June 4, 2010

The New York Review of Books Translates, Posts Twitter Dialogue between Dalai Lama + Chinese.

Translation of Twitter Dialogue between Dalai Lama + Chinese.

Read the entire transcript here. Perry Link explains how this all worked:

The exchange was organized by Wang Lixiong, a Chinese intellectual known for his writing on Tibet and for theorizing about how China might generate its own kind of democracy in the Internet age.

The idea of promoting “free dialogue” on the Web between the Dalai Lama and Chinese citizens is an extremely bold notion. To China’s rulers, nearly every word in the phrase “free dialogue with the Dalai Lama” is anathema. The Dalai Lama, in their language, is a traitor, a “splittist,” an “enemy of the people,” a “monster,” a “wolf in monk’s robes.” The word “dialogue” has not fared well in Chinese Communist history, either. It is what student protesters were asking for in spring 1989 just before tanks and machine guns settled the question by massacre.

So how did Wang Lixiong do it? First he asked representatives of the Dalai Lama, who is on a tour of the U.S., for an hour of time in which the Tibetan religious leader might answer questions from Chinese citizens. The Dalai Lama agreed to use the hour of 8 to 9 a.m. (EST) on May 21 for this purpose. Wang then arranged to open a Twitter page beginning on May 17 at 10:30 a.m. (Beijing time), onto which Chinese Web users could pose questions. In order to promote democracy in the questioning process, Wang decided to prioritize the questions using the program Google Moderator, which posts all questions on a Google Moderator page inside China. According to the program, any Web visitor can vote on which questions he or she prefers and only one vote from any one remote Web user is accepted (to prevent a cyber version of ballot-box stuffing); during the voting period, a running tally is published on which questions have received the most votes.

This process went well until 4:07 p.m. (Beijing time) on May 18. At that moment access to the Google Moderator page inside China was blocked. Apparently the authorities had discovered the project. Many questions and votes had already been collected, however, and questions continued to pour in even after the blocking because many Web users in China know how to use proxy servers to “jump the great firewall” electronically. By 10 p.m. on May 20 (EST), which was the deadline Wang set for submitting questions and voting on preferences, 282 questions had been submitted and 12,045 votes for questions had been cast. Wang said that he was “very pleased” with this response and that the questions that rose to the top of the pile were indeed, in his view, a good representation of the actual concerns on the minds of Chinese citizens.

The questions that had the most votes at the end were presented to the Dalai Lama Friday at 8:00 a.m. (EST). My English translations of the questions and answers, which follow below, are based on a Chinese-language transcript that has been approved by the Dalai Lama’s staff. More detail is available at Wang Lixiong’s Twitter account (twitter.com/wlixiong). The numbers attached to the questions refer to their rank order in number of votes received.

Read the entire Q&A here.

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