Chinese entrepreneurs gain influence, call for reform

Earlier this week, Forbes released its list of the World’s Most Powerful People. Among the 71 large and very much in charge names on the list are a number of Chinese entrepreneurs, including Lou Jiwei, Chairman of the China Investment Corp. and Robin Li, founder and CEO of Baidu.

A China Daily article hails China’s growing influence on a global scale. From the article:

“It shows the high expectation placed on China’s new leadership to wield bigger influence to lead China to achieve better development and deeper reform,” said Zhang Zhi’an, an associate professor of the School of Communication and Design at Sun Yat-sen University.

Along with several classmates, I have been researching the role of Chinese entrepreneurs in calling for internet censorship reforms for a project covering the current media climate in China. For the past several years, Chinese business owners and entrepreneurs have played a bold role in calling for reforms that would allow Chinese nationals increased access to information and, as such, increased access to products.

A 2010 New York Times article introduced the notion of a limited easing of restrictions as a means of testing China’s response to increased access to information and technology.

At a recent meeting of Chinese Internet leaders in the southern city of Shenzhen, Ding Jian, who heads the Internet company AsiaInfo, proposed that Shenzhen be made a censorship-free zone as an experiment to determine whether China can stomach the chaos of an unfettered Internet. Strangling free speech, one entrepreneur argued, is likely to strangle innovation as well.

If Chinese entrepreneurs can bring government officials around to the idea that diminished censorship will provide China with opportunities for economic growth at a more sophisticated level, they may have a stronger argument than those championing the value of free speech on its own merits.

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