristol and all
of their buddies from the AEI and elsewhere see the legislation
as an opportunity to revoke the special trade priviliges Hong Kong
enjoys with the US, thereby weakening its economy and the economy
of China as a whole.
of the legislation have used threats of a stampede of international
investors out of Hong Kong, but these threats carry no weight just
a little bit west of Hong Kong lies an enormous country with a long
tradition of enforcing Article 23-like laws and the suits just canít
stop talking about the opportunites a newly capitalist dictatorship
presents to the wealthy and morally rudderless. Hong Kong business
might do even better if the people are docile and frightened.
machines are pretty rare in the west of China to begin with. So
I looked with mild interest at the new (empty) one downstairs from
my apartment. I was then stopped in my tracks as my friend pointed
out that the machine was empty but for a row of condoms.
this is new. I have seen condoms for sale at Ito Yokado, the Japanese
"we have it all!" store competing with Franceís Carrefour
for dominance of the super-market. I have also seen condoms, toys,
lacy underwear, crazy thongs and other tools of the oldest trade
being sold next to massage parlors and brothels. But a vending machine
is something new.
same day I watched a discussion of AIDS on CCTV 9ís Dialogue. Then
I came to know the truth. Open Door/Iron Hand was still in full
effect. A decent discussion, guided forcefully and crudely along
the road through political sensitivity.
speakers, representing a Hong Kong AIDS Awareness NGO and an American
NGO based in Beijing, did their best to get the message out that
misinformation would result in an epidemic, while evading questions
meant to steer the conversation toward gays, drugs and whether or
not kissing is dangerous.
show is in English, so right there 90 percent of the population
will understand nothing. They also edited, quite sloppily I might
say, the words "prostitution" and "prenatal"
when the causes for the spread of AIDS were being discussed. And
as always, the discussion kept coming back to the role of those
evil drug users, whores and foreigners who are bringing this disease
mention of the millions of businessmen, peasants, workers,
teenagers etc. who keep the prostitutes busy. Or the ingrained aversion
to sex education that keeps young people confused as to whether
saliva can carry the virus or only drug users and "bad people"
December 1st, the Open Door part of China ran several
articles about AIDS, even going so far as to admit that an epidemic
might exist, that peasants were vulnerable and that innocents should
not be shunned. The Iron Hand aspect solemnly pronounced that Chengdu
has 273 cases of which 268 are either drug users or prostitutes.
if Huís new government seems bent on cracking down to keep stability
in the years to come, people are resourceful and the long arm of
the law doesnít extend into oneís brain. More and more young Chinese
are using condoms, are well informed about AIDS, have computers
at their homes and have learned to conduct "subversive activities"
amongst those whom they trust. As long as this part of society still
exists, crackdowns will be periodical and ineffective, instead of
powerful and permanent.
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Sunnyvale, CA 94086
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