Why Chinese society looks ‘silly’

I talked to a friend last month about why the alt-right is more likely to be mobilised by groups and why it is so difficult for many who support justice to join forces. One made a natural reference to the Cultural Revolution and also brought up the old clichés: Will the Cultural Revolution come again?

The question was wrong from the beginning, because there was no agreement on how to define the Cultural Revolution. Most people admit that there will be no large-scale social movements supported by the pure spiritual forces of the Mao era in China today; but at the same time it cannot be denied that the Xi regime can spend money on almost identical movements to achieve almost identical effects.

The reason: the “Silliness” of this society as a whole.

The reason for quoting “silliness” is that it’s not true. At least not for everyone. The bottom class is silly, the middle class pretends to be silly, and the rich class look on. This is a joke I made years ago, and it still seems not to be out of date. A simple recent example is the Coaliation’s bombing of Syria.

Many Chinese state-run media workers are ‘privately’ highly supportive and excited about the coalition bombing. They say the same thing as those in power, interpreting civilian deaths as so-called collateral damage. And this is the opposite of the attitude expressed by the Communist Foreign Ministry. It is arguably the most interesting part of the story.

Another quote. The reason for quoting ‘privately’ is that these people have never been ‘private’ except in their dreams. Because they have been afraid all along, they have even rationalized their fear so that when the urge for self-censorship strikes, they cannot tell what they are really thinking.

This is the result of their long-standing environment. They do not know which one close to them is a crony of the leader, a ideological spy, or a voluntary 50-Cent-Party addicted to snitching. In other words, all their expressions we can see are purposive based on the intentions of their leaders, and on the hints issued by their working units. In short: The Chinese authorities may well have intended to support the bombing of Syria, at least some of the leaders of the official media speculate that. The Chinese authorities’ diplomatic opposition is nothing more than a consistent nationalist anti-American stance, which, like Putin, is the root of the Communist Party’s regime.

On the other hand, some Chinese dissident scholars were also opposed to the war because they understood that it was not a war for justice, but a killing of interests, a dirty proxy war. But their expression has been hijacked by their public roles – they seem to have to speak out against the Chinese authorities on everything in order to preserve the solidity of their own standing in the court of public opinion.

In other words, they are no longer able to judge on the facts, and fidelity to the facts is the basis of intellectuals.

Are they stupid? Definitely not. Are those official journalists stupid? No. There is no serious asymmetry in information, many people have been actively collecting the latest international information and disseminating it to them. But useless, precisely because they are not stupid – note that silly and stupid are completely different, the former is unconscious and can be completely diluted and corrected by information supplement; the latter is conscious, there is no way to correct it.

These two categories are cited because, taken together, they form a large part of the elite class of Chinese public opinion. Most other people are imitating their views to construct their own opinions. It is them who determine the perception of the majority of the Chinese people, the so-called opinion tendencies of the Chinese public opinion field as we can see.

Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation — Oscar Wilde

There will always be very few people with creative ideas and ground-breaking creativity. These minorities are not the objects of popular imitation; on the contrary, they are the ones who are despised and ostracized by the masses.

Last month, aeon published an article entitled ‘Say goodbye to the information age: it’s all about reputation now’, which says that in our highly interconnected, liberal democracies, the undervalued paradox of knowledge plays a key role: the more information that flows, the more we rely on so-called ‘reputational devices’ to evaluate it.

The reason for this paradox is that the vast amount of information and knowledge acquired today does not give us cognitive autonomy. Rather, it makes us more dependent on other people’s assessment and judgment of information. People’s relationship with knowledge is undergoing a paradigm shift from the information age to the era of reputation. Information is valuable only after it has been filtered, evaluated, and commented upon by others.

Reputation, then, is the central pillar of today’s collective wisdom. It is the gatekeeper of knowledge, the key to which is held by others. The way in which intellectual authority is established makes us dependent on the inevitable prejudices of others, of which most of us know nothing…

This is nothing new. In a society as long closed and autistic as China’s, so to speak, it has always been. It is simply the explosion of information on the internet that has made the phenomenon highly prominent.

In the 1980s, there was a saying in China called the “Printing effect”: meaning that any opinion, if it was printed in type, could easily be accepted by the general public. Typewriting meant “Authority”. Funny? Let the printing press turn a fool into a spokesman for the truth? But in China, that’s what people thought at the time.

Now this effect is mirrored on the Internet – as long as it’s a “celebrity” column, whatever it says, it’s widely recognisable. The media values visibility above truth or even logic.

In a way, conformity has become a popular way of life.

