Internet-brought democracy yet again imminent in China

Nicholas Kristof today writes about how the internet is bringing democracy to China.

This is the latest, and one of the most explicit, in a long line of American fantasies about how "the Internet is hastening China along the same path that South Korea, Chile and especially Taiwan pioneered. In each place, a booming economy nurtured a middle class, rising education, increased international contact and a growing squeamishness about torturing dissidents."

I'm sitting right now in one of those Chinese internet bars that Kristof seems to think are bestowing American-style liberalism directly upon the Chinese. But as I look around and see all the kids playing first-person shooter games and reading about new movies, I have my doubts. And as for chatting - I don't know about Kristof, but every political discussion I've tried to have over AIM or MSN Messenger has died in seconds.

As the rest of Kristof's formulation indicates, the internet is only a part of the dominant understanding in the USA of how "democracy" is won, viz. market reforms create a middle class which then demands elections and freedom of speech, assembly, &c.

This might be very flattering to the middle class, pro-market writers who propogate it, but it doesn't have much relation to the historical reality of the supposed models or to current trends in the supposedly democratizing countries. South Korea's democratization (such as it is) owes a lot to student and worker protest, very little to the commercial and professional classes that mostly disapproved of such disorder until reforms that served their interests were actually won. In China, the middle class is even less interested in major changes since they're intimately linked to the ruling class thru education and personal connections, and share a deep fear of workers and peasants.

If something is going to happen in China, it won't come from the complacent gamers in internet bars, and it won't follow the smug certainties of privileged Americans.


aaron said...

dude, kristoff definitely sucks. have you seen his nytonline multimedia specials on china? his one on the capital of the world in 1000ad was totally ridiculous. more kristoff bashing!

Chris said...

dude, what is your feeling about political dissidents who use weblogs to communicate with others unsatisfied with their governments. i've heard about this in the context of several coutries, but i don't think china was one of them. are political dissidents wired up? i know that you've mentioned that it can be difficult to access blogspot, and i assumed that was because the chinese government restricts access to it from china's web portals (or whatever they are called... it's important to remember that the united states also does this, tho not to the extent that china does, i'm sure.)

see you soon, buddy.