Saturday, February 20, 2010

Taking The Silk Road To Cyberspace

Via CT Lab -

Beijing's crackdown on Uighurs in the western Chinese province of Xinjiang has been one of the great under-reported stories of the last year. After violent confrontations between Han Chinese and Uighurs last summer, China has repressed all forms of political expression, and has all but made it impossible to get internet access.

A BBC article relates how this has affected local businesses:

The only way to get around the internet block has been to travel 1000 km (620 miles) across Xinjiang's deserts to reach a working internet connections outside the region.

Starting seven months ago, Zhu Meng began making the long journey just to send e-mails to keep his business alive.

The road follows the old trading artery, the Silk Road, past snow-capped peaks, across Xinjiang's empty expanses and through a barren moonscape of mountains and snow.

By car, it takes 24 hours from Urumqi to reach the first working internet connection outside Xinjiang. It is just across the border in neighbouring Gansu province, in the dusty frontier town of Liuyuan...

It's not that the Silk Road has ever lost its importance as a communications route, but that the road from the Mediterranean to the Pacific is serving now as a means to access what Al Gore is alleged to have termed the 'information superhighway'. A tenuous metaphor at best, but you take my point, I'm sure.

I'm scratching my head thinking about how this physical route fits into our concepts of cyberspace, although I'm using that term less and less these days. In this context, it acts as a physical means of subverting government control, but there are many other conceptual levers that could be pulled to interpret this. Any ideas?

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