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Internet Freedom Is Not a Universal Value, Secretary of State Clinton

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on January 22, 2010

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s speech on the universality of Internet Freedom is a wonderful speech that I personally applaud but it is seriously flawed when applied to China and to Google in China. Absolute internet freedom is a value widely shared among hundreds of millions of North Americans, Latin Americans and Europeans but not among the vast, vast, vast majority of Chinese.

I recently spent two weeks in Shanghai and Beijing talking with designers and academics. Here is my sense of how internet censorship and “freedom” work in China. The stereotype of of a distant, old, militaristic censor shutting down blogs and web sites on whim is incorrect. Both the young. high-tech entrepreneurs developing new online businesses and the government censors come from the same good universities, are extremely well-educated and know each other personally. The two sides are in constant contact every day, pushing and pulling, reshaping the zone and focus of censorship. In general, both sides, mostly men in their 20s and early 30s, I am told, are trying to increase the space of what is allowed. I am also told that one problem with Google in China was that it was not tied into this network of censor and censored as well as Baidu and other Chinese web companies. And Google didn’t share the accepted culture of dynamic censorship, further antagonizing the censors.

Two weeks is not a long time in any country, but I did take away the conclusion that for nearly all Chinese, Tibet and Taiwan are as much a part of China as Hawaii and New Mexico are of the US. Government censorship of individuals and groups calling for Tibetan independence is widely applauded, not criticized. It is not an internet space that the younger generation in China wants expanded. However, there is an enormous amount of expressed anger at the rich and powerful all over the net. And throughout contemporary Chinese painting.

I remember going to the 798 art district of Beijing and looking at one installation that listed words. The first word was “propaganda.” The second was “advertising.” The flow of other words expressed the artists conclusion that two were basically the same—messages from powerful institutions designed to persuade you to think one way and behave in a particular way.

In the US, internet users have no problem with letting companies flood their computers at will with cookies that track their behavior and indicate their state of mind. They have no problem allowing companies to use gps to know exactly where they are at any point in time. But should the government be allowed to do this? Never. This is a cultural decision as much as a political one.

I totally agree with Secretary of State Hillary in keeping the internet free but mandating it as a “universal” right is a reach too far. European nations mandate universal health care as a “universal” right. How do Americans feel about that?

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Reader Comments

Steve Nelson

January 22, 2010 09:05 PM

In China, people can be, and are, arrested, tried and jailed for expressing their opinions on politics, religion and social issues. In the United States, they are not. I am thankful that I live in the U.S.


January 22, 2010 09:08 PM

Is hardly seems meaningful that most citizens of China, who are carefully insulated by censorship from learning too much about the circumstances or sentiments of the Tibetans, support the conquest and colonialism of Tibet by China. When there is no freedom of information, on the internet or elsewhere, the opinions of the citizenry are meaningless.

And why os the opinion of the citizens of the conquering nation a deciding factor, anyway? I imagine that most citizens of England prior to the American revolution sincerely believed that the American Colonies were part of the British Empire. It seems more relevant to ask the Tibetans how they feel about the matter.

Anime Master

January 22, 2010 09:20 PM

Absolute internet freedom is a lie. It doesn't exist at least not in America and that's a good thing. We have laws about what is and is not allowed on the web, for instance laws to protect intellectual property and copyright. We have strict laws prohibiting child pornography. Would you blame a country for filtering out dangerous data like how to build a bomb or blocking access to terrorist forums. China has different laws about what is and is not allowed on the web. To claim that our view about what should be allowed on the web is a universal right is self riotous and arrogant.

C. Mullen

January 22, 2010 09:33 PM

Here's the problem with generalizations, they ignore the margins.

"In the US, internet users..."

I have a problem with all of those things you listed, and so am able to actively use tools to prevent companies from accessing that information. Were I to do the same to prevent the GLORIOUS CHINESE FIREWALL from tracking my movements, I would be caught and sent away never to be heard from again.

This isn't a case of a cultural difference. This is you defending a country that persecutes its own populace for expressing their beliefs. No one proposes that "The South shall rise again" be censored and punished by imprisonment. Yet you condone the Chinese government for effectively doing the exact same.

Go ahead and tell yourself that the academics on both sides are vigorously working to expand the space of free speech. Ignore the suffering of oppressed groups who have no voice, by virtue of birth and belief.

I hope your free trip to China was worth the selling of your integrity.

Santiago Cueto

January 22, 2010 09:39 PM

I side with Secretary Clinton, along with the United Nations, which view access to information as a fundamental human right. Secretary Clinton’s remarks concerning the” information curtain” dividing the world, reminded me of the apartheid era where much greater injustice and unspeakable acts against humanity were challenged and ultimately overcome through the use of corporate codes of conduct. Given the success of codes of conduct in ending apartheid, we should look at applying the same principles to, at the very least, minimize the censorship of information in repressive countries such as China. This was the subject of an article on the International Business Law Advisor, How Lessons from the Apartheid Era Can Help Tear Down the Great Firewall of China


January 22, 2010 09:39 PM

head on, that's why US can't impose its view upon everyone else and call it "universal value" at the same time. It's rude on a personal level, and hedgemonic on a national level.


January 22, 2010 09:39 PM

When American women go to some Middle East countries, they cover their heads. How is so difficult for some to understand countries are different.
Want “universal Internet freedom”? Define it. Is pornography part of Internet freedom? How about child pornography?
Anti-government is freedom, how about “Jihad” against American government?


January 22, 2010 09:42 PM

Hillary - get real. The Internet is NOT even a freedom in the US thanks to your support and vote to ratify Bush/Cheney's Homeland Security Act. You were party to basically saying adios to the FISA court in favor of stomping over the individual freedoms of American citizens.

Unlike the American people, China doesn't have to listen or be controlled by the US Theocrats....yes, the Clintons have close ties to that secretive DC group known as The Fellowship. The creeping control by the religious fanatics in the US needs to be's mainly Repubs but they have a smattering of Dems like the Clintons within their ranks as well.

