In recent years, China’s rapidly evolving digital sphere has paradoxically been the site of both liberation and oppression. The development of the Chinese Internet has been characterised by openness and inclusivity — with the number of netizens in the country multiplying at an exponential rate. At the same time, however, Internet activity has increasingly been subjected to governmental restrictions aimed at controlling how the country’s digital space can be used. The sudden emergence of Internet finance in China is emblematic of this contradictory cyber landscape. In only a few years, China has become the world’s largest online lending market, fuelling new forms of economic growth. At the same time, however, the rise of Internet finance has pushed governmental regulators to their limits as they seek to control rampant fraud and illegal behaviour in an attempt to engineer a more ‘trustworthy’ society.
Forum: ‘Computer Says No’
On 26 June, Tencent 腾讯 rolled out Rumour Filter 谣言国滤器 on its ubiquitous instant-messaging app, WeChat 微信. Since WeChat’s launch in 2011, developers have tacked on feature after feature to keep the app central to the lives of Chinese users. WeChat users in 2016 could make restaurant reservations, transfer money, pay utilities, order a taxi, and even find a one night stand — all without leaving WeChat. Tech enthusiasts might not list a rumour filter as the most exciting new add-on of 2016 — that was probably WeChat Out 微信电话本, which allows users to call mobile phones or landlines, often for free. But it is a necessary bow to the Cyberspace Administration of China’s 国家互联网信息办公室 (CAC) desire to control the spread of rumours online.
The former Chinese leader Zhu Rongji 朱镕基 refused to simplify the second character of his name following the radical script reforms of the 1950s and 1960s. In 1993, the State Language Work Committee 国家语言文字工作委员会 quietly added the ‘offending’ character (镕) to the official standard character list. This contrasts sharply with the blunt treatment ordinary citizens routinely meet when they express a similar attachment to non-standard characters in their names. Over the last decade, the government has been pushing a sweeping modernisation agenda with the help of digital technology — with the side effect of making life difficult for people whose names contain uncommon characters.