Sunday, March 11, 2007

Evil work

This has to be one of the most encouraging bits of news I've read in a long time:
China's Southern Metropolis Weekly magazine recently reported this shocking news: The central government created universal health care for the country's 1.3 billion people, wiped out bribery and reduced the country's wide income gap.

Migrant workers in the southern city of Guangzhou, notorious for its sweatshops, were "happy" and "respected," the magazine reported in its print and Web editions.

Of course, it was political parody. And all untrue.

Virtually unheard of several years ago, such blatant satire is part of a radical shift sweeping Chinese culture as Internet use spreads and citizens increasingly evade censorship by couching criticism in sarcastic humor.

China has become so awash in a new wave of sarcastic — and often subversive — media that the trend has spawned a name: egao, literally, "evil work."

The word describes "a subculture that is characterized by humor, revelry, subversion, grass-root spontaneity, defiance of authority, mass participation and multimedia high tech," said a recent editorial in the government-run China Daily.

While the government tightly controls traditional media channels including television, radio and print, "the Internet has given people the chance to express themselves," said Guo Xinghua, a sociologist at People's University in Beijing.

"Egao is a term for how average people are seizing back the discourse," he said.

Speaking in code to avoid backlash from a repressive government is an old trick--ask Aesop.

What these folks in China are up to is a little bit trickier, though, since much satire and most sarcasm relies on idiom and cultural references to make itself intelligible, which is probably why Southern Metropolitan Daily, like its internet counterparts, doesn't really survive translation and retelling . (Well, okay, maybe some parts do survive.) But its mixture of independent investigative journalism and good old-fashioned smart-assedness can be hard to keep under rein in the internet age.

And to think the gerontocracy running China was worried that western-style consumerism or human rights reform would do them in. Silly buggers.

(Hat tip to the No Fact Zone.)

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