The integrity of China was more important than [the people] in Tiananmen Square.
-Muammar al-Gaddafi, in an insightful moment
Well, here we are.
China certainly has been in the news of late for its noxious behavior, not that noxious behavior is anything new from the authoritarian government that runs the country. Its legitimacy is built on a foundation of things like the Cultural Revolution and Tienanmen Square. And while they’ve ditched most of the economic aspect of Mao’s teachings, they’re are still big on the repressive state thing.
As a rule, the government of China has also been pretty intolerant of any criticism, express or implied. For example, if another country mentions Tibet or meets with, or even allows into their territory, the Dalai Lama, they can expect an official diplomatic protest from China. Make a map that doesn’t show Taiwan as part of China or, even worse, refers to Taiwan as a country and you can expect an angry response from China.
Internally, in addition to the usual level of arbitrary police state activities, there is the Orwellian social credit system, which will soon be mandatory, that rewards pro-government activities with perks, while denying things to people doing things that the government does not like… which includes merely being connected to anybody the government does not like. A social network that rewards you for ostracizing non-conformists… more so.
More recently they have been sending their citizens to “re-education” camps for the crime of being Muslim and battling a now nearly 18 week long series of protest in Hong Kong over an extradition law that would allow residents of the special administrative region to be extradited to China proper, where the rule of law is what the government says it is at any given moment.
That is the foundation on which the last week or so has been laid.
Then there is the trade war. Our president, who says trade wars are good and easy to win, has been actively pursuing one with China for some time now. The president has been quite vocal about China, saying we do not need them and that US companies should go elsewhere. Of course, he also promised China he wouldn’t mention the protest in Hong Kong either, so not a lot of moral high ground there. (He also praised the strength of the Chinese government for gunning down students in Tienanmen Square back when it happened, so he never had any moral high group to begin with.) But he has highlighted the long simmering perception that US companies are shipping jobs to China in exchange for higher profits.
Then in the last week or so we had things like John Oliver… don’t mention him in China… reporting on China’s one child policy, which is now a two child policy, double the children allowed but all the same government abuse remains, and the South Park episode “Band in China,” which went after US companies willing to do just about anything to make China happy in order to make more money.
That brings up to last Friday when the General Manager of the Houston Rockets Daryl Morey tweeted a message in support of the protesters in Hong Kong. This drew an immediate response from the Chinese government, saying the tweet had outraged fans in China which cancelled all future interactions with the team.
By Monday the NBA was apologizing, the owner of the Rockets expressed his regret, and Morey himself was on Twitter apologizing for causing any offense. The NBA is in full on appease China mode. NBA fans were not happy about this and started holding up signs that would no doubt offend the Chinese government, so the NBA began ejecting fans from games. There is even a fun video you can find of somebody holding up a pro Hong Kong sign on the public sidewalk outside of the NBA headquarters being told by the security guard that they would have him arrested if he didn’t move along.
We’re used to companies like Apple or Google doing what China says for years. They’ve both been pulling apps from their stores in China that the government does not like, including one that tracks police activity and another that merely allowed access to a new source that mentioned the problems in Hong Kong. But now China has moved to dictating what can go on at NBA games being played in the United States.
And Blizzard stepped right into this already flaming bag of dog shit on Tuesday when they announced that the professional Hearthstone player Chung “Blitzchung” Ng Wai, who is from Hong Kong, would be suspended from play for one year and have all of his prize money “rescinded” for saying, “Liberate Hong Kong. Revolution of our age!” on a post game stream where he was being interviewed. Blizzard also cut ties with the two broadcasters who were doing the interview despite neither of them doing anything beyond looking doomed by what was just said. They knew China.
And now people outside of China are rightfully pissed off at Blizzard.
I heard the argument that NetEase runs Blizzard’s operations in China and that it was they who actually precipitated the action and released the noxious statement afterwards, but that doesn’t really matter, true or not. Whoever did it, did so in Blizzard’s name, and Blizzard went along with it, so it might as well have all come straight from J. Allen Brack’s. He gets the power, he gets the money, and he gets the blame.