We should begin with killing the President's National Prayer Breakfast...basically the annual convention for the Fellowship and giving them face time with Presidents and foreign leaders they're attempting to recruit into their power center.

Internet Freedom in the US - give me a break.

The sad part - the US Main Stream Media is failing to keep them honest.

Wear you decoder ring people: Conservatism in the US means one who is connected and part of the ruling class - and they want a strong military and they want to control (the heck with individual rights) each and every one of us (common little Americans).


January 22, 2010 09:42 PM

Freedom of Speech is a universal right, the universal right of a free internet stands within its scope. All of internet is speech, argue otherwise?


January 22, 2010 09:44 PM

Dead on.

Also for one to shout for complete Internet Freedom, one must have complete Internet Freedom.

Does Google not censor anything under US own security law? What is the Digital Media Initiative Act? What is Google's Chilling Archive?

Questions that Google should answer before shouting along with Hilary Clinton of an uncensored internet.


January 22, 2010 09:45 PM

"It is not an internet space that the younger generation in China wants expanded."

So, the government control over the availability of information in China (particularly that of dissent) is based on democratic principles?


January 22, 2010 09:48 PM

With all this talk about internet freedom, why not focus a little on AUSTRALIA and its lack thereof??


January 22, 2010 09:50 PM

Google does not want to be part of pushing and pulling of censorship. Do you? Kudos to Google. Google should get out of content provider and license the engine to Baidu.


January 22, 2010 09:53 PM

Huh?? To quote:
"I did take away the conclusion that for nearly all Chinese, Tibet and Taiwan are as much a part of China as Hawaii and New Mexico are of the US"

Tell that to the Tibet and Taiwanese who believe otherwise. If the US took over Mexico over the objections of the Mexicans, would it be OK since there are more people in the US in favor of that?

And confusing advertising with government censorship incredibly obtuse. Advertising doesn't forcibly prevent users from seeing content.

Sounds like someone fell for Chinese propaganda. Can't believe this article is in businessweek!

Footy Fan

January 22, 2010 09:56 PM

What nonsense!! Illogical statements strung together does not make an essay.

You assert that Chinese people (that you met btw) agree with their government censors - this is a classic "is-ought" fallacy.

I'm sure most people in South Carolina (pre-Civil War) disapproved of giving slaves freedom - does that mean that that view is right?

If internet users are allowing companies to track them, it's their choice - they can opt out whenever they want and if they can't then it's illegal for that company.

Chinese government otoh has given the people no choice - you either like it or live with it.


January 22, 2010 09:56 PM

I am so sick of this kind of article and this kind of author, who went to China and talked to bunch of elite people in Beijing or Shanghai, and then declared that CHINESE are happry like no tomorrow. what a sick logic!! do you ever hear about vest intrest? confirmation bias? Any China hand knows Beijing and Shanghai is not China!!! People in elite universities are not Chinese, most of time, figurelly!


January 22, 2010 09:56 PM


Andrew Clark

January 22, 2010 09:59 PM

Did you have the opportunity during your two week stay to visit Tibet? I didn't think so.

Perhaps you should ask the Taiwanese before you consign them to the fate of being a Chinese satellite.

IBM cannot put a gun to my head, put me in a re-education camp, and bill my family for the cost of the bullet when they finally decide to blow my brains out. This is why I want restrictions on government, and why the Constitution of the United States outlines a relationship between the people and the government which serves them -- NOT the other way around.

It is really too bad that you bought so heavily into the Chinese government's view of itself. If you love China so much, renounce your US citizenship and go live there. Just don't complain if you disappear one night.

Ire Verent

January 22, 2010 10:00 PM

The Chinese are controlled from cradle to grave by a government who uses machine guns for student crowd control and which does not allow any free press. How can anyone trust their opinions because they cannot come any where close to knowing the truth only what the government chooses to provide them. Without a free press opinions cannot be informed only memorized and regurgitated. For half a century they have been indoctrinated in communist madrassas on the evils of big capitalism, imprisoned if they object, and millions of intellectuals purged. Is this the totalitarian engineered so called "cultural difference" we are supposed to trust?


January 22, 2010 10:03 PM

"European nations mandate universal health care as a “universal” right. How do Americans feel about that?"

I feel fine with that statement. No more ridiculous sweet 16 birthday parties on MTV until everyone gets health-care. It is a human right, accumulating as money as you can steal from others isn't. Freedom of information is also a human right, the alternative is to tolerate censorship in the preservation of inequality. Which unfortunately, you seem to be complacent with.


January 22, 2010 10:05 PM

This post reflects the extreme naivete of reporters and the American media in general when it comes to China's true intentions. It shows your refusal or inability to see the dark side of the ruling communist regime. If anyone has seen what the Chinese did in Tibet (watch the documentary on PBS) or what they are now trying to do to the Northeast provinces in India - asserting territorial sovereignity over areas that were never part of china, and destroying any signs of local culture, religion (as they did in Tibet), freedom, you would not take such a mild and forgiving view of China.

Chris Beath

January 22, 2010 10:05 PM

Good gravy sir.
At least check your article for grammatical error.
The word is Internet. It should be capitalized.

Notumbus Bumbus

January 22, 2010 10:07 PM

While it can of course be seen as a case of "do what we say, not what we do," there is still, and always will be, a case to be made against censoring what I or you or anyone should want to see/learn/study. Am I a spoiled American for that attitude? Sure, but I have had more than 200 years of just that freedom (yes, still being fought here, and still not without restriction, but headed always in the right direction, attempts by the Far Wrong to mandate differently notwithstanding.)

