Think monitoring the IT environment in your school or school district is challenging? Try the nation of China, another authoritarian organization seeking through its IT policies to largely control and limit the freedom of its network users, rather than empower them. According to the CNN article “China steps up controls on blogs” last Friday:

China has 37 million Web logs, or blogs, Xinhua said, citing a study by Beijing’s Tsinghua University. It said that was expected to nearly double this year to 60 million.

How do authorities control user behavior with so many bloggers? Pretty much the same way school authorities in the US monitor and discipline network users who do things outside the local AUP. Content filters block websites and traffic analysis software monitors packets traversing the network for keywords and identified patterns of undesired content or behavior. Of course, the consequences of violating network use policies are considerably different in China than they are in the United States. Ask Hao Wu and his family. According to the same CNN article:

China launched a campaign in February to “purify the environment” of the Internet and mobile communications, Xinhua said. The government will step up research on monitoring technology and issue “admittance standards” for blogs, the report said, without giving details.

Political repression in China is nothing new. Chinese bloggers are not only writing about current events and present situations, but also past events like the Chinese Cultural Revolution. I remember studying this a bit in school myself, but I am not an expert on it. I do know that this movement was the Chinese communist government’s attempt to eliminate its opposition in the early 1970s. According to the current English WikiPedia entry:

Attempts in recent years to reopen discussion of the Cultural Revolution inside China have been suppressed.

So what views qualify as “enemy of the state” comments in China? What qualifies as “censorable” now, and what did during the Chinese cultural revolution? According to Global Voices Blogger “John Kennedy”:

That uncle of mine was a teacher [in China during the cultural revolution] and it was just because of one thing he said, “two seasons of rice crops have been lost, farmers have nothing to eat,” that he was cast as a ‘bad element.’ Just because of one sentence, my uncle’s children had to live with a stained reputation their whole lives. Now I never hear talk of the wearing of a bad element ‘hat,’ just that of a right wing ‘hat.’ And the bad element hat is never removed. He was a bad element for life. Of those ‘land, rich, reactionary, bad, right’ labels, only the ‘bad’ remain to be rehabilitated. That’s why I ask Teacher Ran, is this a case of being left behind by history? People who lived through the Cultural Revolution will all remember the major categories of bad elements at the time, from which I myself knew just how serious an accusation ‘bad’ was. I’ve gone through many books on this, including those on the Cultural Revolution, but there’s no firm and all-encompassing final word on what ‘bad element’ includes. Right wing elements have seen closure and restitution, but have bad elements? They haven’t. That’s why I think of ‘land, rich, reactionary, bad and right,’ ‘bad’ is still worth people to look into. Aside from doing research into the right wing, we could still look at bad elements. This ‘bad element’ is also a reflection of ultra-left thinking.

It would be very interesting to learn what these “admittance standards” in China are. What sorts of ethical, legal dilemmas exist for Chinese bloggers that do not exist for bloggers in other parts of the world– especially those living in countries with democratically elected governments and constitutions recognizing individual human rights? This topic would make a great project for students, especially with access to Chinese bloggers via Global Voices Online.

It is great to hear about Chinese bloggers increasing in number, and speaking out about both historical and current events. The virtual conversations in the blogosphere continue to expand and grow. I can’t help but be struck by the idea that just as many school district IT administrators would likely be happy to limit their users to simple Internet information scavenging and productivity software use, so too would the Chinese government like to limit its growing population of bloggers to writing about mundane, simple, “my life as an online diary” sort of posts. Yet I think we are all called out to do more. To use technology in transformative rather than merely accomodating ways. To speak out about issues that matter, on values like human rights and self-determination, which are worth struggling and fighting for.

The battle by authorities to police blogs and censor those perceived to “speak out of turn” will likely continue, both in China and many other locales. The issue of censorship and the appropriate or inappropriate exercise of that power is a complex and extremely important one, and worthy of further examination by both adults and young people.

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