Dr. Fang Binxing, an academician of the China Academy of Engineering who was one of the main designers of the infamous firewall confining China’s Internet, presented his new theory on Internet Sovereignty and reiterated his view on the importance of “border control” on the Internet, at a conference called “Innovation and Development of China’s Internet Forum” on November 11th.
Dr. Fang was often called “father of China’s Great Firewall” and his unapologetic support for Internet censorship made him one of the most hated figures among pro-democracy netizens. When he was giving a speech in Wuhan University in May this year, a student threw a shoe at him, and there was heated discussion in various pro-democracy online forums over how much damage Dr. Dang did to the Internet in China.
But this time Dr. Fang still voiced his view forcefully and presented a new theory that defines four basic components of Internet Sovereignty (full Chinese text here) The four basic components, or fundamental rights in Fang’s words, are the right of independence, the right of equality, the right of self defense and the right of jurisdiction.
Though I was quite familiar with Dr. Fang’s view, I still didn’t expect he would go so far to envision an Internet that consists solely of territories of nation-states, which can sometimes become battle fields between nation-states. In his elaboration of the right of independence, Dr. Fang envisions an Internet in China that can exist outside of the global Internet. The right of equality, as Dr. Fang describes, essentially means that the “Internets” of different nation-states can have diplomatic and business connections. In Dr. Fang’s words, “it’s just like airline traffic across borders”.
When Dr. Fang talked about the right of self-dense, his nationalistic sentiment became ever more salient. I doubt he believes in any kind of shared public interests of international communities, all he can see is a world in which nation-states compete for supremacy and self-interests. Dr. Fang compared the national rivalry of Internet to that of nuclear competition or space war, and he emphasized that we have to protect our virtual space just like what we do with our land, sea or sky territory. Dr. Fang sees so many national enemies that are just waiting for any chance to attack China’s Internet system, that he believes only an Internet of total isolation is truly capable of self defense.
Among all the mind-boggling things Dr. Fang said, what shocked me most was his explanation of the right of jurisdiction. He lamented that our Internet does not have the capability to disable a global Internet service whenever desirable. He used the example of Google and said it was a pity that although google had retreated from China but its service was still accessible in China. “It’s like the relationship between riverbed and water. Water has no nationality, but riverbeds are sovereign territories, we cannot allow polluted water from other nation-states to enter our country”, said Dr. Fang.
I have written about how nationalism in radical forms is becoming a main obstacle for China’s opening up and political reform. When public interest can hardly justify internet censorship, nationalism becomes the foundation of a discourse of Internet sovereignty that Dr. Fang’s theory contributes to, and helps to fabricate a vision that somehow it’s in the interest of Chinese people as a nation to have an Internet that is isolated from the global Internet. I fall back into my habitual pessimism on the thought that it’s people like Dr. Fang who are in charge of constructing and supervising the Internet in China.
Unfortunately power holders like Dr. Fang have already made the Internet in China one of the most censored and distorted. But Chinese netizens have that unique spirit that can turn every tragedy into a comedy and whatever darkness into chocolate. Let’s amuse ourselves by reliving the online party of irony and parody that happened before and after Dr. Fang’s speech in Wuhan University in May 2011.
Before Dr. Fang arrived in Wuhan, netizens were already discussing how to protest during his speech. Many netizens who cannot make it to Wuhan offered thoughtfully chosen prizes to whoever would throw eggs or shoes at Dr. Fang, the implication of these prizes can only by appreciated by veteran netizens. The prizes included:
Vintage DVDs of Sola Aoi 苍井空 (the Japanese AV star turned Chinese Internet Icon).
Any goods from Taobao up to 2000 RMB.
Full Service Package in the town of Dongguan in Guangzhuo (Dongguan is a center of manufacture and export industry, also the first area to apply ISO standard quality control system to sexual service).
10 VPN accounts.
Total Power Leveling Package in World of Warcraft, on Taiwan server.
There are also the less original prizes such as one-night-stand, dinner or travel package. The netizens who offered one-night-stand must have waited with anxiety before they found out the gender of the shoe-thrower. It turned out that the only person who did throw a shoe at Dr. Fang during his speech was a boy, whose online nick name is “Coldness Leaning on You” (寒君依). Mr. Coldness was almost caught by the security guards in the lecture hall after he threw his shoes, but many students threw themselves in the way of the security guards and earned time for him to escape. Besides the netizens who did have one-night-stand with him, all we know about him is that he has big feet, judging from a photo he posted online after the shoe-throwing event.
Dr. Fang was furious at the organizers in Wuhan University. He said it was an unforgivable security mistake of Wuhan University, because obviously the discussion about shoe-throwing during his speech had been quite open and widespread before his arrival.
According to the live broadcast of the shoe-throwing event on weibo (microblog), netizens are disappointed that only one of the two shoes thrown by Mr. Coldness hit target, but many still offered to buy new shoes for Mr. Coldness. Among those who offered new shoes, only one was generous enough to specify that they will be Nike rather than any local Shanzhai (山寨）brand. But the most generous donor is a person whose online name is Siming Tian: Tian declared that if one day he won a lottery of 100 million, he would give Mr. Coldness 50 million. Here is a screenshot of the weibo broadcast at that time, hope you were there!