Social media, which ‘bring together global wisdom’, has become one of the most mediocre and boring places in the world, especially in Chinese. The platitudes, including overseas Chinese dissidents, are using old patterns, focusing on their own influence promotion within a narrow circle of Chinese social media, indulging in repetition of common sense, and completely unable to perceive their combined value…

“Pop” is a paradox that means mediocrity, lack of depth, and even going out of date and error.The fans economy has caused many people to become perverted, faking, exaggerating, and babbling in order to get the attention – reputation. In Chinese tweets, the most influential, the highest number of retweets are these kinds of things.

As Wilde said more than a hundred years ago: Popularity is the one insult I have never suffered. Now, this insult has become the desire of the vast majority of people.

With the help of the internet, the desire for insults has become almost the biggest “consensus” between information producers and information consumers after the media switched from one-way transmission to a two-way option.

The result of the celebrity monopoly on news and commentary is that there is less and less valuable content, and gossip and vulgarity severely dilute the true social value of the event itself. A mass of media spends an inordinate amount of time studying Julian Assange’s hair, ignoring the amazing value of the new model of media revolution brought about by Wikileaks. Speculation about Edward Snowden’s girlfriend and so-called “motive” is better known than the facts of mass surveillance; Ai Weiwei’s marital status and upbringing are almost well known, but few understand the true meaning of all his creations…

This is how the authority created by the media becomes worthless, unable to form a positive dynamic. How absurd is it that those who contribute are overwhelmed by their hair and girlfriends. The media can brazenly argue that eye-catching is profit and traffic is God. They think that information consumers are only interested in their hair and girlfriends?

Yes, people like authority, trust authority, and even rely on authority. Authoritarian identities are especially prominent in China. Some people who begin to be wary of and opposed to Communist party political authority suddenly find that the spirit on which they rely for their survival – the position of the authority – has been vacated, but they show neither excitement nor the ease of finally being free, but are busy filling the void and finding themselves a new authority to identify with.

This is an interesting social landscape. From working unit leaders to professors, from social classes to the aura of a prestigious university, people have been given authority; they are trusted and subjugated to. On social media, authority can even be the creator of a group chat: the group owner! The group leader is thought be irrefutable. The paternalism continues to flourish in the virtual world.

What about truth? Who cares.

And what’s more, the so-called tradition of favor society adds another layer of favor to the reputation of authority here. I used to say rudely that in China, people are more willing to trust a good-looking dog than they really are. That’s no joke.

In other words, if you can’t build a broad network of favor in the first place, it’s best not to work on promoting the truth, such as intellectuals, the media, political observers, etc., or you’ll get trampled on. The most benign result is to be ignored.

The same is true for all who do the above in China, and why you often see them playing dumb, whether for the maintenance of a public role or the consolidation of a network of relationships. Many people are not stupid, they are not ignorant, but they will largely fail in their basic duty of defending the truth as an intellectual.

A few days ago, the South China Morning Post published an articlesaying that China had long blocked international social media platforms in order to eliminate the possible influence of ‘foreign ideas’ on the Chinese and thus maintain a monopoly on the influence of Communist ideas.

The report says this continued censorship is likely to backfire. The Chinese economy is sure to be hit hard by the continued use of GFW. At the same time, GFW is hampering the innovation of China’s own scientists, who are unable to access many of the world’s latest trends and ideas in the first place. There is no doubt that China’s innovation and creative industries will be badly behind the world…

It’s a clich, and it’s not a novel idea, because it just goes to part of the reason why Chinese society seems silly. A small part of it. But it has always been an international understanding of China by big and small Internet freedom groups. So they have done as much as they can to help open the eyes of the Chinese people, as the GreatFire projects. I can assure you that it provides all the tools that are theoretically needed to address the “silliness” that prevails in Chinese society.

Like many of my European friends with positive mentalities, I have always believed that some of the cognitive problems of the Chinese stem from the GFW’s blockage – caused by the lack of freedom of information, so our #openChina campaign aims to break that barrier and expose people to more and more comprehensive information. But so far, our work has been a failure.

Facts have shown that people only like to collect information in line with their original point of view, and are not interested in expanding their knowledge at all, which means not only that the echo wall effect is not negligible, but also that when the era of fame meets the favor society, the truth is dying.

The Chinese are not all stupid. There are a lot of smart people in Chinese society, but this intelligence is distorted by all kinds of so-called philosophy of survival and kidnapped by ideology. They can no longer play a role in the basic principle of judging facts, and they have become the authority in some fields and the belief of the vast majority of Chinese people who are highly dependent on authority.

This is why Chinese society seems “silly” on the surface. This is a more difficult problem to solve than really stupid.