Snowden lauded in China: ‘This is the definition of heroism’

June 10, 2013

Edward Snowden (GUARDIAN/GLENN GREENWALD/LAURA POITRAS)

Edward Snowden, who outed himself as the source of leaks of  top-secret information about U.S. surveillance programs, is being lauded as a hero on Chinese social media, the Wall Street Journal's Josh Chin reports. China's noisy online communities, often a source of criticism against Beijing, seem to be welcoming Snowden, who has been staying in Hong Kong, as a fellow-traveler against government over-reach.

Snowden, in his interviews, also argued that U.S. criticism of Chinese hacking is hypocritical because the U.S. hacks as well, a point that Chinese officials make on everything from cyber security to human rights. For Chinese citizens, then, Snowden can be all things to all people: a hero both to pro-Communist Party nationalists perennially outraged at perceived Western lecturing and to the party's toughest critics.

“This is the definition of heroism,” a Chinese social media user wrote, according to Chin's translation. “Doing this proves he genuinely cares about this country and about his country’s citizens. All countries need someone like him!” Another compared the Obama administration to China's communist party.

Whistle-blowing is a hot topic in China right now. So hot, in fact, that the country's state-run TV broadcaster, CCTV, recently named online whistleblowers as its equivalent of Time magazine's "person of the year." This may have been an attempt to co-opt the increasingly popular practice of posting about local government corruption on social media, but the award certainly reflects a rising belief in China that the government can't be trusted and that regular people have to hold them accountable by acting as citizen activists.

Of course, Chinese reaction can be decidedly more complicated when an activist flees China for asylum abroad, often in the U.S. And the Chinese whistleblowers lauded by CCTV tend to release information that embarrasses lower-level officials rather than, for example, revealing the details of Beijing's hacking capabilities or its domestic spying programs, both of which are extensive and way, way off-limits.

While it's true that the Obama White House has been much tougher on national security leakers than past administrations, the United States is still miles away from China. As some Chinese Web users pointed out, according to Chin, the fact that Western media outlets are widely reporting on the details of Snowden's leaks just goes to show how different the two systems are.

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Max Fisher | June 10, 2013