Recent items about Chinese info-control (#1 in a series)

Intensely in the midst of "real" work at the moment, so just a quick mention of one of a thicket of recent illustrations of a larger point. The larger point, as often argued in the magazine, is that daily life in most of China is less controlled and more freewheeling and chaotic than Westerners would usually guess. But there are clear, controlled, no-nonsense exceptions, among which the general field of information (media, internet, schooling) ranks high.

Today's illustration: maps. I contend that overall "map-mindedness" in China differs from the typical Western approach, but that's for another time. Finding useful maps here, in Chinese or English, can be tricky because roads, buildings, and landmarks are changing so fast. But there's also the official outlook that geographic information isn't something you want to fall into just anybody's hands. Thus this announcement yesterday that unauthorized online mapping services would be shut down:

China cracks down on illegal online map services to protect state security
"...Some websites publish sensitive or confidential geographical information, which might leak state secrets and threaten national security," [a Central Government official] said.
He said those websites would be closed down.


In a way I can understand what they're worried about. For instance, Google Earth makes something absolutely plain and obvious that I don't see on normal maps of Beijing: that there is gigantic airfield on the west side of the city, just outside the 4th Ring Road.* And I'm reading a novel whose plot turns on the discovery, via satellite photos, of unauthorized activity in Tibet. My point at the moment is simply the frequent reminders of the tension between China's opening in many ways and its attempt to bottle up some kinds of information.

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* This site, originally pointed out to me by Joe Reckford, is "Beijing Western Suburb airport," 北京西郊机场, apparently used for travel by top officials and as a military base. Here is a Xinhua photo of Deng Xiaoping, Zhou Enlai, and eventual president of China Li Xiannian at the airfield 45 years ago.