Zachary Keck is bemused by the findings of a recent Global Scan poll that finds broad Chinese satisfaction with the country’s media and surveillance environment. Among the findings, 76% of Chinese feel “free of surveillance” compared with only 54% of Americans. To the extent that oppression can be subjectively evaluated, Chinese ‘totalitarian communism’ isn’t doing it very well.

There might be some way to mine into this information rigorously, but that’s beyond the scope of the discussion so far. Keck muses about the possibility that the Edward Snowden leaks have soured Western opinion, while “it’s hard to know how much of the views can be attributed to different expectations Chinese have about freedom when compared to their counterparts in democratic countries, and how much of their answers are attributable to general ignorance about the Chinese government’s surveillance and censorship. I suspect both factors probably play a role but that the former is likely more important.”

An alternative explanation is that Western cultures have developed in a way that sanctifies dissent, and finds the exemplification of freedom in the act or expression of defiance. The alternative, Chinese assumption, that freedom is mostly about being left alone, is classically captured by the proverb “The mountains are high, and the Emperor is far away” (山高皇帝远). Unsurprisingly, this saying is thought to have originated in entrepreneurial Zhejiang Province (perhaps the most civilized place in the world).

Why would anybody but an idiot go looking for the emperor simply to poke a finger in his eye? Don’t do anything like that, and there’s not much chance of encountering oppression. Some flaky Internet connectivity doesn’t feel like a “a boot stamping on a human face — forever.” It feels like a minor inconvenience. At least, that’s what the poll evidence suggests.

2 thoughts on “Oppressionless

  1. The question is: In what way has the sanctification of dissent contributed to the creativity of capitalism and in what way the feeling that the Emperor is far away contributes to a complacent satisfaction in the status quo?

    • Those are indeed interesting and important questions (although a capitalism lacking in creativity strikes me as more of a problem than a complacent status quo). Wouldn’t a comparative study of economic dynamism and governmental competence East/West go some way to answering them?

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