So yes, there is an argument one can make for the relativistic, but I think Google's decision (still not finalized, I understand) is based more on the major hack they and other corporate players have recently experienced, issuing from China, than on the nuances of Tibet or Tie Bet. The Chinese government, as with the US, wants to have it both ways - they want to play with the rest of the world, but insist the rest of the world bow to their idea of control. Both countries have it wrong on this, and both will remain at loggerheads for much of the near future.

I think the more important issue, by far, is whether US and other corporations will bend to the China wind, or quit making their deal with the devil, stick to some core Constitutional principals, or suck up to the money, and freedom/democracy be damned. Maybe Google (though I strongly doubt it) is ready to lead the way into a responsible future.

I certainly would not count on China to do so any time soon.


January 22, 2010 10:09 PM

Hillary shedding croco tears over Net censorship is pretty strange, given that it was Hilly who was whining about bloggers' unchecked freedom to bash and trash fine people like... herself. In fact she was advocating certain CONTROLS.

I personally oppose censorship in China, in the US and everywhere and, let's not forget, the US has a growing number of THOUGHT CRIME laws (read Orwell anyone?) they are called 'hate crimes' but thought crimes is what they are and our friends, the Euros, are happily incarcerating Hollowcast deniers, just for the fun of it, because they dared SAY something that was... illegal.


January 22, 2010 10:09 PM

is the comparison valid? advertisement sells a product and propaganda drives a public policy. you can choose not to buy a product but you can't have any say on the policy with a controlled internet. that's where the internet should be as free as the air we breath.

Lila Sovietskaya

January 22, 2010 10:09 PM

I am the manager of a femdom web site, an adult website. Here is my statement on censorship

Some authority prevents you from seeing what you want based on their moral believes. Clearly, if an adult website or any website incites crime, it needs to be dealt promptly by the authorities. Freedom of speech must coexist with respect of existing laws. Freedom to speak against laws that are not welcome should not be curtailed.
Censorship does not stop the propagation of what people want to see. It merely drives it underground or elsewhere. For example, YouTube censors adult material; therefore, adult material vanishes from YouTube to appear elsewhere. YouTube policy merely prevents adults from seeing what they want at YouTube and makes viewers go away from YouTube to other sites where adult material is accepted

Those who claim that the adult industry poses a threats to minors an adults who do not want to see such media, close their eyes to the fact that technology exists to block minors from accessing adult material and that it is their responsibility to implement such restrictions. Adults who do not want to access accidentally such media can also use the restrictions.

Adult web sites, like mine, often place code on their pages to warn browsers and search engines that the site contains adult material. These technical restrictions are much better than censorship, where somebody prevents somebody else for viewing what they want to see.

A better solution to censorship, is red-zoning, adult websites must be obligated to carry the adult warning code, like mine does, so that they can be segregated for adults who want to view such media.

Lila Sovietskaya


January 22, 2010 10:15 PM

New Mexico? What?

Maybe Alaska?


January 22, 2010 10:17 PM

What are you talking about Bruce? There is always news in the papers and TV about Americans (perhaps) overly concerned with private companies collecting private information. As a Canadian living in the United States, I have often noticed how Americans view large corps and government with suspicion. Canadians on the other hand are too accepting and trusting. I don't think this attitude is by accident. Just look at America's short history how and why it became independent. Canadians can afford to be a little less vigilant because our giant neighbours south of the border would certainly balk at a repressive Canadian government. For all the Chinese have accomplished economically in the last couple decades, I don't think they would every be phrased as the "Great Chinese People". I wish they would stand up for themselves sooner rather than later.


January 22, 2010 10:17 PM

I agree. Perhaps for those inpower or the ill educated US masses "corporate right" masquandering as universal right of regular people is not that obvious. Got cancer no problem your doctor Hillary Clinton, or Obama will write you prescription for WebMD. Given the choice I will choose universal health care over free internet any day.

Douglas Gray

January 22, 2010 10:17 PM

I am sure that most Germans agreed with Hitler in 1939 that Germany had every right to invade Poland.Did that make it right?

I am not aware that in order to annex Hawaii and Alaska, that we had to kill a few million Tibetans, as have the Chinese. Indeed, many "well educated" young Chinese are most likely totally unaware of how many Tibetans have been killed by their government.

During the Rwanda Holocaust, many well-educated people thought it was fine to exterminate the Tutsis, which they did.

Mr. Nussbaum seems to think that belief makes it right??? Interesting basis for making moral decisions.

Remember Mr. Nussbaum, this is where they just executed a mentally unstable man who was duped into bringing heroin (a pain killer with the same effects as morphine, only less addicting) into their country.


January 22, 2010 10:18 PM

I like how you attempt to show that censorship is ok as long as the academic technocrats are in charge. One group choosing what another group can and can't read isn't anything approaching freedom, no matter how well-intentioned.

Then you point at an art piece, attempting to support the idea that the people themselves don't want to be subjected to advertising- as a way of avoiding some power structure imposing it's way of thinking on them. Please reread my first paragraph.

As for your assertion that people in the US have no problems with tracking cookies, et al; you're just wrong. Plenty of people do. People that don't have a problem with it likely don't know about it, understand it, or know how to prevent it. Americans are very protective of their privacy.

Your basic point is sound; that attitudes toward censorship are culturally based. This is self-evident. Specious arguments aren't necessary to prove it.


January 22, 2010 10:18 PM

Regarding your final question - Americans support the notion of healthcare provision as a basic right, if most polls are to be believed, by a fairly wide margin. The only question is of whether it's provided via emergency rooms, or in a more orderly fashion.


January 22, 2010 10:23 PM

"And Google didn’t share the accepted culture of dynamic censorship, further antagonizing the censors."

How does that give anyone the right to hack into Google's systems?

"censorship of individuals and groups calling for Tibetan independence is widely applauded"

Again, the issue at hand is not to pass judgment on the practices of the Chinese government or their people. The issue is a violation of a number of corporations. Proprietary data was stolen, systems were compromised and trusts (if ever there were any) were broken.

