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Pranking the Global Times: Ai Weiwei and a lesson in propaganda

The Global Times is a state-run tabloid with a reputation for nationalism and feisty rhetoric.  But today, it posted an editorial describing the rules of online civility. The outer limits of good taste, apparently, stop at the personal cell phone number of Editor-in-Chief Hu Xijin.

Ai Weiwei, artist provocateur and critic of the Chinese Communist Party, on Sunday publicly posted Hu's digits along with others he deemed emblematic of the "wu mao" -- 50 cents, the amount allegedly paid to Chinese state propaganda operatives for each online posting.

The Global Times did not think this was funny. In a column headlined "Lack of ethics is ruining Chinese Web," the paper said of Ai that: "he should be cautious about his behavior, by invading the privacy of his criticizers because of criticism against him, he negated the expectations of those around him."

To get a sense of how strange the experience of reading propaganda in China can be , let's pare this down. We'll put aside discussion of the censorship regime used to choke domestic access to corners of the Internet that don't meet with Beijing's approval. We also will not delve into past Global Times editorials that attacked Ai. Nor will we contemplate the $2.4 million tax bill handed to him by Chinese authorities.

Instead, bear in mind just this one fact: Ai Weiwei was earlier this year held in an undisclosed location for 81 days. He simply disappeared into the hands of state security for almost three months. You'll have to remember it, because as the Global Times complains that Ai's posting of peoples' phone numbers made "them suffer from many prank calls," it does not once acknowledge his confinement:

"Artist Ai Weiwei published the private cell phone numbers of several people on the Internet November 20, making them suffer from many prank calls. The editor-in-chief and an editor of Global Times were among the victims. This is a prominent case in which political dissent drives people to take immoral activities. Unethical political struggles are more active in China's microblog sphere now and even many intellectuals and social celebrities are involved. This should not happen in a rational society. 

The staff of Global Times have no personal grudge against Ai. Global Times has published several commentaries concerning Ai's case since April but has made no personal attacks against him. Besides, these comments were conducted against the background of Western media and foreign governments meddling in Ai's case. Global Times' response is normal work for a newspaper. 

Personal enmities also do not exist between intellectuals and journalists who abused each other online. Differences in political values caused this friction. To overwhelm the other side, they even adopted extreme means that violate laws and morality. 

In the modern history, ideological debate has seldom had a legal platform in China as it was too caught up with real life-and-death political struggles. Chinese society did not develop the tolerance to different opinions. Since the reform and opening-up period, a diversified society has gradually been formed and the rise of the Internet, including microblogs, has provided an unprecedented platform for the expression of opinions. It should be a good opportunity to enhance social communications. However, as many microbloggers try to attract more followers, their posts veer radical, which causes violent opposition online and brings out more negative influences on Chinese society. It is not teaching people how to accept dissent and be tolerant to each other, but is demonstrating how to become prejudiced and assert dominance.

Fierce disputes on the Internet mirror the cruelty of political struggles in China's history through the ages. This also reflects that establishing proper rules to regulate debate among different schools of thoughts and ensuring they contribute to China's progress is rather hard to achieve. 

Nowadays, many intellectuals and celebrities all speak out on the Internet. They should bear the responsibility to enhance a diversified society. Take Ai Weiwei, he should be cautious about his behavior, by invading the privacy of his criticizers because of criticism against him, he negated the expectations of those around him. 

All games have their rules and so does the political game on the Internet. If China refutes any regulation of the online world, its social morality will be damaged. The Chinese government should take measures to regulate the online order and curb the increasingly rampant violations on personal rights, including invasion of privacy and death threats. The relevant authorities should take actions to crack down on these illegal acts while safeguarding the freedom of speech."

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Comments

MiaInChina

What's the point of copying and pasting GT's editorial all over again?

gregorylent

i can see the global times falling out of favor and being accused of subverting the state, simply because it so often makes china look bad in the eyes of the world.

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