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Показать все книги автора/авторов: Stephenson Neal

«In the Kingdom of Mao Bell», Neal Stephenson


A billion Chinese are using new technology to create the fastest growing economy on the planet. But while the information wants to be free, do they?

By Neal Stephenson (Published in Wired, February 1994)

In the inevitable rotating lounge atop the Shangri-La Hotel in the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone, a burly local businessman, wearing a synthetic polo shirt stretched so thin as to be semitransparent, takes in the view, some drinks, and selections from the dinner buffet.

He is accompanied by a lissome consort in a nice flowered print dress. Like any face-conscious Chinese businessman he carries a large boxy cellular phone. It's not that he can't afford a "prawn," as the newer flip phones are called. His model is prized because it stands up on a restaurant table, antenna in the fully erect position, flaunting the owner's connectivity - and in China, connections are everything.

The lounge spins disconcertingly fast - you have to recalibrate your inner ear when you enter, and I half expect to see the head of my Guinness listing. Furthermore, it is prone to a subtly disturbing oscillation known to audio engineers as wow. Outside the smoked windows, Typhoon Abe is gathering his forces.

Shenzhen spins around me, wowing sporadically.

Thirty-one floors below is the Shen Zhen (Deep River) itself, which separates China-proper's Special Economic Zone from Hong Kong and eventually flows into the vast estuary of the

Pearl River. The boundary serves the combined functions of the Iron Curtain and the Rio Grande, yet in cyberspace terms it has already ceased to exist:

The border is riddled with leased lines connecting clean, comfortable offices in Hong Kong with factories in Shenzhen,staffed with nimble and submissive girls from rural China.

Shenzhen's population is 60 percent female.

The value of many Hong Kong stocks is pegged to arcane details of PRC government policy, which are announced from time to time by ministries in Beijing. For a long time, the Hong Kong market has fluctuated in response to such announcements; more recently, the fluctuations have begun to happen hours or days before the policies are made public.

Hong Kong television is no longer targeted at a Hong Kong audience; it is now geared for the 20 million people in the Pearl

Delta - the 80-mile-long region defined by Guangzhou (Canton) in the interior, Hong Kong and the Shenzhen SEZ on the eastern bank, and Macao and the Zhuhai SEZ on the western bank.

Thickets of television antennas, aimed toward Hong Kong, fringe the roof of every Pearl Delta apartment block. Since TV Guide and its ilk are not available, Star TV regularly flashes up a telephone number bearing the Hong Kong prefix. Dial this number and they will fax you a program guide. This is easy for Shenzhen residents, because...

Every telephone in Shenzhen has international direct dial.

The first thing that happened during Jaruzelski's military coup in Poland was that the narcs invaded the telephone exchanges and severed the trunk lines with axes, ensuring that they would take months to repair. This and similar stories have gotten us into the habit of thinking that modern information technology is to totalitarianism what crosses are to vampires. Skeptics might say it's just a coincidence that glasnost and perestroika came just after the photocopier, the fax, and the personal computer invaded Russia, but I think there's a connection, and if you read WIRED, you probably do too. After all, how could any country whose power structure was based on controlling the flow of information survive in an era of direct-dial phones and ubiquitous fax machines?

Now (or so the argument goes), any nation that wants a modern economy has to have information technology - so economic modernization will inevitably lead to political reform, right?

I went to China expecting to see that process in action. Ilooked everywhere for hardy electronic frontierfolk, using their modems and fax machines to push the Communists back into their holes, and I asked dang near everyone I met about how communications technology was changing Chinese culture.

None of them knew what the fuck I was talking about.

I was carrying an issue of WIRED so that I wouldn't have to explain it to everyone. It happened to be the issue with Bill Gibson on the cover. In one corner were three characters in Hanzi (the script of the Han Chinese). Before I'd left the States, I'd heard that they formed the Chinese word for "network."

Whenever I showed the magazine to a Chinese person they were baffled. "It means network, doesn't it?" I said, thinking all the warm and fuzzy thoughts that we think about networks.

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