Ai Weiwei writing in The Guardian:
Chairman Mao used to say: “As communists we gain control with the power of the gun and maintain control with the power of the pen.” You can see propaganda and the control of ideology as an authoritarian society’s most important task. Before the internet, all people could do was watch TV or read the People’s Daily. They would carefully read between the lines to see what had happened. Now it is very different. The papers try to talk about things, but even before they appear, everyone has talked about it on the internet.
But since we got the net and could write blogs – and now microblogs – people have started to share ideas, and a new sense of freedom has arisen. Of course, it varies from silly posts about what you’ve had for breakfast to serious discussions of the news but, either way, people are learning how to exercise their own rights. It is a unique, treasured moment. People have started to feel the breeze. The internet is a wild land with its own games, languages and gestures through which we are starting to share common feelings.
But the government cannot give up control. It blocks major internet platforms – such as Twitter and Facebook – because it is afraid of free discussion. And it deletes information. The government computer has one button: delete.
But censorship by itself doesn’t work. It is, as Mao said, about the pen and the gun. At midnight they can come into your room and take you away. They can put a black hood on you, take you to a secret place and interrogate you, trying to stop what you’re doing. They threaten people, your family, saying: “Your children won’t find jobs.”
China may seem quite successful in its controls, but it has only raised the water level. It’s like building a dam: it thinks there is more water so it will build it higher. But every drop of water is still in there. It doesn’t understand how to let the pressure out. It builds up a way to maintain control and push the problem to the next generation.