This is a place where memories get terribly distorted: people in their fifties now say that the government was right to crack down in 1989. And many people forget that 1989-92 was an ice age, before China began marching towards the market. I don’t think ordinary people should have to concentrate on remembering – it’s not good for them, and it’s not their job. It’s intellectuals who shouldn’t forget. These days, they can’t say anything, though. They know the risks of speaking out: that there’s a huge difference between having government approval and losing it, in terms of the housing you’ll get, access to international funding, and so on.

– Chan Koonchung, in the preface to The Fat Years

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  1. Jeff says:

    > They know the risks of speaking out: that there’s a huge difference between having government approval and losing it

    A similar thing could be said about social media users in Europe and the US losing their jobs because of things they’ve said online. A case of the greatest memory machine ever having so much held back out of fear?

    • Excellent point. Shaming as a horizontal collective threat in addition to potential vertical clampdowns. Shady operators everywhere.

      This is a pretty excellent radio show on public shaming and social media:

      • Jeff says:

        Hadn’t thought of shaming. Makes me think more of how informants were the lifeblood of the Stasi’s surveillance. I guess, in memory terms, although the Stasi would appreciate the power of today’s social media, they were able to build up a record that showed a different picture because of the different imperatives at work in its data. Informants could use the police to settle scores with family and neighbours. They could also be induced / seduced by power and money. I’m not so sure the same could be said of the record that’s (mostly innocently) volunteered on social media.
        I shall listen to the podcast. Might be some time though – currently installing OSX Yosemite. Wish me luck!

        • Yes, the overlap between shaming and surveillance/informing is pretty provocative. There’s at least one example in that podcast that would seem to qualify as informing via social media, I think. Overall the podcast raises a lot of interesting questions as to how to respond to the social media record and how to deal with what is considered to be “volunteered.” Good luck with the install!


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