Global Themes

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China, democracy and harmless freedoms…

I was a little surprised when I read this but not a lot….”China bans cyber cafes for a year”, (06 March , 2007, Reuters):  

“Fearful of soaring Internet addiction and juvenile crime, China has banned the opening of new Internet cafes this year, state media reported on Tuesday.

“In 2007, local governments must not sanction the opening of new Internet bars,” Xinhua news agency on Tuesday quoted a directive jointly released by 14 government departments, including the Ministry of Culture, as saying.

There are currently about 113,000 Internet cafes and bars in China, Xinhua said, citing the Ministry of Information Industry.

The notice comes as lawmakers at China’s annual session of parliament, the National People’s Congress, called for stricter regulations to keep teenagers away from Internet cafes, which are often seen in China as hotbeds of juvenile crime.

“It is common to see students from primary and middle schools lingering in Internet bars overnight, puffing on cigarettes and engrossed in online games,” Xinhua quoted NPC

Last year, a report from the China National Children’s Centre, a government think-tank, said that 13 per cent of China’s 18 million Internet users under 18 were Internet addicts.”

(Also at China bans new internet cafes

Although the report says that the ban is aimed more at curbing addiction to online games (and internet addiction in general), I suspect the truth is little more complex and there is more to it than appears at first glance.

This move goes to the heart of why China may loose some of its competitive edge in the long term (over several years, possibly decades)…I have written before on how democracy,  diversity and the freedom to openly debate/ argue/ discuss ideas is one of the core strengths that India has – thanks to its long democratic tradition* …and it may yet prove to be the winning card in the now boringly familiar debate around India vs. China. see e.g. this post (personally, I dont see this as a zero-sum game).

Coming back to the ban though – what exactly is the government trying to accomplish?

I am looking forward to comments from my Chinese readers and those familiar with China.

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P.S. In case you thought that curbs on “harmless” freedoms (such as surfing the net/ online gaming) are limited to online activities, think again….according to an Associated Press report

“…some 170 Chinese cities limit or ban motorcycle use or ownership, largely because they are viewed as underpowered, cheap, polluting machines that clog traffic and endanger others.” and apparently..

“Motorcycles have been banned from almost all the main streets in Shanghai, Huang said, and the city stopped accepting (new) motorcycle registrations in 2002.”

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* As an aside, the democratic tradition in India goes back over a millenia and is not just a result of Britain’s colonial legacy as is commonly believed.

March 9th, 2007 Posted by | China, Development Issues, Global Competition, India, Miscellaneous | 4 comments

4 Comments »

  1. 1. I am thinking it is for safety reasons. Many of the interent cafes are notorious fire traps.

    2. I doubt very much this law will have any real effect in most places in China.

    Comment by China Law Blog | March 10, 2007

  2. China has indeed a censorship problem, but it’s less severe than outsiders think. To give you some ideas, the following websites are freely accessible from China now (March 2007):

    CNN
    Time
    Newsweek
    Washington Post
    New York Times
    Wall Street Journal
    The Economist
    The Guardian
    Taipei Times
    The vast majority of China-related blogs

    While at the same time the following are still banned:

    BBC
    All Taiwanese newspapers in Chinese
    All Hong Kong newspapers in Chinese
    Wikipedia

    One key thing that’s not well understood by observers outside of China is that the Chinese Internet users go to the web for 2 main things: entertainment (incl. online games) and online community (i.e. myspace and such). In contrast, the western users tend to use the web primarily as a source of information. Now, back the Internet cafes. You’d be surprised to find that, indeed, most of the people there are teenagers addicted to online games.

    (By the way, I’m a Chinese native and I’ve lived in the US, Europe, and Australia for extend period of time. Now I live in Beijing.)

    Comment by Lee | March 10, 2007

  3. Shantanu,

    Having never been to China and having only had interactions with Chinese colleagues in Cambridge (the latter seeming to enforce my biases but they are still biases so I shall not share them here), my only comment here refers to the very good link on the democratic tradition in Indian history that you have provided. Thank you!

    One of my favourite history reading practices is to see how outsiders see a country. Ibn Batutah’s and Hieun Tsand’s travels to Octavio Paz’s reflections and more recently, Ed Luce’s cheat-sheet on modern day India have all made it through my book-shelves and my eyes.

    Since you have a great interest in history AND the added life experience of having lived in the Far East, possibly sometime you could share some of your favourites? Thanks.

    Comment by Shefaly Yogendra | March 10, 2007

  4. China Law Blog: Thanks, thats very interesting.

    Lee, thanks a lot for sharing this insight and information…so there may be some truth after all in the reports.

    Shefaly: Thanks…will try and share the favourites at some point..

    Comment by Shantanu Bhagwat | May 3, 2007

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