Speaking of the democracy and politics in China, North Korea is always the one that is used to compare with China. Different from the hierarchy and definite respect for the leaders of the government, the relationship between government officials and the public in China seems to be more intimate. Try google “Brother Tao” and “Babe” in Chinese, you will see President Hu Jingtao and Premier Wen Jiabao top the search result. Moreover, if you type in “Naive”, “Dear Jiang” or “Sir Jiang and well-known singer ”, the sex scandal of former President Jiang Zeming pops up.
President Hu Jingtao top the search result of “Brother Tao”
Those who hold a stereotype of the democracy of China, however, will be shocked by these search results. Where is the notorious Great Fire Wall? Are people in China really so close to their leaders that they can call them like that? Do they really have freedom of speech that allows them to talk about Chinese version of Clinton-Lewinsky Scandal Publicly?To some degree, yes. But it is not because the people are officially authorized by the government; instead, they empower themselves by creating a parallel world using another set of language system that the government doesn’t fully notice to covey the information they want, which avoid the information from being filtered by the Great Fire Wall, and protect themselves from getting into trouble. Furthermore, the memetic presentation of this language set, help the netizens self-educate each other to make it a widely recognized system. The reading of this week-The Information: a History, a theory, a Flood- inspires me to dig more about the democratic aspect of Chinese netizen language system to see its formation and growth.
The Chaos Opens the Door of Wisdom
“Like the Printing press, the telegraph, and the telephone before it, the Internet is transforming the language simple by transmitting information differently”, says James Gleick. Does he know this transformation is happening and enhanced by the socio-economic factors in the eastern?
Like any other story of a language beginner, this story starts with learning dirty words. According to James Gleick, the technology leads to the chaos of knowledge, which lacks structure and continuity. The overwhelming and chaotic information from the Internet, however, opens the door for Chinese netizens to look for sound-like alias/substitutes for common words, objects, and persons. The first word that widely used in this language set is “llama” which is a substitute for “f*** your mother” in Chinese. The reason that IIama stands for this F word is because the pronunciation of “llama” sounds like “F*** your mother” in Chinese. Since then, the netizen began to search for the names of animals or any other things that have similar pronunciation with sensitive words to substitute them in daily communication, so that their speech cannot be recognized, censored or filtered online.
The meme that Chinese netizen made for the “llama” version of “F*** Your Mother”
Nevertheless, without Wikipedia and the Internet, those names of animals that are rarely seen in the daily lives of Chinese netizens will never come to their mind. Contrary to Gleick’s worry about UGC(User-Generated Content) will add to the chaos leading the public to nowhere, this new language system in China is totally for people by people. Rather than get lost in the chaos of knowledge brought by the Internet, people adjust to the new environment, take advantage of it, and find their ways out, like what Darwin’s Revolutionary Theory tells us—survival of the fittest.
Furthermore, Those who think the chaos and the creativity might result in rumors might ignore that the Internet, especially social network, is the best experimental site for the free marketplace of ideas that allows truths to be told by being displayed with fabricated rumors.
So far, the online democracy of Chinese nitizens reflects Marshall McLuhan’s endorsement on new technology—the “electric age” recalls human creativity, it is not just another new thing. This prediction seems work better under some socio-economic circumstance like China.
The Report Clip about “llama” version of “F*** Your Mother” From CNN
There is no Dictionary in Mind – Dictionary is what people make
In Gleick’s point of view, language shouldn’t be separated from mind. In his words, “It is what the mind does.” Also, he sees cyberspace as transformative, and whole new architectures of information are allowed in this growing channel. Thus, we can infer that what form and what symbol we choose to present doesn’t really matter, the essential are the purpose, the meaning, or we can say, the information under the skin.
The language system that Chinese netizens create together is something never-before-seen in the established Chinese language architecture. More significantly, it is on people’s demand of democracy. They make their own dictionary to defend their freedom of speech. Furthermore, it’s fluid, transformable, and determined by users, which is helpful to face ever-changing censor technology. This phenomenon in China, however, can be another great example to support the theory of use determinism.
