“For many years, the internet in China was seen as a channel for new thinking, or at least greater openness,” writes Human Rights Watch researcher Yaqiu Wang. “Online discussions were relatively free and open, and users, especially younger ones, had an eager appetite for learning and debating big ideas about political systems and how China should be governed.”
That changed when Xi Jinping took power. Explaining what’s known as China’s “Great Firewall,” Wang notes, “the government got savvier, and more aggressive about using its own technology.” For example, dissidents, journalists, and public figures disappear frequently, sometimes often for minor infractions like logging onto Twitter.
The state’s actions have created “a generational split,” says Wang. “[T]hose who experienced a relatively free internet as young people—many strongly resent the Great Firewall. Among people who started college after Xi took power, however, there is a strong impulse to defend it.”
It’s an extreme example of how tools intended and used for good can also be harnessed for evil. The same resource that can promote flourishing can also promote tyranny. That’s true everywhere, not just China.