A survey conducted in recent months in 17 countries for BBC World Service by GlobeScan, a polling company, suggests a few surprising differences in how Chinese and many Westerners view their freedoms. Some of the results of the poll will not surprise anyone who has heard of Edward Snowden: a majority of Americans and Germans feel they are not free from government surveillance or monitoring, and only a third of Americans and Canadians, 38% of Britons and 27% of Germans feel the internet is a safe place to express their opinions.
But the eye-catching figure is that 76% of respondents in China said they do feel free from government surveillance and monitoring—the highest proportion among the 17 countries polled (Australia came in second with 72%). And 45% of Chinese respondents said the internet was a safe place to express their opinions, more than in most countries polled (France rated worst on this score, at 22%). Another surprise was the proportion of respondents in China—47%—who said their press, which is in fact rigidly censored, is free. This was higher than the result for France (24%), Spain (28%), Germany (39%), America (42%), Australia (42%) and Britain (45%).
Clearly such polling partly reflects what people are reading and watching in their media. China has no Edward Snowden of its own to worry about, and its press cannot engage in extended public handwringing about government surveillance. Polling also tells us something of what people expect and demand of their societies, and what disappoints them, as much as it reflects real conditions. (Polling in China was conducted in January and February by telephone, with a sample of 1,000 urban residents across 18 cities).
Other poll questions reveal less surprising results for China: a higher proportion of Chinese than in any other country—45%—disagreed that the internet gives them more freedom (51% agreed, tied for lowest with Germany); a slim majority of Chinese also do not think of the internet as a safe place to express themselves. Most of the more than 600m people online in China are unaware of the full extent of China’s online monitoring, filtering and censorship, even if many have a sense of it. Still, after a very public and sustained crackdown on social media that has featured arrests for online activism and for the spreading of “rumours”, one might expect more Chinese to feel skittish about their internet.
By G.E., April 1, 2014 in The Economist