Naomi Klein’s Rolling Stone article on surveillance and censorship in China is now out and worth the read. Reminiscent of Greg Walton’s paper China’s Golden Shield (there are some good quotes from Greg in the article), the article explores the massive amount of surveillance in China. For me, it was refreshing read an article on censorship and surveillance in China that moved beyond just looking at how Western companies are profiting from the sale of such technologies to China but how these same companies are profiting from these same technologies are being used here. Moreover, the article provides a welcome departure from the usual China-bashing perspective that is usually so dominant in press coverage on these issues.
China-bashing never fails to soothe the Western conscience — here is a large and powerful country that, when it comes to human rights and democracy, is so much worse than Bush’s America. But during my time in Shenzhen, China’s youngest and most modern city, I often have the feeling that I am witnessing not some rogue police state but a global middle ground, the place where more and more countries are converging. China is becoming more like us in very visible ways (Starbucks, Hooters, cellphones that are cooler than ours), and we are becoming more like China in less visible ones (torture, warrantless wiretapping, indefinite detention, though not nearly on the Chinese scale).
The focus on censorship and surveillance in China should not come at the expense of ignoring these same issues at home. As Klein points out, the scale may be different but the issues are the same and they are connected.