So now we are into the #BoycottBlizzard era.
It has become a time to pressure the company to try and do the right thing. I am not sure exactly what that “right thing” is. I doubt Blizzard will be able to do something… will be able to do anything… that will make everybody happy. But even the NBA stood up just a bit… or pretended to, anyway… and said they wouldn’t regulate what players or team owners said, not officially, though that still doesn’t apply to fans. (And given player and team official comments since that statement, the NBA has clearly told them what to avoid saying. And after GSW coach Steve Kerr defended China’s human rights record, the NBA cancelled all press interaction. No doubt they need to get all their stories straight and cleared by Beijing.)
People have been cancelling WoW subscriptions to let Blizzard know how they feel about their actions. I have cancelled mine, putting “Hong Kong” in the text field on the exit survey. My account still has some time left to run, and I’ll keep playing WoW Classic as that runs down, both because I paid for that time and because I hold out hope that Blizzard will do something, sooner rather than later. Ongoing silence could change that, and worse behavior certainly will, but I’ll give them at least until BlizzCon. They need to do something before BlizzCon or they might be looking back longingly at the Diablo Immortal announcement. It has been suggested that they might even cancel BlizzCon. We shall see. Still, I have sent them the economic message, the only message that counts: No more money from me.
That is the nice thing about a subscription based game. You can effectively vote with your wallet. That stings more than a petition, but you can sign that too if you want. (There are a few of those, that was just the most popular one I saw.) Players of their free to play titles have taken to deleting their accounts, since not paying is the default behavior. (Rumors that Blizz was blocking account deletion at one point do not seem to hold water. Somebody had a problem and it quickly turned into a conspiracy theory from what I can tell. Your mileage may vary.)
But I am not kidding myself. I am not changing the world here. Withholding financial support only punishes Blizzard, not China, and any real effects will likely be felt by employees, some of who are equally unhappy with Blizzard’s actions, who may end up getting laid off. J. Allen Brack or Bobby Kotick or whoever else makes these sorts of decisions will keep their jobs. But maybe they’ll make better choices going forward.
Remember that. The goal ought to be to change Blizzard’s behavior. If your goal is to destroy Blizzard, a US company largely staffed in the US by US workers, I’m not on your side. (Some people shouting the loudest were already angry at Blizzard well before this, so I am suspicious of some motivations.) And if you’re harassing Blizzard employees, well fuck you.
One of the protest efforts has been the attempt to adopt the character Mei from Overwatch as a symbol of the Hong Kong protests, no doubt with an eye to getting the gamed banned in China the way Winnie the Pooh was. But this might have the odd side effect of making Blizzard more likely to do what China says. It is all the easier for the government of China to ban Overwatch if it does become a symbol, so Blizzard may be all that much more motivated to stay in its good graces. Nothing is ever simple.
And all of effort against Blizzard does nothing for Hong Kong, which I fear is without much hope. When push comes to shove, China will roll the tanks, as they have done in the past, before they will relinquish any control. The government of China likes having Hong Kong, rich and successful and semi-free, as a part of their country. It makes them look good. But their tolerance of protests so far is, to my mind, largely a lure to get Taiwan back. But if Hong Kong gets too far out of control, China will use force. They play a long game, and if keeping control of what they have pushes out getting Taiwan back by another 50 years, they’ll still make that choice.
But maybe public push back on companies like Blizzard or the NBA will cost enough to make other companies put a little more emphasis on what their current customers here are worth when they considering prostituting their values… like those values out in front of Blizzard’s headquarters, covered up by employees embarrassed at the company’s behavior… to curry favor with a dystopian dictatorship that is so thin skinned that it cannot stand any criticism.
I am a cynic, yet somehow I always find room for hope. We shall see.
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