China: The Next Revolution Will Be Fought In Cyberspace


August 1, 2009:  The "one child" program has not only halted rapid growth of the Chinese population, but has permanently changed perceptions of what the optimal family size should be. The enforcement of one child families (in urban areas, country folk could usually have two kids) forced parents to lavish more attention on fewer kids. As a result, the children were better educated, and accustomed to a higher standard of living. While chided as being "little princes", these kids were more economically successful than their parents, and brought a new verve to the economy and culture. Suddenly, most Chinese came to believe that this was one of the secrets of Western success (which was always something of a mystery to the Chinese, who feel they are inherently superior to those smelly apes from the West.) In fact, economists, and other social scientists (the Chinese ones as well) always understood the value of small families. But getting over a billion Chinese to agree took a shock, and the one-child policy provided the needed nudge.

This new verve has had many side effects. In the past year, for example, the number of Chinese Internet users rose 13 percent, to 328 million. China is now a dominant force on the net, at least in terms of the number of users. A side effect of that is the headaches the Chinese government has trying to control Internet use the way it controls other media (electronic and print). The Internet, and all these smart, self assured young Chinese, have become something of a nightmare (and an unexpected one at that) for the Communist Party that is trying to maintain the largest police state on the planet.

The power of cell phones was again demonstrated on July 17th, in Henan province, when a rumor quickly spread that radioactive material (used to sterilize food ingredients in a local factory) had malfunctioned and was leaking fatal amounts of radioactivity. Within hours, several hundred thousand civilians had fled the area, and it took the police a while to sort it all out. In response to events like this, the government is trying to crack down on social networking sites, and things like the Chinese version of Twitter (Fanfou). Despite the danger of a widespread public backlash, the government feels it must make a stand. Many inside the government believe the Communist Party control of the country must be preserved at all costs, and that means doing whatever it takes to stop other groups from organizing, and exercising, independent political power. Many Chinese bureaucrats believe the next revolution will be fought in Cyberspace. At least it will start there, and be finished with large scale demonstrations and unrest on the streets and in work places. The government is now sending thousands of local officials to a one week training course, on how to deal with this 21st century revolutionary behavior.

President Hu Jintao of China has a corruption scandal in the family. His son, Hu Haifeng, a senior banking official, is being investigated for corrupt practices in Africa. The Chinese government has blocked information about this from Chinese Internet users. This is very embarrassing, because the government has been making a big deal about fighting corruption, and making misbehaving officials accountable for their misdeeds.

China is facing a massive crises with its growing number of retirees, and the problems are already visible. This will get especially bad in the next two decades, as the parents of one child families retire. Traditionally, the family of the eldest son (with the help of younger sons) took care of his parents and grandparents. But now there are far fewer sons available, and many more are not willing to run a retirement home for all their elders. So the government has to figure out how to deal with all these elderly. Growing prosperity, and decades of peace, have made it possible for more Chinese to grow to old age. Urban couples have been quietly allowed to have two children, to help out with this. But urban couples, where the wives like working outside the home, don't want more than two kids, and they want affordable child care as well. The government feels that the revolution is coming from more than one direction, and unexpected ones at that.

China has been increasing its efforts to get 30 million "overseas Chinese" (those who have migrated and are still living as identifiably Chinese in foreign countries) to "rally to the motherland." The government wants to create local cheerleaders and apologists for Chinese government policies. The government has also been trolling these communities looking for new spies. All this has caused a bit of a stir among overseas Chinese, most of whom feel they are citizens of their new country, not appendages of the old country.

The Chinese government has banned online games featuring gangster activity. There are several online games in China that model themselves after the "Grand Theft: Auto" series, and the government sees these games as contrary to the public interest. A lot of Internet activity is seen as counter-revolutionary, and the government is at a loss as to how it will control this unpredictable beast. The government sees a connection between growing signs of unrest on the Internet, and the growing (nearly 100,000 a year) public demonstrations of unrest and dissatisfaction with the government.

The Chinese Army is running a public relations campaign to improve its image (currently one that includes accusations of corruption, laziness and general ineffectiveness). This includes more reporters on military bases and foreign language versions of army web pages. The PLA (Peoples Liberation Army) is celebrating its 82nd anniversary this year.

July 22, 2009: In eastern Russia, 2,600 Russian and Chinese troops began conducting counter-terrorism exercises.

July 19, 2009: The governor of Xinjiang said his police killed a dozen Uighur rioters this month. The total deaths were more like 200, with another 1,600 injured. Most of the killing, and property damage, was done by ethnic (Han or Uighur) mobs slaughtering each other. The government noted that the violence was organized (via cell phones and the Internet), which justified the cutting of cell phone and Internet access to the area of unrest. But the government found that the violence went viral, as people throughout Xinjiang began using their cell phones to create deadly "flash mobs."




Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   Contribute   Close