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Where an Internet Joke Is Not Just a Joke: A Summary

28 Oct

The story talks about the zero-tolerance the Chinese government has towards Internet humour and satire. The strict censorship of the mainstream media has pushed politically aware citizens to the online sphere to share their feelings and thoughts on issues concerning the State.

The writer speaks to some prominent Chinese bloggers and animators. Of note is Wang Bo, whom the writer leads of the story with. The reporter managed to get the renowned animator’s reaction to the detention of a fellow blogger, Ai Weiwei. The latter is China’s most famous contemporary artist and a government critic. The chain of events that follow after Wang got a call which notified him to Ai’s arrest highlights the clampdown of the government on social media. Wang first tried to post a message on his Weibo account (China’s equivalent of Twitter) but his message was deleted by an invisible censor within minutes. Frustrated, he worked overnight and created a 54 seconds animation clip. This went viral, but unsurprisingly, it disappeared after awhile.

Fighting the Chinese government’s censorship is an uphill task for online bloggers like Wang and Ai. Though they “cloak their messages in protective layers of irony and satire”, in a bid to slip past government censors, their postings still gets pulled off by “invisible black hands” and the blogger gets marked.

The Chinese government pours in tremendous amount of resources into patrolling the web, “tracking down unwanted content and supposed miscreants among the online population of 500 million with an army of more than 50,000 censors and vast networks of advanced filtering software”. Despite that, the online sphere is flourishing. These witty anti-government messages still spread like bushfire thanks to the 200 million Weibo population which churns out 40 million messages a day.

Still, the vocal critics show no sign of bowing down to the government. The stricter the control, the more adamant they are at bending the rules, it seems. “No place is safe anymore,” Wen says. “But whenever censorship grows, so do the opportunities for sarcasm and satire.” In fact, they have become more daring in expressing their thoughts. Wen Yunchao, an outspoken blogger who often mounts sardonic Internet campaigns in defense of free speech, even pushed the boundaries and came up with a cartoon that makes a dig at Mao Ze Dong, the revered chairman of the People’s Republic of China. The growing audacity of these online citizens demonstrates what looks to be a long-standing battle between the Chinese government and its people.

The clamp down of the Chinese government will push these political bloggers to oppose in varied ways, mostly under the veil of wit. “Censorship warps us in many ways, but it is also the mother of creativity,” says Hu Yong, an Internet expert and associate professor at Peking University. “It forces people to invent indirect ways to get their meaning across, and humor works as a natural form of encryption.”