China’s most famous artist, Ai Weiwei is still missing after being arrested attempting to fly to Hong Kong. You may know him as the designer of the Bird’s Nest stadium for the Beijing Olympics. And yet, poof, just like that he has been disappeared by the Chinese government.
Gao Zhisheng, famous human rights lawyer who has sued regional Chinese governments several times? Never heard of him.
20 or so dissidents trying to foment a “jasmine revolution”? Gone.
I wonder to what extent this is effective. I mean, can a powerful surveillance and media state simply rewrite people out of existence? As our blog’s name suggests, making people vanish has a long history in totalitarian regimes. But with 24-hour news coverage going on outside of China, how can people within China either not have a clue or not care? Yet, China has perfected the art of censorship. China’s most famous example of historical erasure — the Tiananmen Square massacre — was so successful that a newspaper censor famously didn’t even recognize the date (June 4) as something significant enough to censor!
Does technology make it easier or harder to censor? One would imagine that the explosion of information on the Internet would limit a country’s disappearing powers, but China’s increasing reliance on technology seems to have no impact on its ability to crack down. China is no Egypt or Saudi Arabia; its leaders have tons of money and its schools produce tons of technical know-how. The Great Firewall is often breached, but the presence of the internet gives Chinese citizens an illusion of connectedness while censoring the truth. Finding the truth is just annoying enough that people don’t bother. Furthermore, the government’s sophistication with tracking software and phone bugs has eliminated any technological advantage a dissident group might have.
How many more people can China disappear? Until the mass of Chinese citizens begin to demand changes, the unfortunate answer seems to be “as many as it wants.”