"In the US, internet users have no problem with letting companies flood their computers at will with cookies that track their behavior and indicate their state of mind."

Actually I do. And I'm an American. And I'm not alone.

"They have no problem allowing companies to use gps to know exactly where they are at any point in time."

Oh yeah, I'm not really into that either.

"But should the government be allowed to do this? Never."

Well there I agree.

"European nations mandate universal health care as a “universal” right. How do Americans feel about that?"

Pretty good actually. If propaganda from insurance industry lobbyist wasn't jammed down our throats I'm sure more people would be in support of it.

"mandating it as a “universal” right is a reach too far."

The same could be argued for the right to personal freedom of choice. Do you also support slavery as long as it's in another culture? How about organ harvesting from humans bred for the purpose?

Just because I should respect another country's right to differing values doesn't mean I need to agree with it or participate. If Google pulls out of China I applaud their decision. If the average American had that sort of backbone our economy would be in a better place.


January 22, 2010 10:39 PM

The author is basically saying China's form of censorship is OK for China because the educated and informed Chinese don't really want their uppity minorities to make trouble using the Internet. But don't the opinions of the Tibetans and Tiennamen activists count at all? With that attitude why should anyone have bothered to save the Jews from Nazi camps since Germans didn't like Jews anyways?

Andrew Austin

January 22, 2010 10:52 PM

"European nations mandate universal health care as a 'universal' right. How do Americans feel about that?"

We feel that it should be a right here, as well.


January 22, 2010 10:54 PM

Sounds like two weeks was enough to drink the Kool-Aid.

The fact that China's brainwashing of the citizenry has been largely successful doesn't somehow make the regressive predominant attitudes towards human rights, Tibet, etc. any more acceptable.


January 22, 2010 11:00 PM

It is tempting to dismiss Chinese censorship concerns on the basis of "their values are different", and indeed the Chinese government promotes this view. However this is a disingenuous argument. Most of the censorship there is clearly aimed at protecting the current regime, not upholding some cultural norm. Filtering porn is fine, but filtering discussions about Tienanmen Square or Falun Gong is something else entirely. I personally believe everyone on Earth has a right to not be coerced by the people in power, in this way.

That said, the Chinese are very patriotic and love their government -- much more so than in any Western country. There is overwhelming support there for the government's actions, in large part because the quality of life is improving quickly. When this trajectory slows down, as it inevitably will, then things will get very interesting in China.

Harry Tuttle

January 22, 2010 11:02 PM

Is there a point here other than that you mildly disagree with Clinton's rhetoric and that you just now discovered the concept of cultural relativism?


January 22, 2010 11:06 PM

Health care is a universal right of all humans. Free speech is a universal right of all humans (not corporations). The only people who think otherwise are Simon LeGree, Thomas Malthus, and George Fitzhugh, and Antonin Scalia.


January 22, 2010 11:08 PM

very true. if it's free, people/countries should be able to choose whatever fits the landscape of the local situation, and it's the local people's opinion not some other countries' that matter.


January 22, 2010 11:08 PM

Who did you say has internet freedom again? Australia, Italy, France and the UK either already have or are planning to have highly questionable internet censorship laws. The Australian plans have been the subject of massive criticism not least of which comes from ISPs in that country.

Governments have lusted after controlling ad censoring the internet ever since it was born. The only reason they haven't been able to is that, until recently, it has been technically impossible. It still can be worked around.

I'm against these countries attempts to censor just as much as I'm opposed to China's totalitarian approach. Mark my words, bureaucrats in the UK and Australia look with envious eyes to China's Great Firewall. Be afraid. Be very afraid.


January 22, 2010 11:28 PM

Although China might feels like this is non of our business, because this is their country we are talking about. However, it is with in our power, and because we are all human and that we share the same cyberspace, but most of all: because we care, therfore it is our duty to speak for the Chinese people.

We have a duty to speak for the oppressed. We have an obligation to defend the weak. We are required to do justice for the wronged. We are demanded by our conscience to let people free. Because, we can, therefore, we must.

Furthermore, China needs to understand that the internet is a free zone, like international waters, and it does not belong to any one sovereignty. I'm disturbed that the author does not have a firm understanding of the concept of internet and made comparison to a regional program such as health care, which falls under the jurisdiction of a sovereign nation.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did not mandate Internet freedom as "universal" right when it is not. Everyone on the internet is supposed to have "universal" right because is a global property we all share, and therefore the right is supposed to be "universal".

China could just shut down their connection to the rest of the world and that would make this their own internal problem. Although, if that were to happen, we would still be outraged at the Chinese government for treating their own people that way. Heads up! is a catch-22 XD

David V.

January 23, 2010 12:06 AM

FYIW: As an American business owner, I feel that health care should be a 'universal' right. As it is, I lost my healthcare when I left the company I'd been with for years to start my business.


January 23, 2010 12:07 AM

You couldn't be more accurate. A great article!


January 23, 2010 12:24 AM

Hillary Clinton couldn't even track her own husband, and she's purporting to dictate to the world how to live and what to do? HAHAHAHAHAHA! Get real.

This is the biggest crock of propaganda every spewed out of the White House. Google was a major contributor to the Obama campaign. China has the largest Internet population in the world. The *supposed* attack on Google was not sophisticated. The CIA, SS & CERT are all well aware of the so called port scans and "alleged" hacks supposedly originating from "China" and have been so for years, and have done nothing - the IP addresses they supposedly come from have contact information that is valid. It is, after all, good for our economy to sell security software and keep whatever software developers that are left here in the US in work. The first report of these came from a supposed "Congressional Aide" on some hokey political site over a year ago. This is nothing new. China has the world's largest Internet population users in the world, and *we* stand to lose a lot of money on advertisers with porn being the biggest money generating source. Google forgets China is their *customer*, and regardless of what WE want and like, it is China's choice what *they* want and like, and certainly not Hillary Clinton's.

