Tom Doctoroff

Silencing the unruly voices at the internet might be high on the government’s agenda, but an effective crackdown would only backfire, tells Tom Doctoroff in the

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“The [Communist Party] leadership is very nervous,” says Shanghai-based Tom Doctoroff, author of the coming book, What Chinese Want. Fuel for anxiety is that, in midyear, China’s president and premier are scheduled to step down, and, says Doctoroff, “There is a lot of jockeying for position.”…


“The government knows the people need ways to let off steam and that the Internet is an avenue for that,” he says. He elaborates that the Chinese-language Web is awash with “free pornography sites and violent video games,” and the government, in effect, pointedly ignores these outlets…

Right now, vocal anti-government sentiments are largely limited to a tiny minority of disaffected youth, whose opinions do not matter that much. And yet the extraordinarily active microblogs give the government a clear window on the level of dissent — and were they to truly censor postings, they would lose that. Says Doctoroff: “In the end, this [real-name requirement] may backfire for the government because they now listen to online grumbles before grievances turn into major protests. Now fewer people will dare to raise their voices, and the government will be denied a ‘polling device’ and exacerbate alienation from the people.”

That is why many experts increasingly believe that the microblogging crackdown will be analogous to China’s faltering crackdowns on indoor smoking — there will be plenty of noise, right up to the regime change, and then suddenly the issue will simply cease to be discussed. Until then, says Doctoroff, “I can’t imagine the government will be aggressive in enforcing any of this.”

The smoking ban has resulted in Chinese people smoking wherever they please. And very probably, they will continue to microblog as they please, too.

Besides, adds Doctoroff, for the overwhelming majority of Chinese microbloggers, “People are blogging not to protest, but to show off. They want to show they are cool people.”

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Tom Doctoroff is a speaker at the China Speakers Bureau. Do you need him at your meeting of conference? Do get in touch or fill in our speakers’ request form.

More details about Tom Doctoroff and his upcoming book at Storify.

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