Dear China: Why Censor? Why Suppress Religion?

by Becky Hsu

A new book written by a former CNN journalist in Beijing, Consent of the Networked: The Worldwide Struggle for Internet Freedom, documents how the Chinese government has been surprisingly successful at managing the flow of information online during the past ten years.

Why the Chinese government spends so much effort on controlling information (i.e., censorship) is certainly perplexing, and we may be tempted to give a deceptively straightforward answer: they want to stay in power, and dissenting voices are a threat. Perhaps more baffling, then, are these questions: Why are they so determined to keep a tight hold on religious activity? What is so threatening about religion?

An explanation to both questions may lie in a particular series of ideas deriving from classical philosophy. In classical Chinese thought, one of the responsibilities of the government is to protect the population from damaging ideas. It’s very possible that this notion carries over into today’s society.

The government has had a tradition of controlling beliefs because [Read more…]

How Do You Define Happiness?

By Becky Hsu

This past week, while people were celebrating (or not celebrating) Valentine’s Day, an oddly-coupled pair of news items emerged pertaining to research on happiness.

A multi-country survey concluded that partners are the main source of happiness: nearly two-thirds of couples say their partner is the most important source of happiness in their lives. However, a study in New Zealand found that widows and widowers are among the happiest people who have tied the knot (particularly women). So, what are to conclude from this? Are people happy because of their spouses? Or, are people happier after their spouses die?

The trick is in how people define happiness to begin with. When someone asks you, “How happy are you, on a scale of 1-10?” your answer will depend on at least three things:

1) Mood. Have you had a good week? A good day? [Read more…]