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CCHH News & Events

The Cholera Pandemic,Transnational Politics, and the Cold War in Southeast Asia and China, 1960-1965

An IAS Talking Point seminar with Visiting Research Fellow Dr Fang Xiaoping 方小平 and responses from Dr Vivienne Lo  and Dr Andrew Wear.
Time: Wed 20 June 2018, 6–8pm
Place: IAS Common Ground (ground floor, south wing, Wilkins building)
Registration via Eventbrite.
Download a flyer here.
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Ma Kanwen Memorial Lecture 2018

Vivienne Lo (UCL CCHH) will be giving the 2nd Ma Kanwen Memorial Lecture at the Needham Research Institute, Cambridge on Friday 25 May, 4pm. More...

Imagining Chinese Medicine

(edited volume, Vivienne Lo & Penelope Barrett, Brill, 2018) has now been published in Open Access. You can browse or download it at:
http://booksandjournals.brillonline.com/content/books/9789004366183
More...

MA Dissertation Conference 2018: Transnational Studies and Chinese Health & Humanity

Wednesday 23 May, 09.00–13.00, Room 101, 16–18 Gordon Square.
Please come along to support our wonderful students and find out about the breathtaking range of their research! More...

Chinese Visual Festival 2018

Don't miss the 2018 edition of the excellent Chinese Visual Festival – on at KCL and BFI Southbank from 3rd to 6th May before transferring to Edinburgh Filmhouse for 11th–14th May.
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China’s visual cultures and the Medical and Health Humanities: launch event

Monday 21 May 2018, 6-9pm, IAS Common Ground, South Wing, Wilkins Building. Admission by free ticket:
https://cchh-book-website-launch.eventbrite.co.uk
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CALL FOR ABSTRACTS, CERA-UK Annual Conference 2018

Chinese Education in Global Contexts: Researching the Local, the Global and the ‘Glocal’, 14–15 June 2018, UCL Institute of Education (IoE). Deadline for abstract submission: 15th April 2018. More...

PKU-UCL inter-university module in the Cross-Cultural Health Humanities

An inter-university module in the Cross Cultural Medical/Health Humanities, taught by historians, philosophers and global health specialists from PKU and UCL, will run this week at the Yenching Academy of Peking University.
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China and Freedom of Speech: new systems for the accountability of the press. An evening with John Kampfner

14 March 2014

6th March 2014, panel discussion hosted by UCL’s China Centre for Health and Humanity and Centre for Transnational History and sponsored by UCL Grand Challenges (ii) and the UCL Institute for Human Rights.
Read all about it: Report by Dylan Brethour, PG History student.


Beware of Security, Responsibility, and Stability: Fighting for Freedom of Expression in China and Beyond

by Dylan Brethour

'Freedom of expression is a fundamental, universal and transnational right, only to be restricted in extremis.'

So began John Kampfner’s portion of 'China and Freedom of Speech: new systems for the accountability of the press. Kampfner, a journalist and former Chief Executive of the Index on Censorship, set the tone for the rest of the evening.

Organised by UCL’s China Centre for Health and Humanity and Centre for Transnational History, the event was introduced by Professor Axel Körner and Dr Vivienne Lo and included presentations and a subsequent discussion by Professor Zhengxiao Guo, Dr Lily Chang, and Mr Stephen Perry.

Despite some differences among the panellists, there was a common sense that no country can afford the luxury of indifference in the maintenance of something so essential as freedom of expression.

While China was the locus of the discussion, all of the participants touched on broader global threats to freedom of expression. Kampfner discussed some of the methods governments use to disguise restrictive measures.

There was the disheartening general reminder that people’s fears about international security and stability can be exploited to justify invasive laws. As an example of this, Kampfner spoke of the pornography filter debate in the UK.

Ostensibly designed in the name of child protection, the filter controls access to an extent that allows authorities to carry out other activities under the auspices of its original ‘intent’. This is, in Kampfner’s words, an ‘unarguable proposition’ – one might disagree with invasive internet control, but not with protecting children.

There was also some question as to whether social media are helping or hindering freedom of expression. In recent years there has been an enormous amount of optimism surrounding the potential of the internet and social media to increase freedoms in China.

Kampfner was more circumspect about the possible utility of social media, arguing that political movements are not created online. More optimistically, he suggested that where a political movement already exists, social media can help it spread.

Kampfner also considered the differences between old and new media. Reading the newspaper, he argued, exposes people to a greater variety of views. In contrast, because information online is self-selected, it has the potential to reinforce existing prejudices and worldviews.

There is also the possibility that when functioning as a political outlet, social media have the effect of displacing activity in the real world. The internet also benefits the state by providing a context for mass surveillance.

The revelations about data collection by the NSA and GCHQ were dramatic demonstrations that democratic countries are not exempt from government intrusion.

This raises the question, why don’t we respond to the erosion of something so fundamental? Steven Perry suggested that Chinese people simply don’t care about political measures restricting freedom of speech.

He argued that something similar is happening in the UK, where people are indifferent to control over the media by political and corporate interests. During the debate after the speeches, Kampfner expressed some scepticism about this point, arguing that people do care when they are affected by political restrictions.

Rather than assume that the population is indifferent or lazy, it seems more useful to ask what network of rights and obligations we are collectively trying to balance. Lily Chang introduced the concept of spheres of freedom.

Rather than addressing freedom as a comprehensive whole, she asked how different aspects of society interact. The demands of political, economic and media freedoms may be very different and even potentially at odds. She noted the elasticity of these relationships, which change according to requirement and context.

This concept of elasticity continued throughout the remainder of the discussion. There was a general question as to whether the complexity of social requirements entailed the sacrifice of certain freedoms.

All of the panellists acknowledged in some sense the number of demanding and potentially competing interests at play here. What remained clear, however, was the strong utilitarian benefits that freedom of expression provides.

Kampfner in particular argued that an ‘open, critical, fearless society’ will lead to better political outcomes. In a similar vein, Professor Guo spoke of the 'nutrients' that are needed for a strong, healthy society. The development of constructive state practice is evidently contingent on free and vital public discourse.

By the end of the evening, there were still no obvious answers as to what the ideal conditions are to preserve freedom of expression.

Unsurprisingly, given the topic at hand, there was a strong agreement about people bearing an individual responsibility to consider what kind of society provides the greatest benefits.

Rather than offering a vision for the future, the event posed the questions: what are our obligations as global citizens and, ultimately, what will the consequences be of our neglect?

See also: http://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/events/2014/03/18/fighting-for-freedom-of-expression-in-china-and-beyond/

Page last modified on 14 mar 14 14:31 by Penelope Barrett