The web’s control and freedom paradox

By Shan Renping Source:Global Times Published: 2017/12/19 20:48:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT


A "performance artist" surnamed Hua from Beijing's Songzhuang has garnered attention from Western media recently. According to Hua's online videos and posts, he was "arrested" by police for shooting videos that documented the demolition of unsafe buildings with potential fire hazards in Daxing district, where a fire, caused by faulty electrical wiring, killed 19 people in November. He was forced to flee the city, passed through several nearby cities but was caught in the end.

Following the tragic fire, Beijing demolished illegal buildings with potential safety hazard. Residents from a few towns and villages have been forced out of their homes in a crude way, which triggered criticism. It is believed that dissatisfaction expressed by the public has affected not only Beijing but also governments and authorities nationwide. Grass-roots governments have since adjusted their work. The incident has thus become a case of benign interaction between government and public opinion.

Yet the behavior of Hua was absurd. When shooting the videos, he was not simply displaying the scene, but was highlighting his own image as a brave recorder. After that, he kept doing live streaming of his "escape," creating suspense.

Hua's escape story is not at all a true reflection of what really happened. There are indeed many videos and photos of the demolition of unsafe buildings, as well as dissatisfaction, scathing posts and articles on the Internet, but no one else was caught up in trouble like the "artist."

Last weekend, Hua sent a video clip to his three-year-old daughter to celebrate her birthday. In addition to singing Happy Birthday, he added a bunch of impassioned words such as "martyrdom" and he does not care if he were to be "killed or put behind bars." While telling his daughter "daddy loves you," he declared a series of his political ideas. But how can a three-year-old understand that? The video is obviously published for adults and Western media, and he used his daughter as a tool to make his video more eye-catching.

I was told that he was brought to Beijing from Tianjin, and was released after his confession was recorded, although this has not been independently verified.

There's no doubt that Hua would not have had a problem if all he had done was shoot some videos from the scene even if his version differed from others. He claimed he might be "assassinated" in one of the videos during his escape, leaving an impression that he is a paranoid maniac.

Of course, we have to admit that opportunities exist for some people to spread rumors or self hype over sensitive incidents in the public opinion field, given that it is not always easy for us to get authoritative information in a timely manner. When it comes to resolving the problem, it is easier said than done.

Hotspots in the Internet have been emerging one after another. Under China's current system, it is impossible not to do any management and control over online information, otherwise, a normal event might ferment chaos.

Yet management and control over heatedly discussed issues online would also bring direct or indirect, short-term or long-term negative effects. This is the paradox of the practice. How to promote coordinated development of online democracy and the rule of law? Exploration in this field has a long way to go.

The author is a commentator with the Chinese edition of the Global Times.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

blog comments powered by Disqus