Image credit: @eviltomthai.
Sociologist and ethnographer Tricia Wang (previously) is, perhaps more than anyone else writing about China today, extremely good at getting people to talk about very personal topics in a frank and fascinating way. She recently spoke with some Chinese college students about their masturbatory habits and how they bypass the prudish CPC censors.
As much as those of us who are interested in internet censorship would like to believe to the contrary, the real reason most Chinese bypass the Great Firewall isn’t to enjoy unfettered freedom of speech or read about verboten subjects, it’s to watch porn.
The foreigner’s image of China often includes Communist Party officials using censorship tools to prevent citizens from accessing and spreading political messages. We don’t think of people like Lao Bing, chilling in a room with hundreds of males looking at porn.
Tai Ge didn’t find his way onto the Net until college, where a dorm mate had a computer and knew how to access porn. “Six of us would huddle around him watching the videos on his desktop screen.” When Tai Ge got his own laptop, he was most excited to watch porn by himself. “That’s when I learned how to masturbate.”
Those of us who grew up with dial-up internet connections in the pre-video-streaming era can sympathise with the plight of Chinese porn seekers, patiently watching the progress bar on a file download.
Downloading has become common practice throughout China; not just porn sites vanish and shift. Websites, comments, and blog posts can disappear if they catch a censor’s eye and are seen as embarrassing or threatening to the Communist Party. Responding to unstable URLs, a culture of caching web content has emerged through techniques like screenshotting.
Wang identifies a fundamental flaw in the authorities’ porn ban, it teaches some lessons the CPC would rather not be learned.
It may be in the quest for porn that many male college students learn the fundamental lessons about what makes the Internet work: sharing and openness make collaboration possible. These qualities are rare in an education system that rewards individual achievements over teamwork.
While it is doubtful the CPC’s censors would see it this way, the porn ban is fundamentally self-defeating. As sex advice columnist Dan Savage has oft said, “All men masturbate (most women do, all should), all men look at porn (many women do, more should)”. People will find always find a way around a system that blocks porn, so by not making porn available on the Chinese internet, the censors are actually providing an incentive for regular, non-political netizens to jump the firewall, and once they’re over, who knows what they’ll be looking at.
Read the rest of Tricia Wang’s article at Makeshift.