March 5, 1998
To Conference Participants:
Welcome to Digital China/Harvard.
During the two days of this conference, we will witness an exercise in openness and feedback: a model Internet event.
This event is part of a broader effort to engage the Internet, to project it globally, and to do so with both respect for the individual and respect for communal space. We use Xie Jin's film "The Opium War" as a point of departure to explore how and why, over 150 years ago, one country proved so defenseless while another so vicious. This historic event demonstrates the destructive potential of cultural isolation and barbarous invasion.
Why show łThe Opium War˛ in connection with an Internet event? How does a story of past injustice connect with a technology of the present and future? During the Opium Wars, Westerners forced a substance upon China powerful enough to corrupt all aspects of its government and culture. China responded to this unwanted substance by rejection that ultimately led to war.
Will the same claims be made with respect to the Internet? Are technologically wealthy nations and individuals globalizing the Internet without care for others? Are they forcing the Internet into nations where it is not welcome? These parallels between opium and the Internet can easily be overstated but I believe they cannot be denied.
I challenge the participants of this conference to think through the spectrum of issues raised by Xie Jin's film and to contribute their ideas and interpretations to our discussion. The result, I hope, will be a fascinating conversation, and a demonstration, through the Digital China/Harvard Website, that disparate cultures can connect and learn together. Let us make the Internet a welcome guest, a healing forum in which we all can take part.
I invite you to speak, to listen, and to reflect. And I thank you for coming.
Director, Berkman Center for Internet and Society