Our National Internet infrastructure security is a joke here, in fact if one calls the White House and asks to speak with the "Cyber Czars" office, they will tell you they don't even know what a cyber czar is.

Google, Microsoft and Yahoo all paid the Obama campaign a great deal of money, and now they want their returns. This administration has been bought and paid for to do Google's marketing. Pathetic, indeed.

Hillary Clinton hosted a Secretary of State dinner for Google not too long ago. And we've got a neighboring Nation experiencing one of the worst natural disasters in history, but this is what our reponsible governing bodies are focusing on. God help us all.


January 23, 2010 12:28 AM

Many of your points are valid. The main point being that the American definition of freedom isn't THE universal definition. As you stated, propaganda and advertising are similar forms of communication designed to convince a person of an idea. However, if a person ignores or refutes an advertisement there are few, if any, repercussions. A citizen of a government can choose to ignore or refute a government's propaganda, but the repercussions vary depending on the particular government. A corporation can't send you to prison for refusing to purchase their product.

Does 'free internet' = 'free press' = 'free speech'? Doesn't speech help to reduce government corruption? The internet is a powerful communication device that can be used publish ideas instantly to a vast audience. Of course it is in the interest of the corrupt and powerful to control and manipulate communication in order to remain in power.


January 23, 2010 12:41 AM

First of all you are business do not define what is and what is not when it comes to technology. You have no right nor do you have the knowledge to do so. Americans want universal healthcare its the insurance care they don't want. You and your ilk are a small greedy and evil group and your days are numbered.


January 23, 2010 01:01 AM

You [author of this article] state that ''...for nearly all Chinese, Tibet and Taiwan are as much a part of China as Hawaii and New Mexico are of the US. Government censorship of individuals and groups calling for Tibetan independence is widely applauded, not criticized."

Are you trying to argue that IF most people agree with the state view of a particular political issue and that censorship of the people that disagree is applauded THEN censorship of all dissenting views is applauded? If not, what are you trying to say? Of course most Han Chinese who live on the mainland consider Tibet and Taiwan to be a part of China. Do the Tibet and Taiwanese people agree? Are they allowed to voice dissent? If you have left China thinking that Tibet and Taiwan should be a part of China is it because you have evaluated the facts fairly and come to your own decision or you have been swayed by 'propaganda'?


January 23, 2010 01:02 AM

Excellent Article and summed up well at the end.
"European nations mandate universal health care as a “universal” right. How do Americans feel about that?"

Purely Awesome.


January 23, 2010 01:05 AM

China is wearing Japanese arrogance, now.
Even though majority of Chinese are poor, Chinese Communist are playing the Royalty game, ironically.

American arrogance is moaning in wall street in pain, when humanity is deep fried and served with fried in Capitol for highest bitter. President is not that good a actor. Even he is not able to resist the taste of Royalty and relentlessly keeping the American poor poorer and enriching his newly admitted club of riches.


January 23, 2010 01:34 AM

This article is seriously flawed. Defending censorship is asinine. Of course people applaud censure of unpopular beliefs. That's not just China, that's everywhere. Fortunately, we have come to realize that equality as an individual means having an equal voice.
How can one have freedom of speech if others are forbidden to hear it? This freedom is an inalienable right. Government does not provide these rights - they are innate and it is the governments job to defend those rights from encroachment, not to provide them. Even if you are alone on an island you have freedom of speech. However, comparing that to health care as a universal right is preposterous. Health care is a service, it must be provided for you. Stating that we should help others is a great moral code but that is something far different from stating that others have an inherent right to our efforts and resources. One is liberty based in compassion, the other is control based in greed.
Even implying that people with filtered information have an accurate perception of the big picture is absurd. When talking about Tibet and Taiwan why don't you mention the popular belief in China about Tienanmen Square? You know, the one where the state media has propagandized the population to believe it was terrorist activity...where the rest of the world has an entirely different viewpoint based on A DIFFERENT UNFILTERED SET OF FACTS!!
Please stop writing. Please do not share your PROPAGANDA with anyone else. I will defend your right to, but your line of reasoning is as cogent as Ptolemaic astronomy. Please seek a new career as a China.

this is garbage

January 23, 2010 02:18 AM

Wow, Nussbaum. What exactly are you trying to say? That censorship of unpopular ideas is OK as long as it has a popular mandate?

Something doesn't have to be accepted by the majority to be a "universal" right, and I think America's experience with slavery and segregation proves that. Ever head of the "tyranny of the majority"?

This is six pathetic paragraphs of tacit approval for the curbing of basic human rights. Next time, try thinking before you hit "post".

David Longinotti

January 23, 2010 02:29 AM

In comparing internet freedom to universal health care, Mr. Nussbaum fails to distinguish between legitimate rights and government entitlements. Two people who wish to communicate on the internet impose no burden on anyone else; force is initiated by those who block them. Unlike voluntary communication, universal health care is implemented by coercion (taxation); some people are forced to pay for the health care of others. That there may be a majority in favor of such an involuntary transfer of wealth does not change the fact that individual rights are thereby violated - unless might makes right.
The real failing of Ms. Clinton is in her obsequious request of the Chinese dictators to find the perpetrators of the internet abuse. That's like asking Al Capone to investigate the source of crime in Chicago.


January 23, 2010 02:36 AM

well said.Whatever hillary clinton thinks 'universal' is not 'universal' for all in the world. each country has its own ethics, culture and policies which other should respect it. if google don't like to obey and respect chineese policies then it should not be doing business there.


January 23, 2010 02:55 AM

Non-violently protesting without being crushed by a tank is not a universal value.

I guess, by your logic, you should accept it. (I can't).

Not that many Chinese would know, since they cannot read about such accomplishments of their dictators. Their government protects them from such disturbing knowledge. Should they be thankful to their self-appointed parents?

