Beijing’s policy towards Google is nothing new. The First Emperor of China‘s advisers rounded up all ‘unapproved’ books. Single copies were retained in the emperor’s own library, and all duplicates were destroyed. It was a criminal offence to possess a banned volume. When the Qin dynasty fell a few years later, the library of censured books was destroyed, along with uncountable, irretrievable works of classical Chinese.
The First Emperor’s censorship scheme removed books considered superstitious or useless, but also any account of history that differed from the one approved by the government.
It shouldn’t be much of a surprise that the First Emperor’s policies should sound familiar. His advisers were the first real career politicians, and one of his greatest admirers was Chairman Mao.
Other chilling features of the First Emperor’s time include:
- a society under constant surveillance, in which people were encouraged to report on the activities of their neighbours.
- a criminal justice system in which the interrogator delivered a verdict before questioning.
- legalised bribery, in which the rich could buy off legal penalties, or send proxies to serve jail sentences in their place.
And some are simply impossible to imagine:
- a campaign to make immigrants the scapegoats for all social ills.
- an identity card system.
- a military expedition launched against a rival nation, to retrieve magical artifacts that were later found not to exist.
So I hope you feel fortunate that you live in such enlightened times.