Is there anyone out there who does not know that China’s rulers have declared that those who are 18 years old or younger may not engage with online gaming more than three hours a week, something that the country’s rigorous user-identity-registration infrastructure certainly has the technical capability to police. One question that remains to be answered is how effective enforcement of the edict will prove to be.
According to Statista, a little over 5% of China’s total population is 15 to 19 years old and almost 5.5% are 10 to 14 years old. These young people are the primary target that China’s rulers have in mind. Given China’s current population of roughly 1.4 billion people, that means 147 million or so young people to monitor and to sanction if found to be disobedient.
If China’s overall national culture were more like America’s, I would not hold much hope for enforcement to be effective. However, as we know from research done by Dutch sociologist Geert Hofstede and colleagues, China’s national culture is (a) much more willing to go along with authority and (b) much less likely to engage in non-normative social practices. On the whole, due in no small part to its Confucian heritage, China is much more collectivist than we are.
But might these strictures have come too late? The influence of exposure to content on the world wide web on China’s people has been being felt for well over 20 years already and was well entrenched prior to the Xi regime coming to power. And as we are sometimes only too painfully aware, China has some of the most talented hackers around.
Perhaps what we will see is an ongoing episode of “whack-a-mole” as young hackers continue to deploy workarounds to authoritarian software, which is then countered with more centrally dictated tech mods.
Knowing what we know about networking theory and analytics, perhaps there will be a sufficient number of young rebels already culturally “infected” by Western thought and practice, who will act relatively independently and with loose ties and who are able to constantly frustrate the authoritarian and highly centralized network of government enforcers with close ties.
It will be interesting to see how this all turns out over the next two or three years.