China Faces the Era of Declassification

By Zang Shan  30/12/2010

When I was in college in the 70’s, I had several roommates who were the so-called “rusticated youth,” about 10 years older than me. (The rusticated youths were the result of a communist policy enacted in the 50's until the end of the Cultural Revolution that saw all universities throughout China closed and the youths sent to work as peasant farmers in the countryside).

Every night after the lights were out, they would start telling us stories, mainly true stories that occurred in the rural and urban areas of China. These stories, real and relentless, opened a different world to us. Unconsciously, our understanding of Chinese society was reshaped by those stories.

Those that drew the most attention were political jokes and the stories about high-ranking government officials, told by a roommate whose parents were well-placed officials in Beijing. At that time, news about high-ranking officials were deemed state secrets.

We had a satellite remote sensing course in college. Every time the professor led us to the satellite image room, we had to register with our student card to see those precious satellite photos stamped with a red “top secret” seal. I remember, on the first day, we noticed some square or rectangular black blocks on the pictures. The professor explained that these redactions were added by China’s security department to cover up secret military installations.

According to the professor, all of the satellite pictures were taken by U.S. satellites.

At that time, we started to realize that the target of China’s classification system is the Chinese people, and not the so-called “hostile foreign forces.”

Twenty years later, I was not surprised at all when the Chinese government pressed Google Earth to lower the resolution of Google Earth images of China. The Chinese regime does not care whether foreigners know the truth, but only whether its own people know the truth.

During a casual conversation, I got to know that the Chinese Communist Party spent quite an amount of money and political power to prevent secret files on China from being released when the former Soviet Union collapsed.

Understandably, any leak of secrets will create headaches for the Party. The secret documents recently released by WikiLeaks appeared to impact the entire world, but the most impacted is undoubtedly the Chinese communist regime.

It is said that there are no secrets in the Internet era. Anyone can release the truth on the Internet and include pictures, videos and documents. The Watergate incident in the 70’s, first reported by the Washington Post, was the most prominent investigative article of recent years. Today, almost all of the secrets that have shocked the world are now firstly announced on the Internet by unknown individuals or groups.

In addition to its monopoly of the sources of wealth and the arbitrary use of violence, the Chinese Communist Party's control over the flow of information is also important to its pyramid structure and grip on the country.

In China today, a large amount of information is published on the Internet which would have been regarded as classified secrets 20 years ago. The Internet era is an era of declassification, as well as the era of knocking down the authoritarian pyramid. This definitely frustrates the communist regime who stubbornly insists on maintaining its autocratic system.