There are two main motives for people to build this new architecture: The first one is defend their right of free speech; the other one is to create a more peaceful Internet environment for all ages. The latter one is actually an unexpected result from the former motive. For instance, now more curse words are replaced by other words. Albeit the new version of curse words are getting popular, when people say them, what appear in their mind are cute images like llama.
From the perspective of its function on democracy, this flourishing language system is confronted with some problems. Will it still function if the words in this parallel language system are accepted by the traditional one like the Internet Language being included in various dictionaries? Besides, its fluidity is not positive for people to pass it from generation to generation. These are the questions remained to be solved.
Memetic Form Help with Promoting
Concluded from Gleick’s text, Multiple-formats, viral communication, and networking effects (Crowdsourcing, collective attention, social networking, and resource allocation) make a huge difference in the efficiency of communication—the information disseminates among people in a explosive growth, and parasitizes in their minds effectively.
In the case of Chinese netizen language system, it doesn’t only improve the efficiency of communication of meme, but also makes it easier for people to self-educate each other to make it a widely recognized system. Moreover, this new collective language system is created in an entertaining way, and always be disseminated with vivid descriptions and multimedia formats. For instance, because the popularity of the movie 2012, any people of wealth and social position died during this time span will be photoshoped with the caption ”Another Person Got the Ticket to the Ark” or “He/she Got a Place on the Ark”. The deaths of several government officials and Steve Jobs were all included on the list. This became a popular meandering slang to joke about those people at that time. The entertaining aspect of this new language system helps recruit more and more followers. Below is a song that some Chinese Netizens contributes to the greatest artist who died during the period of 2010-2012, and it’s called A Song to Those Who are on the Ark:
Another paragon is the 7-23 Bullet Train Accident that happened in 2001. The local government of Wenzhou Province tried to but the wrecked train into pieces and buried the truth right after only 4-hour rescue. Thanks to the wireless mobile and Weibo (Chinese version of Twitter), the intention of the local government was exposed to the public with multiple formats—pictures, videos, and rememberable short captions—instantly. Furthermore, social networking and viral effects worked together to speed up the dissemination of this information and to stir up discussion. Soon after that, the local government apologized and came up with solutions for the aftermath.
The meme dedicated to the 7-23 Bullet Train Accident
Just Another Use-determined Kind of Story
Last week, our fellow Liz Lebron brought up that the theories about the Internet always neglect or are ambivalent on governmental influence/control when they have utopian illusion about the Internet. I agree with her, but the tenacious vitality of Internet ignites my hope all the time, which makes me believe that the use determination, however, might do some magic.
Looking back to the history of the Internet industry, we find that when the speech is censored, people established a whole new language system that the censorship is not able to reach. After mp3.com failed the suit, we got P2P, BitTorrent file sharing. When some countries illegalized P2P, we got net-disk like MegaUpload. Two weeks ago, MegaUpload was taken down, we still had Cloud Computing storage service like Dropbox and 4Shared. What’s more? We even got music for free legally through Spotify! See, the freedom of Internet is always there, of course, in different forms. Therefore, even if Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) get passed, I think people will figure out how to get and convey the information they want. These examples, surprisingly, all point to a truth that the landscape of cyberspace partially depends on how users use it, and what users what it to be. It might be just another Use-determined kind of story.
But from the perspective of technological determination, the digital divides among users of different ages, and among different areas in this country is an obstacles for popularize this language system. Let’s hope the mutual effects among technological, social, and use determination can shape each other to what is good for democracy.
To conclude, it’s unnecessary to claim that the chaos brought new technology only leads to disorder and confusion, it also open the door to wisdom which lays the word-choice foundation for Chinese netizen language system. Moreover, the Internet is an appropriate environment to build a new architecture of language. Furthermore, the memetic presentation of the new Chinese netizen language system helps promote it to be widely used.
“Every new media transforms the nature of human thought. In the long run, history is the story of information aware of itself”, James Gleick said. I, however, rather express it in this way: In the long run, history is the story of the meaning hidden behind the information finding his way out.
References Gleick, J. (2011). The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood. New York: Pantheon Books.