Interviewing People About Censorship in China

The following is a list of posts on the subject:

I am sure that this list will grow in time, as this is a recurrent issue.

First, I will discuss my experience.  So far in the month of November, I have done seven media interviews (one television, one radio, one newspaper and four magazines) and there are more in the pipeline.  This included a session with Carrie Gracie on BBC World's programme, The Interview.  I am happy that there was a worldwide response to that interview.  I have previously described why I accept interviews in the post: Why I Do Media Interviews.  The pertinent point is:

The blogger is a media researcher by profession.  This means that he has lived and fed off the media through his entire career.  As a matter of professional courtesy, he feels obliged to make it easier for the media organizations to do their jobs.  Besides, this was not going to take a huge chunk of his time.  If you show up and tell him what you want, he'll oblige; if you show up with a hidden agenda that you won't inform him about, he'll oblige too.

The EastSouthWestNorth blogger is aware that such encounters may result in distortions, misrepresentations, inaccuracies and so on.  He accepts all that.

So with respect to those recent experiences, what about the big elephant in the room: censorship in China?  Yes, it has popped up in each and every one of those interviews.  The following is a composite picture of the censorship question from those interviews, and it does not refer to any specific interviewer.  As I have said in that previous post, I have no complaints against any of the interviewers so far.  Nothing whatsoever.  They asked what they wanted to ask and I answered.

Here is a general outline.  We go through the preliminaries to explain who I am, when and why I started blogging and what is on that blog.  And somewhere early in the interview comes the inevitable question, which goes something like:

Question: Based upon what appears in your blog, do you worry that you will be arrested by the Chinese police?

At this point, I go through an explanation about how I am a dual citizen of the United States and Hong Kong SAR, and my freedom of speech is guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States as well as the Basic Law of Hong Kong.  Therefore, I don't worry about the prospect of being arrested by the Chinese police.  After all, there is no Chinese police in either the United States or Hong Kong.

Since that first question failed to deliver the goods, the next question becomes more theoretical and judgmental:

Question: Would you agree that it is bad/sad/tragic/unreasonable/abhorrent/deplorable to censor speech?

Who is going to argue against that?  Yes, it is a bad thing, since some of the unsaid things could be potentially beneficial if said.

The next question would be hypothetical in nature.  Since I have no fear of being arrested personally and I am apparently opposed to censorship, I am asked to exercise my imagination.

Question: Can you imagine for us how it feels to live in a society in which speech is censored?

My actual response depends on the rapport that I have with the interviewer by this point.  I may demur and simply say that I imagine that it must not be good.  Or else I may snap back and say that this question is like asking a man whether a woman must be feeling a lot of pain when delivering a baby -- if you want the answer to that question, you ought to ask someone who is experiencing or has experienced it!!!  This was just not a fair question to ask me.

All in all, I am a lousy subject for the big-elephant-in-the-room question.  I am just giving the answer appropriate to someone in my circumstances.  I answer the question truthfully with respect to my situation, but that may not have the intended effect.  That is not my problem.

Of course, this is getting nowhere fast.  I will probably be asked these questions over and over again, and this is wasting everyone's time.  This calls for a different and more constructive response.  In looking at Anti's post: 王建硕的抱怨和BBC的审查/反抗套路:


[translation]  When I think about it, BBC was not wrong.  The censorship/resistance narrative is an important story about why Chinese bloggers are different from western bloggers.  If you want to understand the basic situation about Chinese bloggers, then the objective facts are the rapid growth in numbers plus the censorship narrative.

Here, I would like to integrate the two aspects mentioned above --  the rapid growth in numbers and the censorship issue.  If interviewed again, I will say that censorship exists.  That is an objective fact.  However, I will also state that I am less interested in spending all my time denouncing that censorship because it is going to get nowhere.  That won't change a thing.  Rather, I insist that censorship issue ought be linked to the rapid growth in numbers. 

I would like to imagine that in a short few years of time, there may be 1 billion Internet users in a country of 1.5 billion people and that would be hosting 50 million blogs (plus many more blogs with other blogging service providers).  On that day, who is going to be able to patrol the blogs for 'sensitive' language?  By my count, if the Internet monitoring bureau assigns 30,000 Internet police officers to patrol the blogs, each one of them will have to read 50,000,000 / 30,000 = 1,600 blogs per day.  Good luck!  And what government would dare to shut down and delete the work of 50 million bloggers (including their numerous celebrity bloggers)!

I am not saying that we ought to sit back and wait for that day to come.  In the meantime, it is up to the current bloggers to set up role models, protocol and etiquette.  The point of freedom of speech is not to be able to get on a public pulpit and abuse people and organizations in a loud voice.  Yes, that may make you feel good but it is neither constructive nor productive in the final analysis.  The real point about freedom of speech is to allow individual citizens to express their ideas and thoughts, some of which are significant input and feedback on socio-politico-economic matters.

How can blogs become influential in socio-political-economic matters?  Do you think that it will happen the day after freedom of speech is announced?  No!  So how do we set up the conditions such that blogs become influential?  You work that out by trial and experiment.  And there will come a day when you won't even need an official pronouncement of freedom of speech because you are too numerous by then and you have the freedom already de facto because there isn't a thing that the authorities can do anymore ...

What do I mean by role models, protocol and etiquette?

Look at the EastSouthWestNorth blog as an example.  For discussion purposes, let us assume that it is 'influential' (whatever that means), because those media interviews would not be coming in otherwise.

Why?  How did it happen?  This is just one of many blogs.  So why did the interviewers seek out this one and not something else?  

For one thing, the blogger does not go around bashing everyone else and calling people names such as "human waste," "Communist shill," "KMT agent" and so on.  Although he could do that, he regards this as a total waste of time.  It would make the blog an interesting circus freak show, but it won't interest people for more than a couple of days.

For another thing, the blogger does not go around calling the people to rise up and overthrow the United Nations, United States, the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund, the trilateral commission, the government of any country, and so on.  Although he could, he regards this as a total waste of time.  It would not even make the blog an interesting circus freak show, because enough people have done that and nothing has ever happened.

Those are the things that you don't want to do.  What about the things that you do want to do?  Read the EastSouthWestNorth blog and draw your own conclusions.

Now, who is going to interview me on this?  The next interview is scheduled at 2pm tomorrow, and I'm sure that the big-elephant-in-the-room question will come up too ...

Post-script: Oh my God!  The big-elephant-in-the-room question did not come up in that interview after 3-1/2 hours!!!  But the interviewer has asked to come back in a few days' time again to follow up.

Post-post-script:  In the second interview, the big-elephant-in-the-room question did not figured even remotely after 4 hours!!!  What is going on here!!!???  And this was serious work with a reporter and a team of two photographers and they went all over town to take photographs of me.