China has a very Orwellian reason for banning typing “1984” on social media, while allowing people to read Nineteen Eighty-Four

Boing Boing
Date: Jan 13, 2019
By: Cory Doctorow

Chinese internet users can’t type the numbers “1984” into social media, but Chinese bookstores freely sell copies of Orwell’s novels, including Nineteen Eighty-Four, as well as other books whose titles are banned on social media.

In Nineteen Eighty-Four, the inner Party members are allowed to read the literature that is banned for consumption by proles and outer Party members, and the same is true in China: the Politburo treats books as the purview of intellectual elites, who are on the one hand able to circumvent these bans while traveling abroad, and, on the other hand, are more invested in the system and viewed as less likely to be subverted by Orwell’s anti-authoritarian message.

This kind of double-standard is shot through Chinese censorship policy (and, as Amy Hawkins and Jeffrey Wasserstrom write in The Atlantic, through western society, too: think of how kids are banned from movies that depict nudity, but there are no age-limits on touring museums where the same nudity is on display).

The Party understands that keeping elites in line requires a lighter touch, but they treat the masses as a kind of herd that is subject to epidemics of unrest. The inconsistencies in Chinese censorship aren’t the result of incoherence so much as they are a form of class warfare, where internet-bases proles are strictly limited, while the elites enjoy much more freedom of access and thought.