The Chinese dictators and their university friends find it easy to make quick money when they have absolute control. And they want everyone to accept things as they are. And they'll compensate western reporters well to help them. How odd?

Btw, I am ending my subscription to your employer, so that I do not have to read anymore ridiculous apologies of murderers.

Dan Warner

January 23, 2010 03:05 AM

Why does the phrase "dynamic censorship" send a chill down my spine?

Craig Mattoli

January 23, 2010 03:46 AM

Wow. You spent such a long time in China. You must know every subtlety. Pointing out how google was not tied in with its sensors, you might know, is called guanxi, in China, which is an entirely differnt problem with doing business here. Also, intersting that you point out the art district, which has now all but gone under. Sounds like you are really "in touch" with the pulse beat of all that is China. Some of your other conclusions are not even worth addressing.


January 23, 2010 03:54 AM

Mandating the Internet would only be a reinforcement of what the intent of the Constitution was. If you think that universal healthcare isn't in the Constitution, I'd say you missed the Preamble, which summarizes the founding principles of this country...

"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

Should be read as...

"We the founding Fathers, in Order to create the most kick@ss Country in all the Land, claim These founding Principles -- Equality of Rights, Peace, Security, universal Health/Well-Being, and Freedom -- for ourselves and All of our Spawn."

General = Universal
Welfare = Health/Well-Being

Put 'em together and what do you get?!?

I'd say that the Founding Fathers would have ADORED such things as NHS and a truly FREE Internet.

It's amazing to me how few men and women actually know what the Constitution says.


January 23, 2010 04:09 AM

Americans often assert freedom of speech and freedom of assembly as universal values and many chinese would disagree with that as well. Is it wrong for the Secty of State of the U.S. to assert that freedom of assembly and speech are universal values? Freedom of religion? Even when not everyone everywhere believes that they are? FYI - the Chinese word for advertising / promotion and propaganda are the same word. Maybe you are reading too much into a culture you are unfamiliar with.

Niels Boegholm

January 23, 2010 04:38 AM

Mr Nussbaum - agree that most westerners do not understand the nuances and multiple dimensions around censorship in China but you totally fall into the trap of taking opinions from self-censored chinese as "the truth".

Your comment about Tibet/Taiwan or general acceptance of censorship fail to realize these opinions have been -frankly- indoctrinated on a whole generation from birth with no room for counterpoints or critical thinking. It's like asking North Koreans what they think about about Kim-Il-Sung or asking americans in the deep south in 60ies what they think about racial equality - garbage-in, garbage-out.

As for pro/con Clinton's speech - we are all entitled to our opinions but I am disappointed in your lack of questioning even basic information during your visit; guess 2 weeks was not enough..

Dan Warner

January 23, 2010 05:01 AM

London Review of Books quite a take on the history and future of sinophilia/phobia:


January 23, 2010 06:02 AM

This is an absurd defense of a totalitarian Government that doesn't trust its own people with the truth or to even allow them to decide what is the truth. There is nothing "cultural" about keeping your citizens in the dark.


January 23, 2010 07:03 AM

ain't free in usa since the patriot act .. hypocrisy

Michael B. Rollo

January 23, 2010 09:58 AM

I beg to differ. I lived, worked, and taught English in three different Chinese cities in three different regions for more than six years. I left there in July 2009.

Falungong, Taiwanese independence, Tibetan independence, a multi-party system, and several other categories are strictly forbidden from open discussion.

The Chinese government is phasing in a mandatory training course for all visiting teachers which I have been previewed covers political issues.

My gmail account was inexplicably blocked, perhaps because i had automatic news searches about topics of interest to me.

Three years ago a French colleague was visited at his apartment by some Chinese policy agency in response to his Falungong Internet searches the night before.

The Chinese government admitted several years ago that it employed 30 thousand people to "monitor" Internet use.

Routine internet searches on specific websites are completelyl blocked. "Epoch Times" is one of them. Any time a news story breaks that details a controversial agreement, treaty, or action by the Chinese government related to another government, those stories will not come up on one's screen; a notice appears stating that the story cannot be found despite your having read it's summary and its URL.

These actions are NOT equivalent to Americans being monitored using gps. These actions are NOT equivalent to "advertisements" and junk mail for goods and services one has not requested. These actions ARE invasions of privacy. They ARE infringements of free speech. These actions are tkane to track the actions of the population because the central government is terrified that the involuntary confederation it formulated on October 1, 1949 will disintegrate and they will be removed from governmental control.

These actions are used to build cases against those labeled dissidents so that they can be imprisoned, punished, or implicated in "crimes that endanger public order and harmony".

My friend, there is no place anywhere that is less friendly and less harmonious than is the so-called "People's" Republic" of China. It is in fact a totalitarian military dictatorship that suffers an admitted 100 thousnad violent demonstrations annually. It has a government that executes ten times the total number of people for "capital" crimes than the rest of the nations of the world. It is a country where there are 200 million displaced people, a cohort larger than the populations of all individual nations of the world other than China, India, and the United States. China is a country where Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have learned that there are six million in forced labor conditions; this number exceeds the four million ceiling during the height of the Soviet Gulag Archipelago.

Secretary Clinton has not mandated anything to anyone anywhere. She has called for free exchange of information throughout the world. She has honestly stated the American position as a difference of opinion with the Chinese government. She has called for an investigation into the governmental hacking incidents which violated individual's Internet email accounts. Those of us who have LIVED there have often wondered whether our emails in Google, hotmail, yahoo, and our conversations on qq, msn messenger, yahoo messenger, and other chat clients were being moonitored and whether we, too, might be implicated. This is not paranoid conjecture. When chatting with Chinese nationals if "sensitive issues" come up they state "I hate politics" or "I don't know anything about that." These are signals to say, "I CANNOT talk about that. I am afraid." I know that and YOU SHOULD.

