Obsession over Chinese firewall misplaced

Summary:I have learned this about the great Chinese firewall controversy. It is overdone because the genie of freedom is already out.

Having recently spent a week in Chengdu, China, your last stop west before you hit the Himalayas, I have learned this about the great Chinese firewall controversy.

It's overdone because the genie of freedom is already out.

The Chinese I met could care less about blocked Web sites, whether porn or political. Their interests are on getting ahead. They have never had it so good and every adult is using the Internet primarily to make things better for their family.

This is not to say the government policy of blocking impure thought has succeeded. Quite the opposite. It is a total failure.

There are two reasons for this, one technical and one demographic.

The technical reason is the cell phone. Phones are ubiquitous, and the service market is more advanced than our own, thanks in part to uniform technical standards that let users switch carriers.

The government can't effectively censor these devices, because offending content is not obvious.

Among the trillions of SMS messages sent each year, which is using code words that indicate subversion? You can't tell, and Chinese discussing subversive subjects are as adept at covering their tracks as any Mafia don on a wiretap. Badda-bing, badda-boom.

The non-technical reason is China's one child policy, which is creating a generation of kids who look, and act, a lot like America's baby boomers did when we were young.

Take one of my hosts in Chengdu, a young man of 10 who wants his English name to be "Four." As in the number four.

Harmless enough to American ears, but four has importance in Chinese culture. The word sounds a lot like the word for death. Chinese buildings don't have fourth floors -- they go from 3 to 5. (Some also skip 13 to be on the safe side.)

Four is a wonderful, intelligent, sweet kid, a joy. He's also spoiled. While we ate in a local restaurant he jumped around and scampered throughout the place, making noises that would have gotten my bottom whacked at the same age.

China needs Four, and his hundreds of millions of peers. These kids are getting good educations, and their intelligent energy will be vital if the country is to survive its coming demographic nightmare, fewer-and-fewer workers supporting more-and-more retired.

China's survival will be impossible without the willing, even eager cooperation of the "Little Emperor" generation. And the price for that will be high, namely freedom.

While walking around the Dujiangyian dyke, a giant water project begun in the third century A.D., an area still recovering from last year's earthquake,  I got a taste for how this might play out. Two Chinese teens approached, wearing identical pink t-shirts.

Each read, in huge black letters, "Why not?"

If the purpose of the Great Firewall of China was to keep the hearts and minds of its people in line, in other words, the battle has already been lost.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

Topics: Innovation

About

Dana Blankenhorn has been a business journalist since 1978, and has covered technology since 1982. He launched the Interactive Age Daily, the first daily coverage of the Internet to launch with a magazine, in September 1994.

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