There’s no disputing it: China has been making leaps and bounds. They boast the world’s 2nd largest economy. And, they have been “shucking off” communism (Source: Tom Friedman, New York Times) and moving towards “laying a talent foundation for the socialism modernization to be basically realized in the middle period of this century.”
STOP. CENSORING. THE. INTERNET.
But, enough already with blocking the Internet (in case you didn’t know, the Chinese government uses a “filtering ‘firewall’ to prevent Internet users from seeing overseas web sites with content anathema to the Communist Party”.). Seriously, this needs to come to an end. Freedom of expression should not be exclusive to democratic societies. The right to access information without being told what you can and cannot read on the web should be granted to the world’s largest population. China has the most Internet users in the world, reaching 420 million in June according to the China Internet Network Information Center. And 72.6% of China is not even using the Internet yet, so I’m more than willing to bet that their astronomical growth of new users will continue for years to come.
INNOVATION WITHOUT FREEDOM? PLEASE.
If China is going to retain its talent and transform itself from “a manufacturing hub to a world leader in innovation” as the grand objective of its “Talent Development Plan” declares, then why don’t they make a loudly emphatic step in the right direction by completely removing their Internet censorship regulations? It would be a monumental change heard ‘round the world. How can a society whose opinions are suffocated become innovative, much less a leader in innovation? Doesn’t innovation inherently require thinking out of the box? Challenging norms? Questioning the way governments and corporations operate?
But, nope, China doesn’t see it this way. Instead, the government has worsened its restrictions. While official numbers are not available, the subject of my upcoming interview – Ben Crox – says that:
“For the past 1/2 year, the government has continued spending millions of RMB to upgrade & extend the Great Firewall (“GFW”). Meanwhile, they have also tried to eliminate anonymous mobile web access. China enforces greater censorship since the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to dissident Liu Xiao Bo.”
Ben is referencing the imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, who won the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize a couple weeks ago “for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China.” Liu has been a very outspoken journalist who has spent decades criticizing the totalitarian Chinese government in his dream of bringing about a free nation of people able to express themselves freely.
HOW BAD IS IT?
Twitter is blocked. Facebook is blocked. YouTube is blocked. The list goes on… Why? “For fear they will provide a platform to organize or share illicit information.” (Source: Reuters) How are Chinese netizens supposed to benefit from the collective learning available on the web? How are they expected to connect with each other and (perhaps more importantly) the rest of the world to share and learn together? I have benefitted greatly from having access to sites like Twitter. While studying abroad in Singapore (where I had unrestricted access to Twitter/Facebook/etc.) earlier this year, I was able to connect with angel investor/entrepreneur Bill Morrow on Twitter and ended up having a personal meeting with him and being invited to his company AngelsDen’s first funding event in Asia. I also watched countless hours of entrepreneurs’ speeches on YouTube to learn about the ins and outs of starting a company.
In today’s highly interconnected digital world, I cannot imagine tomorrow’s innovators being unable to create value on a level playing field. Not having unrestricted, open access to the Internet is simply a disadvantage too significant to ignore. If you’re going to start a web business, why would you do it in China where you don’t have equal access to the Internet? On next Tuesday, I will travel to China for 3 weeks. I will be blocked from Tweeting, sharing on Facebook, and potentially from blogging about my disagreement with China’s censoring of the Internet.
Tomorrow night, I am going to start posting the segments from my interview with Hong Kong entrepreneur Ben Crox, who will discuss Project West Chamber: an organization whose mission is “to no longer be satisfied with climbing over the Great Firewall of China, but to demolish it altogether”.