Parlous PRC Discourse and a Dose of Self-Criticism

As we all huff and puff and, through our links and writings, somehow imagine ourselves complicit in the blowing down of the house of Mubarak, perhaps a bit of self-criticism and cooling off is in order.  Esther Penbassa gets us started with a a scathingly self-critical essay on Rue89, reminding us that Egypt hardly needed Western sponsorship or rhetorical support to accomplish its task, and that Egyptians, after all, led some rather vigorous anti-colonial movements in the mid-1950s.  This was not a completely downtrodden people that needed some Western saviour to accomplish their task.

Or, we could heed Andrian Kreye in the Suddeutscher Zeitung: beware of inflating the impact of “slactivism,” the posting of links, the imagined community.  The Internet, in other words, changes a few things, but doesn’t necessarily change everything or the most fundamental aspects of political process and change.  In a very intelligent essay which also delves deeper into the personalities around Julian Assange, particularly the German netactivist Daniel Domscheit-Berg,  Kreye writes:

Unzählige Twittermeldungen werden mit einem Mausklick weitergereicht. Solidaritätsbekundungen werden ins Netz gestellt und angeklickt. ‘Slacktivism’ nennt Morozov diesen Aktionismus am heimischen Bildschirm, ein Wortspiel aus den Begriffen Slacker (Faulenzer) und Activism (Aktivismus). Für eine wirkliche Revolution muss mehr zusammenkommen – ein kollektiver Leidensdruck, nachvollziehbare Reformideen, Kampfwille, breite Organisationsstrukturen. In den Umwälzungen in Tunesien und Ägypten bleibt das Internet deswgen nur eines von vielen Werkzeugen.

Innumerable Twitter reports can be spread with a click of a mouse.  Expressions of support can be put up and clicked on the web.  Author Morozov calls this ‘Slactivism,” a wordplay on the terms slacker and activist.  For a real revolution, much more has to come together: a collective expression of anger, comprehensible ideas for reform, the will to struggle, and clear organizational structure.  In the social upheavals in Tunisia and Egypt, the Internet therefore remained only one of many implements.

Of course, in the meantime, we can rejoice: after eighteen days, the Huanqiu Shibao, the g0-to official source for Chinese readers who don’t read English and who don’t want to leapfrog the Great Firewall, has really opened up a whole new vista by including photographs of actual protesters on its main page for news from Egypt.  (The tab still talks of “chaos.”)  Of course, no comments on the stories are allowed, leaving us to grapple through keyboard patriots leaving their expressions of solidarity with Nationalist troops who executed Japanese war criminals in Shanghai in 1947.  The people have spoken!  And they support Chiang Kai-shek.


  1. Good post. Rue 89. I should have persevered with my high school French.

    The Net Delusion. Local library bought six copies and already placed my order for that kill the GFW and the people will be free cold shower. The only real Imagined Community is those arguments outlined by Benedict Anderson, which really explains the Tibetan situation. …. the emergence of literacy thanks to the PRC and the partial and subsequent development of national identity.

    As far as auto-critique goes, I’m not indulging this week, since I anticipated BBC’s John Simpson lite-on piece on why the Egyptian army didn’t side with Mubarak govt: fear of the other ranks and junior officers breaking with army command and siding with the demonstrators. A repeat of the Nasserite ascendency and the fact that military service is by conscription, that the ordinary soldier in Tahrir Square was more than sympathetic with those demostrating folks.

    For Egypt, the really interesting times are still ahead of them.

  2. This is an interesting perspective on how much the internet really plays into involving the people into activism. The internet provides a safe place in a way for people to proclaim their views. People are able to speak their minds more freely without feeling the burden of an actual connection to another person since it is all online. Although the internet is not necessarily needed for conflicting thought and then acting on those thoughts, it provides a means for people who would not have spoken out about it in the first place to feel like they are doing something.

    1. I think that’s true, but in the Chinese context, even users at otherwise anonymous internet cafes are supposed to give their ID numbers to the clerks before they can surf. Occasionally, and in peripheral cities, you will find cafes that don’t require this, but in Beijing and Shanghai, other big cities it is quite rare. Now as a foreigner in China, it has become more difficult to get online at such cafes because apparently there is a new layer of bureaucracy that hands out licenses…

  3. While facebook and twitter, tools of the newest generation of protestors worldwide, certainly play a role in promoting political (even revolutionary) action. These sites certainly do provide a forum for open discussion of political and social issues and allow connections to be made between individuals with disparate ideologies or philosophies that have a desire to achieve similar goals. However, in the case of Egypt, the government, headed by President Mubarak, was able to shut down the internet rather quickly in an attempt to quell the growing unrest. Nevertheless the Egyptian protestors were able to succeed in organizing and persuading the president to step down – all without the aid of the ubiquitous social networking tools. No matter how much effort nations such as China put into prohibiting mass social networking through the internet, it seems that even without these resources revolutionary sentiments are able to spread rapidly, especially in extremely populated areas; much as they have for thousands of years.

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