Exclusive interview: The man who controls the “Chinternet”
By China Daily Show correspondents
BEIJING (China Daily Show) – For years, China’s efforts at Internet censorship and control have met with a sour face from both the international community and many Chinese themselves.
Recently, with political scandals and wide-ranging efforts to censor what Beijing deems as “objectionable” material, the topic of web control has once again come into the limelight.
However, for many outsiders there is still a lack of understanding about the thinking and rationale of the authorities in charge of censorship in China.
In order to better understand the reasons for the country’s tight Internet controls, China Daily Show was granted an exclusive interview with the man who controls China’s Internet: Wang Wangwang.
What follows is Part One of this special interview, conducted at a unnamed cafe in Beijing, which has one hell of a latte.
China Daily Show: Thank you for agreeing to sit down with us, Mr Wang.
Wang Wangwang: Ya, ya, ya.
[Odd moment of silence]
CDS: Who is this? [gestures at the small, well-dressed monkey sitting to the right of Wang]
Wang: Him? That’s Rascals.
CDS: Well. OK then… Shall we begin the interview?
Wang: [Clears throat, coughs]
CDS: Er… oh, right… [CDS reporter slides briefcase under table]
Wang: [Opens suitcase, counts for several minutes, nods]
CDS: How’s your throat feeling?
Wang: Much better. Let us begin your questions now.
CDS: We’ll start with the basics. China blocks many foreign websites – why is the Chinese government so paranoid about controlling information?
Wang: Blocked websites? What are you talking about?
CDS: Twitter, YouTube, Facebook…
Wang: Do you use Facebook? Do you have a Twitter account? How often do you… “tweet”?
CDS: Quite regularly, actually. But we use a VPN…
Wang: Oh! So why do you say they are blocked?
CDS: I think you’re missing the point…
Wang: Boom! Got ya.
CDS: You got me?
Wang: [sips from latte] Ya, I got ya. Any more questions? [rising]
CDS: Quite a few, actually.
Wang: Oh, OK. [Sits]
CDS: Let’s change the subject and talk about Weibo [China's Twitter-like microblogging service]. Many observers both in and outside China are critical of your efforts to have real-name registration for using Weibo, because they say it will restrict freedom of expression in China.
Wang: [Quietly, sipping coffee] That’s bullshit.
Wang: It’s nothing to with that. All citizens in China enjoy freedom of speech under the Constitution, actually.
But when I sat down with other members of the Politburo last year, we were primarily concerned with staying in touch with the concerns and thoughts of members of the younger generations.
Obviously, children and young adults are very tech-savvy. They use technology that many more senior Chinese don’t understand. Example: President Hu has never learned how to text; all messages to his wife are typed in by an intern. When Wen Jiabao first used Hotmail, he thought you needed to shout the email into a bullhorn.
Wang: Not really. The purpose of name registration is to simply connect better, to broaden communication between leaders and citizens. For instance, my name is Wang Wangwang. Your name is [redacted]. But how could one possibly communicate with someone who calls themselves “little grass mud horse,” “niubi888” or “ai weiwei”? This is a form of disguise that limits true interaction.
CDS: Fair enough. Now let’s discuss a recent incident on the Internet that received widespread media attention some time ago. Many users found themselves utterly unable to access overseas websites and this outage lasted for a period of around two hours. Some people say this was a test for some of “kill switch” for the Chinternet. Is this true?
Wang: Is what true?
CDS: Well, firstly: do you have a kill switch?
Wang: This is not true at all. I can say with utmost truth that we emphatically do not have a “kill switch.” We have an “Internet on/off switch.”
CDS: Fascinating. And has this “Internet on/off switch” ever been used?
CDS: When has this switch been used?
Wang: (shrugs) Couple times.
CDS: And why… I mean, how is the decision made about when to take this drastic action?
Wang: That’s beyond my job. We don’t decide.
CDS: Then who decides? I mean…
Wang: He does.[Points at monkey]
CDS: The monkey decides?
Wang: Trained monkey.
CDS: With respect, that is – alright, I can tell you’re joking again...
Wang: This is no joking. This idea was my brainchild. Totally genius idea, really. It came to me during that whole… difficulty with Google a couple years back. You know, all the censorship stuff. We took a lot of criticism about blocking this, blocking that. We thought, why take all this heat? Monkey can take heat instead. That way we have complete deniability! It was beautiful – that’s partly how I got this job. Thanks to Rascals.
CDS: So you’re telling me that a trained monkey called Rascals was responsible for a complete, inexplicable foreign Internet outage in China two weeks ago?
Wang: Ya! It makes a kind of sense now, actually, doesn’t it?
CDS: In a weird kind of way… yes. Yes, it does.
Wang: He’s only suppose to flick the switch when he gets a signal but sometime… he just does it anyway. Don’t you, Rascals? [Rascals chatters madly] You see? Complete deniability.
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