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Sebastian Santos: Ways you or your gamer kids can help battle censorship in China

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Freedom of speech is virtually universally desired but frequently suppressed. Most people want to say something when institutions are inattentive or mishandling what matters to us.

Arguably, more free speech is also key to the social sense of wellbeing and egalitarian agency—if it can be done with strong social norms of respect and civil discourse.

The opposite of free speech is censorship. Some nations are notorious in this regard, such as China. Within the Chinese government, there exists many censorship groups monitoring the content being put out by Internet users in China. Anything, no matter how trivial, is subject to be reviewed to see if it matches with the Chinese government’s guidelines designed to eliminate any negative news or opinions about China’s government, officials, policies, or economy.

Even the Internet browser the Chinese populace is forced to use is of China’s own creation, controlling the narrative by altering facts, adding propaganda, and omitting any hint of troubling conditions. Hence, freedom of speech is almost entirely stifled, which creates nearly insurmountable challenges for those wanting to create change through political or nonviolent means.

Examples include using the likeness of Winnie the Pooh in any way, shape, or form. The character is sometimes used to make fun of President Xi Jinping. If one in China were to look up the character these days, they would not be able to find a single instance anywhere.

Meanwhile, those who have or continue to use the character will not only be censored, but may also face severe consequences, even arrest and imprisonment.

Another example is the video game ‘Devotion’ by Taiwanese developers Red Candle where there was a hidden reference to Xi Jinping as Winnie the Pooh in the game, causing a years-long controversy despite later changes replacing the secret with something else and bending to Chinese censorship.

Despite this, nonviolent resistance has shown great adaptability in China as well as its sovereign state of Hong Kong and in regards to the country’s complex relationship with Taiwan. To get around these obstacles, many groups and individuals have had to remain both flexible with a great deal of endurance.

In Hong Kong during their recent pro-democracy movement, protesters were able to spread their message and real time updates on the situation on a global scale and remained persistent in their message. However, this may be seen as possible due to their own historical autonomy from China’s government. Nonviolent resistance in mainland China is still a steep hurdle to climb given the government’s tight grip, given the extreme and obsessively vigilant censorship.

Fortunately, nonviolent resistance is malleable, with the aforementioned examples representativeof many current instances. Sometimes repression may ultimately create something profound to bloom.

To add even more countervailing pressure against censorship, the international community can aid the nonviolent resistance.

With ‘Devotion’, the game was released internationally to numerous online platforms. Its withdrawal, under coercion by the Chinese censors, from online stores made huge waves across numerous news sources, both local and global. This resulted in immense backlash against the Chinese government’s actions and their global image to increasingly go down.

An extension of this also may be seen with another controversy that coincided with the Hong Kong protests, where a Hong Kong native named Ng Wai Chung or “Blitzchung” advocated for pro-democracy in his homeland during one of his live streams. He is a well-known gamer and champion in a game called ‘Hearthstone’, which is created by American video game company, Activision Blizzard.

Due to his actions and China’s own reaction to the protest, the company proceeded to not only shut down his stream, but also inflicted punishments that compromised his ability to continue earning a living and repressed his ability for advocacy.

Extreme criticism from the international community, some of those who were fans of the game and the company, decided to boycott any and all content and even a group from U.S. Congress sent a letter to the company to reconsider their actions. The aftermath had Blizzard scale back their punishments and ultimately lost a notable majority of their player base and income.

Despite a global trend featuring a rise in autocracy, we can all resist that wherever we see it. How?

  • Post about it in social media.
  • Share memes that poke fun at censorship or other repressive behavior by governments. More Winnie the Pooh advocating for free expression.
  • Boycott products that support any attack on human rights or freedom.
  • Pressure our own elected officials to act in both real and symbolic ways.
  • “Buycott” (buy from) the companies and countries that support democracy.
  • Share links to helpful tactics where they are available.

It is said that autocrats are collaborating more with each other. It is time for those who value freedom, democracy, and human rights to collaborate with each other as well. When we help Chinese, Russian, Iranian, Palestinian, Rohingyan, or Turkish people gain rights our own become more secure.

Sebastian Santos, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a graduate of Portland State University currently pursuing a master’s degree at Lewis and Clark College.

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