China’s Information Challenge

Even on the best of days, China’s leaders are a risk-averse bunch. So when anti-censorship protests erupted in China on Jan. 7 and spread quickly through cyberspace, the state laid down the law: “The party has absolute control over the media, and this principle is unshakable,” declared an “urgent memo” from the Central Propaganda Department.To maintain monopoly control of political power in a country with a hard-charging economy, fast-growing middle class and the rising expectations they create, party officials will do all they can to monitor and manage the flow of information within the country and across its borders. This is especially important for a new generation of leaders now assuming their posts, officials who know that public expectations for good governance have never been higher. But with more than half a billion Chinese citizens now online, more than 300 million active on Weibo (China’s Twitter) and an increasingly ineffective “great firewall,” assertions of control over words and ideas reflect little more than wishful thinking.

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