The list of search words they have is sophisticated and is an automated thing to trigger the Internet blocking mechanisms. They can happen at any time. What's more, it is highly unlikely that my Internet service provider and those of friends and colleagues could so very often have technical failures so that our screens went blank and so that our computers shut down required rebooting and restarts.

As to the totally off-the-wall and unrelated issue of healthcare, EUropean nations which have socialist governments with elected members of their parliaments havge the consent of their electorates to truncate their personal choices, only with their consent. Parliamentarians are voted out if that is violated. The United States is not a socialist nation, and further no one in China votes for any political representation at the urban, provincial, or national level. WHere is the "consent" of the governed in such a system?

lastly, I emphasize again that I spent six years plus teaching largely those "well-educated young Chinese' at three different colleges and universities in two of the three cities where I worked. I interviewed them, examined their learning materials, observed their lectures, advised, counseled, and knew them. They were wonderful people to me. To call any of them "well-educated" is a far stretch of the imagination. Their information chain has been so clogged, blocked, and omitted that they are totally unaware of myriad facts. As illustrations many of these supposedly well-educated students were devastated to learn that world condemnation was rolling in critical of China in regard to the crackdwon in Tibet prior the Olympics and that in Xinjiang in response to riots in the street where a couple of hundred people were shot in public. They had thought that China was admired and revered as a result of its impressive economic development since the 1978 reforms initiated by Zhou En Lai. The image they know is the pastoral picture painted by this "unnecessary universal right", the same censorship on television where "major agreements" between the trade minister of LESOTHO and the People's Republic of China are reported and when the Chinese foreign minister thanks LESOTHO for supporting the "One China" Policy, a policy which outlines China's intent to subjugate the free and independent nation of Taiwan as a renegade province.

Two weeks is indeed not a long period, sir. I suggest you go to live and work and live with the Chinese. I assure you that you will come away with a drastically different perspective as to the benign nature of media censorship in the People's Republic of China.


January 23, 2010 10:27 AM

Well, if it's their CULTURE then that's different. Wouldn't want to violate their LAWS and not abide by their CUSTOMS now would we? That would be intolerance!

The Chinese know exactly which buttons to push on Westerners.


January 23, 2010 01:09 PM

What apologist nonsense.

Andrew Luck

January 23, 2010 01:36 PM

Comparing the collection of data by commercial entities to the surveillance and tracking of citizens by govenrment is absurd. I wasn't aware that Google issued national security letters or had a penitentiary ready for web miscreants. However, China does. So much for political vs. cultural norms.


January 23, 2010 09:01 PM

Most of the articles about China miss one important point about the Chinese government's support from its people: A lot of people are fine with trusting the government with more power when the economy is doing well. Thanks to its economy, China lifted something like 500M people out of poverty (according to world bank) in the last twenty years. That is the main reason behind the Chinese government's mandate. It's also the reason why the Chinese government does whatever it can to keep its GDP growth at around 8%. Those who hate the Chinese government will only need to wait for the Chinese economy to cool down. That's when the Chinese government will start to change.

It's very odd that the people who support Taiwan tend to forgive the current Taiwan government's slaughtering of the locals when it first entered Taiwan after WWII. Until the late 80s Taiwan was a dictatorship, yet you hear very few talking about "liberating" Taiwan before or now. The case of tibet is even more curious: since when do supporters of openness, freedom and democracy start to support a theocracy where its leaders are selected from birth? Why doesn't anyone demand Dalai Lama or the Tibet's religious establishment to make transparent its Dalai Lama selection system, which is perhaps the most important decision Tibet will make?

Lastly, I am also surprised to see just how little Americans learned from Iraq. The idea that the oppressed locals will thank Americans/Europeans for "liberating" them from tyranny is clearly wishful thinking. If you look at the proliferation of racial profiling in the Western nations in the face of terrorism, one theme that is common to your average citizens from anywhere is that stability trumps ideology.


January 24, 2010 04:55 PM

When looking at China, the long-term trend is more important than a snapshot. China today is vastly more open and free than it was 35 years ago, when the universities were closed and urban students were sent to the countryside so that they could have direct experience of peasants' lives. Foreigners were generally not allowed to live and work in China, and China's citizenry was generally not allowed to move abroad or even to move within China without authorization.

Fast forward to today. Millions of foreigners visit China annually, and millions of Chinese go abroad to study, work and travel. Over 500,000 Taiwanese live in the Shanghai area alone. Although control over the media remains, the extent of this control is far less than it was in years past.

The openness today is due in large measure to the Chinese government's decisions since 1978 to pursue a policy of engagement with the world outside China, ending the Maoist policies of isolation.

These policy reforms have been gradual, steady and deliberate, in recognition of the reality that China is a very big country with a lot of people. Policy reforms taken precipitously and without sufficient planning have led to disasters (as the famines following the "Great Leap Forward" in the 1950's demonstrated). To an informed observer, China's past 30 years of development have been overall positive to its people. See Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz:

Given the extent of the changes that have already occurred, it seems that the critics are bleating at the half-empty glass of today without considering that 1978's glass was almost completely empty, and the glass is getting imperceptibly fuller day by day.

China's leadership's view seems to be that unbridled information flow (like unbridled capital flow) is dangerous to social stability and contributes to social injustice where those with the most access to media resources (like global media conglomerates) will dominate discussion of issues, just as those with the most access to capital will dominate resources. This is the same rationale that the Chinese government uses to limit the flow of capital towards what it deems to be socially useful purposes (like infrastructure and jobs creation) and away from less-socially useful purposes (such as speculation and rumor mongering).

In this way, China's leadership seems to view information freedom the same way as the US Supreme Court's recent 5-4 decision on campaign finance where it effectively ruled that "money equals speech", which first amendment principles would argue that it should not be controlled:

With this SCOTUS decision, the U.S. will allow an extreme application of first amendment principles to potentially undermine democracy even further.

