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Microwaves Make Headline News

When Attaturk wanted to modernize Turkey, he wanted to ban the use of the veil by women. He didn’t ban the veil outright, as a boring, conventional thinker might have – he made the veil compulsory for prostitutes. Since China can’t really avoid the encroachment of the Internet and social media, some lateral thinking will be needed if the CCP wants it’s citizens to toe the line online.

China has embraced capitalism in all it’s glory, unfortunately, in their scramble to get their hands on as much money as possible as soon as possible, they tend to clone what they deem to be successful in another country (usually America) and set it loose on an unsuspecting population. A false sense of “if you build it they will come” is the chronic mindset, Chinese English school owners despair that people aren’t falling over themselves to throw buckets of cash at them and shameless clones of western websites get themselves into endless amounts of trouble with their user bases because they delete messages and search results from their databases.

There’s a reluctance to embrace new ideas here. The people have a strange way of making one feel that they’ve made an important contribution to a discussion, or proposed an effective solution to a problem, but at the same time, there’s a lurking sense the idea has been pretty much instantly dismissed in favor of what you might term an old school solution. The closed-shop boys club of the government departments doesn’t really help, and the yes-man mentality compounds matters, all you can really do is sit back and watch them fail, hoping against hoping that someone somewhere learns their lesson.

The Chinese people have figured out one pretty safe rule in life: if it gets blocked on the Internet, it’s probably worth gossiping about. This week, quite a few things, despite the hugely popular microblog service instituting it’s real-name registration, have been blocked: A mysterious crashed Ferrari, the fate of politician Bo Xi Lai, and now, images of tanks rolling down Chang’an Avenue as an alleged military coup gets underway.

Of course there was no such thing as a coup d’tat in Beijing – surely a Beijing correspondents wet dream – and the whole thing started with a single tweet.

Pan Shi Yi, a property magnate with 9.2 million followers has garnered a reputation for posting cryptic messages on his Weibo account. On Monday night, he posted “This evening Weibo was strange indeed, there were some words that could not be sent out on Weibo. I saw a line of commentary dropped several times from Weibo, but what I saw made my scalp tingle; was it gremlins? Better to turn off the computer and go to sleep.”. Over 3,000 users commented on the post, some trying to figure out what exactly Pan was getting at, and others simply advising him to get some sleep.

On Tuesday morning, someone posted a message claiming that “According to reports, Beijing people said that last night the 38th Army was seen on Chang’an Avenue [which runs in front of Zhongnanhai] and an accumulation of police and military vehicles were in front of the Diayoutai State Guesthouse, signaling there will be big changes soon in our government.”. The Epoch Times, a Chinese news portal with Falun Gong (a banned Chinese spiritual movement) published a photo that supposedly showed that there was indeed military action taking place in the capital. Research by Chinese netizens finally debunked the photos, showing them to be nothing more than night rehersals for the 2010 National Day celebrations.

Of course all this rational thinking didn’t do much to stop the single tweet snowballing, turning it from a paranoid delusion limited to a small number of online freaks into stuff that people were gossiping about around the water cooler. One SMS message that I received about the strange case of the black Ferrari suddenly had two naked girls in it. Aside from the fact that the night the accident happened was so cold that snow fell in Beijing, the only details given to the press about the two female passengers were about their injuries and their ages, and since the crash happened at 4am in the morning in the northern part of Beijing, it’s unlikely that there were many eyewitnesses. But we never let the facts – or lack thereof- get in the way of a good story

Rumors, gossip and unhelpful stories fanned by text messaging and microblogging are pretty much part and parcel of life in a country where government departments and spokesmen live in a walled garden sheilded from the people that they’re actually supposed to be interacting with, and simply blocking out stuff that you don’t want people to talk about isn’t the best way to enforce any kind of rumor control, transparency and accessibility is the best way to go because even if you pull the wool over the eyes of the Chinese people, western audiences are much more sophisticated and cynical enough to flatly reject the “because we say so” attitude towards governace.

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