It hit the global news like a tsunami. The beautiful song at the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics, though unknown at the time, was performed by two Chinese girls—one providing the face and the other the voice. But as usual, the US media missed the real news item here: that it was the Chinese press who broke the story.

 

To be sure, the Chinese media is not free by any stretch of the imagination. The government imposes leviathan censorship and the story was pulled from news agencies’ websites as soon as it began to attract enormous attention. Which is to say, almost immediately.

 

However, during that brief moment when Chen Qigang, the director of the opening ceremony, was telling the story across Beijing Radio—the story of how the politburo ordered the ruse and, by implication, seemed to be censoring the program down to the smallest details—the government got a dose of what can happen when the media does what it’s supposed to do.  

 

Although the Chinese might be demonstrating that capitalism is possible without democracy, they have undoubtably learned that both thrive best on the unfettered flow of information. The same flow that allows business to streamline practices, to operate most efficiently and competitively against the ebb and flow of market currents, creates a dangerous challenge to authoritarian rule. Whether or not Beijing can maintain this paradox remains to be seen, but is doubtful.

 

The concept that information is free is new to China. For centuries, information was not something to be taken and exchanged at will. Rather, it was a tool of power reserved for those with the mandate to rule. But those centuries are gone, and attempts to stop the flow of information are in our times pitifully inadequate.  And trying to prevent it might turn out for Beijing what keeping slavery, according to Jefferson, was like for the US–like holding a fox by the tale: you can’t hold it forever but the longer you do the harder it will bite you when you let it go.

  

 

 

 

Advertisements