Both China and the U.S. face the problem of how to prevent special interests (in particular those with vast money resources) to dominate the setting of government policies. China's current media and investment control policies appear to be aimed at limiting the ability of unrestrained media and capital to undermine the State plan, to ensure that State policies for job creation and economic development remain in place.

In the U.S., it appears that the moneyed interests have increasingly been able to use the government for its needs. The dismantling of unions and the overall decline in wages over the past 30 years has been a triumph of capital over labor, abetted by government policies. WIth corporations now able to finance campaigns, it seems that this phenomenon will only become more pronounced in the future.

The "business" angle to the focus on Chinese hacking and censorship seems to be to fire up popular and congressional support for increased defense spending for cyberwarfare technologies.

See this May 2009 article from the NY Times: "Contractors Vie for Plum Work, Hacking for U.S."

"Military experts said Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics, which have long been major players in the Pentagon’s security efforts, are leading the push into offensive cyberwarfare, along with the Raytheon unit. This involves finding vulnerabilities in other countries’ computer systems and developing software tools to exploit them, either to steal sensitive information or disable the networks."

Start loading up now on the stocks of the companies profiled in the article - nothing like a good long cybercoldwar for defense spending! The business of America is business, as Calvin Coolidge said.

(Actually as coldwars go, this should be pretty harmless: We'll spend a few billion to train up a bunch of hackers (as will China, the Russians and everyone else), then in 20 years when a new coldwar cash cow is dreamed up, a bunch of unemployed (but dangerous) defense-industry-trained hackers will be dumped on the job market, ready to dream up havoc on a defenseless world for the highest bidder, like S.P.E.C.T.R.E....Then we'll see some real cyberterror!)


January 25, 2010 01:33 AM

Thank you Bruce Nussbaum for this Article.

America is in a moral decline and Americans are too dumb to realize it.

The U.S is the leader in porn production and distribution in the world. America is the leader in weapons of mass destruction.

Americans Listen up! Your media has done a great job brain washing your little brains.

You will not be able to compete with the Chinese and Indians on a global level and yet you are worried for them.

Americans will have to worry for your survival from now on as jobs in America are outsourced overseas.

Does the high unemployment rates and high home foreclosure rates not worry you at all?

Why are Americans still worry for the Chinese when China will become the wealthiest nation on earth in a little over a decade.

Attention smart Americans! Do what the Chinese do and you might survive a couple more generations.

Attention dumb Americans! The teenage birth rate in the United States is the highest in the developed world.

If you don't think the Internet had anything to do with the Moral Decline of America then you are one of the dumb Americans!!

In summary, America is the leader in violence and sex. Answer this simple question: Do you think China is stupid enough to follow America as a role model?

China has never listened to America before and look where it is now! It will become the second wealthiest nation on earth in 2010.

Why would China listen to America when they are heading up while America is heading down?

This is what ignorance reaps

January 25, 2010 05:03 AM

Oh look, your poorly-thought out diatribe is already being used a propaganda by the Chinese state media. The headline is not about the hundreds of intelligent people who have come out against Chinese censorship -- no, it cherry-picks apologist nonsense like this article -- "Web-freedom call refuted". You're being played like a fiddle, Bruce, and you're a sad excuse for a journalist.

Warren Gunther

January 25, 2010 11:14 PM

Keeping the internet free IS making it a universal right. The right to Information.
Universal health care is also a universal right - some Americans are just afraid of how it will be paid for and if it will cost them more money.
The problem with having the market managing health care, or the internet, is a lack of regulations to keep greed in check.
The government in China might try to stop the freedom of the internet. Is the U.S. government trying to stop the freedom of the internet or stop people from having health care? Some parts of our government is trying to control these.
And, yes, we do have a problem with companies and their cookies. We just don't have a good enough alternative.
If the Hawaiian people want independence as the Tibetan people do, we would be just as arrogant and unfair to oppose it as the Chinese are to Tibet.
Perhaps, one day, the Chinese people will come to their senses and not try to control others for the sake of their pride.
Perhaps, one day, so shall we...

Yuan Tian

January 26, 2010 03:20 AM

The truth is always more complicated than what in people’s mind. I have been tracking the story from both sides for a while. Both two versions have distortions and inconsistencies with the fact. There is no simple right and wrong. If Google has made a great amount money in China, it won’t quit only because of internet freedom. Most of Chinese netizens, especially my generation felt sorry and a little upset about Google’s quitting. However that doesn’t mean that those people believe every accusation on foreign media pointing to China’s censorship. As far as I know, Chinese people don’t like the censorship certainly, but they don’t like the exaggeration of undemocracy and evil of Chinese government either. Every country has its secret agenda and no government intentionally wants its people to lead a bad life. It’s all about strategy. The saddest thing seems to me about this whole Google incident is that one fifth of the population on earth might lost the opportunity to use the products invented by one of the most innovative companies in the world.


January 29, 2010 01:41 AM

Chinese citizens are resourceful and intelligent. They will find means to access information and expose themselves to things outside their Great Firewall. And, they may not need or aspire to our Western values. One day, they will be the most dominant economy in the world, and Americans will be buying Chinese branded products.

But in the meantime, if you are still trying to do business in China, particularly in consumer technology products, check out this great post from Seattle design consultancy Artefact: "Consumerism in the Wild, Wild East: What to Know About Designing for China"

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Want to stop talking about innovation and learn how to make it work for you? Bruce Nussbaum takes you deep into the latest thinking about innovation and design with daily scoops, provocative perspectives and case studies. Nussbaum is at the center of a global conversation on the growing discipline of innovation and the deepening field of design thinking. Read him to discover what social networking works—and what doesn’t. Discover where service innovation is going and how experience design is shaping up. Learn which schools are graduating the most creative talent and which consulting firms are the hottest. And get his take on what the smartest companies are doing in the U.S., Asia and Europe, far ahead of the pack.

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