Great Firewall Putting Out Fires

Meng writes in his article "From Steamed Bun to Grass Mud Horse, that, "Not unlike Marx and his contemporaries, who used the 'underground languages' of parody and irony to evade censorship in the 19th-century Germany, e gao is a stylistic means of 'smuggling ideas past a censor' for Chinese internet users."  Meng discusses how social commentary in the form of irony, sarcasm for entertainment is absolutely nothing new in the literary or media scene.  He sees them has powerful tools to be able to get at the heart of what is happening in China with regard to the censorship of media and the internet. Pieces such as e gao and other social commentaries in our past (A Modest Proposal by Johnathan Swift as stuck strongly in my mind since high school) are effective because these works take dense, tightly packed information with complicated, sensitive contexts and make them refreshingly easy to understand and digest.  It allows people to lightly pull all the pieces together in a fun and entertaining way.  It also has the added benefit of allowing the author to conceal what they may really mean to authorities who do not 'understand the code'.  

As Meng discusses, trying to fight e gao only feeds the flames.  The moment the Chinese government clamps down on one, many more pop up to take its place.  The moment one word or phrase is banned others come into its place. Does this widely available technology and media mean a change is in the future for China?  Perhaps not, as Meng also discusses the elaborat 'dispersed responsibility' to be sure that content on the web fosters society and community, as the government puts it.  This responsibility to counter questionable content is laid on the sholderes of web companies and domain name holders who then basically do the work of the government to control and censor information.  Fear and uncertainty also lays the responsibility on individuals themselves who may censor themselves more than necessary because the government is intentionally vague on what is objectionable material.

However, communication, an act human's are particularly good at, will find a way to happen, as Meng states e gao, "represent innovative strategies for articulating social critque and fostering societal dialogue" in a country that is rapidly trying to counter the 'decentralizing' effect of the internet.  The communities within China are utilizing technology and social media to push boundaries and forge new ways to communicate.  Will China continue to run around putting out fires one by one? 


  1. Sharena, this is something I asked myself as well. Is the fight futile? I don't believe that China will stop searching to stomp them out- the fight is almost scarier than if they won. If China stopped searching, it would be the same as conceding defeat- I know that sounds stupid over something as ridiculous as a "mud horse" but for them, image is everything. It is the fact that people know the government is always looking that makes E Gao all the more delightful- the brazen courage to stand up against the dragon if you will. I like the idea of it, and its one as old as time- the little guy taking on the giant, and even if the giant doesn't fall, at least he gets dirt in his eye every once and a while.

Post a Comment