A lesson for China from Egypt

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World

Ever since the demonstrations in Egypt started, the Great Firewall of China has been working overtime to block searches and articles about what was going on. And now that the revolutionaries have won, the censors in China are even more nervous.

The AP pushed a story today that looks at the how and why of Beijing’s concerns: Wary China warns of Egypt ‘chaos’ after uprising.

Even a cursory look at the Egyptian situation makes it clear that the uprising is a major concern of the leaders sequestered in Zhongnanhai.

The massive use of texting and social media to organize the demonstrations. The calls for Mubarak to step down. And the protestors’ unwillingness to kowtow to the authorities.

These are all dangerous acts and ideas to the Chinese.

To counter the calls for democracy or more openness, the Chinese leadership falls back on that old chestnut of maintaining social stability as the most important thing.

“Social stability should be of overriding importance. Any political changes will be meaningless if the country falls prey to chaos in the end,” said the editorial in the China Daily, an English-language paper that is geared toward foreign readers.

Granted, from a Chinese perspective the horrors of the Warlord period and the Civil War make the idea of social instability a serious concern.

The problem — as I have argued before Chinese journalism students and to anyone who will listen — is that without free and open media, people distrust what is published/aired in the official media and depend on rumors and word of mouth.

We have all played the game of “Telephone” and we all know how reliable the end result is. Having to depend on rumors instead of independent media reports is clearly more destabilizing to a society than controlling the news. People end up reacting to the rumors instead of facts.

And to be fair to Chinese government, they are not alone. Iran started blocking most news about Egypt as are the Arab countries. In fact, where ever possible, dictators around the world tried to suppress news of the popular uprising.

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