Editorial: Pebbles in the Chinese shoe

In MT, those scoops just keep on coming. This month, we have the first major interview with the man chosen to lead our top bank - HSBC.

by Matthew Gwyther, MT editor
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Stephen Green is not from the usual HSBC mould. He's a cerebral ex-McKinseyite who has never worked as a teller behind a counter screen. Green is also a card-carrying Christian and the author of Serving God? Serving Mammon? Christians and the Financial Market.

Green's appointment must have stirred some curiosity within the Chinese regime (watchword 'God is Mammon') which has watched HSBC's behaviour with close interest since its inception 140 years ago. You can be sure that there's a file on Green in the huge state security apparatus, noting his religious beliefs - reflecting the paranoia and desperate need to exercise thought-control that persist in the ruling Communist Party.

It's all very well us having a quiet laugh at the fact that those avaricious old lizards the Rolling Stones were banned from playing Brown Sugar or Start Me Up at their recent debut in Shanghai. (By the way, I cannot be alone in believing that the canon of Western civilisation would not have been harmed if Mick and Keef had thrown in the towel with Exile on Main Street in 1972.) This kind of cack-handed censorship is as indefensible as the Nazis' book-burning of 1933, when the work of 'degenerates' such as Brecht and Einstein was tossed into the bonfire.

I don't imagine for a moment that any member of the politburo loses sleep over the malign influence of the Rolling Stones in spreading dissent.

What really puts the wind up them is the internet. The country's official web industry association, the Internet Society of China, has recently called again on members to keep a watch on the content appearing on websites.

'We should run our business in a civilised way,' it proclaims. 'We should not produce, disseminate and spread information that harms state security, social stability and information that violates laws and regulations and social morality.' If that's not enough to send a chill up your spine, it should be.

It's a hopeless task to keep the Hydra-headed internet in check, even with the help of Google. In a recent Guardian article, one unnamed censor admitted: 'Strict management (of the net) didn't work. It is like trying to control a flood. Guiding is more effective than blocking ... China is very big. If you want to control such a large country, mere politics is not enough. You must control minds. You need to win the battle for ideas.'

One can only hope the Party will come to embrace the laudable idea of democratising itself - 'feeling the stones as it crosses the river', in the words of Deng Xiaoping.

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