Can China bypass the SNS revolution?

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Can China bypass the SNS revolution?


In the 1970’s, the rule of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi seemed solid. Seventy percent of Iranian households had televisions and all of them had radios. But the only thing that Iranians could hear and watch were propaganda programs praising the monarch. Savak, short for the National Intelligence and Security Organization, completely suppressed opponents of the Pahlavi regime, while Ayatollah Khomeini, who was considered the biggest threat to the monarch, was living in exile in Iraq since 1964.

But the Iranian government was faced with unexpectedly large anti-government protests in 1977. How could the Iranians plan such an organized resistance? Everett Rogers, who is famous for his study of “Diffusion of Innovations,” paid attention to the emergence of new information technology behind the Iranian Revolution.

During his 14 years in exile, Khomeini preached in front of a cassette tape recorder almost every day. The sermons were reproduced in thousands of tapes - an inexpensive and low-tech device - and were brought into Iran. The manuscripts of the sermons were copied and distributed to mosques in the regions. Khomeini urged Iranian clergymen and citizens to rise up against the corrupt Shah and become martyrs. If cassette tape players and copy machines were not widely used in the 1970’s, the revolution wouldn’t have been possible.

In early 1979, the Shah was forced to leave the country, with Khomeini returning in triumph and launching a new government based on Islamic fundamentalism. The Iranians celebrated the victory of Xerocracy, or democracy attained through Xeroxed materials.

The lessons of the Iranian Revolution can apply to the intense wave of democratization that has now hit the Arab world. President Mubarak of Egypt and President Ben Ali of Tunisia are not much different from Pahlavi. They have enjoyed formidable power for decades, but are vulnerable to the evolution of the media. The cassette tapes and copy machines have now been replaced by social networking services such as Twitter and Facebook. Of course, even the evolution of the media is powerless in some countries. In China, social networking services are completely shut out under an Internet surveillance system called the Golden Shield Project. Dramatic economic development and heightened neo-Sinocentrism have helped suppress the democratization of information, but I wonder how long China can remain an exception.

*The writer is the content director at JES Entertainment.

By Song Won-seop
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