Sunday, September 02, 2007

Authoritarianism with a friendly face

Usually reviled for the harsh and overt manner in which it represses dissidents at home, the Chinese government this week turned to an unusual tactic to ensure it maintains its grip on power: cuteness. Starting on Saturday, Web sites registered with portals in Beijing will begin featuring animated cartoon police officers — in all fairness male and female — that every half hour will pop up on screen and remind users, in an ostensibly friendly manner, smiles and all, of the limits to their freedom.

Though news of the ploy has circulated round the world and been treated with mild amusement (the officers are indeed appealing, in a Manga sort of way), the truth of the matter is that there is nothing mild, or cute, about the new device, as it masks a relentless control of access to information and cynically disguises repression as an object of admiration.

In an article published today in the Taipei Times, I argue that Beijing's reliance on cute cartoons is anything but innocuous and poses a renewed danger to Chinese — especially children, whom the new tactic seems to be targeting — as it renders the repressive banal and portrays something fundamentally evil as an object of seeming harmless beauty.

Readers can access my article, titled “Authoritarianism wears a new face,” by clicking here.

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