Geremie R. Barmé: The Harmonious Evolution of Information in China

For China Beat, Geremie R. Barmé puts Hillary Clinton’s recent remarks about Internet freedom in a historical context:

Hillary Clinton’s recent speech on freedom of information and the Internet is a clear enunciation of the long-term rhetorical and ideological divide between various authoritarian states and the liberal democracies. One such state, China, was in 1959 in the grip of a new phase of ideological and nationalistic fervour that would play out with tragic consequences in the 1960s and ’70s. Again, in 1989, the old Maoist strategic response to US policies espousing various basic freedoms served both a familiar, and a new purpose. The effect since—carefully honed patriotic education, the increasingly sophisticated use of the semi-independent media, the guided commentariat on TV and radio—have melded together both as a result of careful planning and sheer happenstance to form a continued response to “Western” efforts and hopes to see China evolve into a more pluralistic society. Since 2005, the Hu-Wen leadership of the Communist Party has pursued a policy underpinned by a strategy to create and maintain a “harmonious society.” It is a kind of harmony that is policed with overt rigour. So much is “harmonized” (和谐掉 hexie diao) in the process of creating a quiescent socio-economic environment in which authoritarianism and plutocracy hold sway, that “to harmonise” has become a common verb in colloquial Chinese meaning “to censor,” “elide” or “expunge.” Under the Party China eschews the old strategy of peaceful evolution and its recent upgrades in favour of what I would call “harmonious evolution” (hexie yanbian 和谐演变).