Pleasure Hacking on the Chinese Net

At Makeshift, sociologist Tricia Wang examines an often overlooked target of China’s web censorship, and its arguably underappreciated role in building net-savviness and online community spirit.

200 computer screens, stationed one foot apart, flicker through smoky air and fluorescent lighting. Some have as many as four males huddled around with their arms hanging on each other, mostly shirtless. It’s 11pm on Thursday, and even though discounted night hours haven’t started, the Internet cafe is near capacity. Occasional bursts of anger or joy from gamers sound out above the low chatter.

Lao Bing takes a sip of beer and pulls out a cigarette. His shirtless body is frozen in a perpetual slump, his chest hanging over the keyboard. Minuscule movements can be detected in his wrist as he moves the mouse over a rubber pad displaying an ad for affordable abortion services at a nearby hospital.

He types hurriedly into a keyboard crusted with crumbs and dirt. “Damn not working.” He tries again. “Down also.”

[…] The foreigner’s image of China often includes Communist Party officials using censorship tools to prevent citizens from accessing and spreading political messages. We don’t think of people like Lao Bing, chilling in a room with hundreds of males looking at porn.

This week, the Associated Press’ Hyung-jin Kim focused on the other side of the pornography ban equation in South Korea, where one of 800 volunteers who identify offending sites compared his work with “shovelling snow in a blizzard”.

For more from Tricia Wang via CDT, see ‘Sleeping in Internet Cafés: The Next 300 Million Internet Users‘, and her accounts of fieldwork conducted among migrant workers in Chinese cities.