Beijing-based writer Liu Di, known by her former online nickname "Stainless Steel Mouse," rose to fame in 2002 after being sentenced to a year in jail for blogging about China's Internet restrictions as a university student. Since then, she has continued to write online about Chinese society. Here, in a commentary broadcast on RFA's Mandarin Service, she argues that innovation can only come about in an open society:
Technology is an issue that concerns a lot of people, while some people ... think it is the only important thing.
Technology isn't manufactured behind closed doors by machines; it is the product of communication. Technology has taken off in various places; in centers of civilization around the world, and is often the result of cross-pollination with other aspects of those civilizations.
The more open a civilization, the more advanced it becomes, and the more prosperous. Countries that remain shut off from the ways of other civilizations not only don't make technological breakthroughs; they often end up losing even the technology they already have, and going into a decline.
The book "Guns, Germs and Steel" argues that the reason technological progress often ground to a halt in ancient China is that it was a closed-off imperial civilization that lacked contact with other cultures.
Technological advances, such as in communications, also have a beneficial effect on the ability of civilizations to communicate with each other. The better a culture's technology, the stronger its voice in communicating its abilities to the rest of the world.
For this reason, we can say that the exchange of technology is inseparable from communication.
Technological progress doesn't just happen on its own, but relies on a series of systemic and cultural factors that are conducive to innovation, in particular individualism, private property and a market economy.
Because to undergo technological innovation is to explore uncharted territory using trial and error, it is a very risky business. In such a business, it is probably better if people make use of their own assets, skills and intelligence. For innovation and exploration to be a collective, unified enterprise organized by the state is tantamount to putting all your eggs in one basket.
The scope of innovation and exploration would be limited to the vision and knowledge of just a few individuals, meaning that individual creativity couldn't be fully exploited.
Therefore, a respect for individual rights and civilized freedoms is necessary before technological development can really take off in a civilization.
Translated by Luisetta Mudie.