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With a click, Chinese vault cultural walls

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But Zhang says while the globalization of culture presents undreamed-of opportunities for some civilizations, it also presents dangers. "There is a real threat that Chinese culture could be buried under the sands of planet pop, and Chinese artists must begin thinking about how to survive global competition," she says.

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The Hacker

"Cyberkiller," a young hacker in Beijing who asks not to be identified, says the Internet is not only a peaceful promoter of pop culture, but also a potent weapon. He likens the Web to a new-age slingshot that can be used to slay traditional Goliaths.

Cyberkiller says he's "not like the punk hackers who will attack any Web site just to prove their prowess." Rather, he says, "every one of my attacks is aimed at achieving a form of justice in cyberspace that doesn't exist in the real world."

The hacker, who spends three-fourths of his waking life online, says the targets he and his friends have hit in the past year include "China's official human rights Web site and other government sites that try to fool the people."

He says "hacking is growing so sophisticated [in China] that now you can find cyberassassins for hire." Their arsenals, he adds, "include everything from software to simply deface a Web site to "smart bombs" that can destroy the target's hard drive."

He adds, though, that while he and his friends sometimes team up with political dissidents to become cyber-rebels, they also morph into cyberpatriots when they think China is under attack from the outside.

After NATO bombed China's Embassy in Belgrade last year, "we went into overdrive to launch a counterattack. Over the next few days, we hit the White House and the Department of Defense's computer systems, and trashed the American Embassy's Web site."

A Western official here confirms the Embassy hit. "These guys were really good," he says. "We locked up the site when the [Chinese] protests started after the [May 1999] bombing, but when we opened the site for a few minutes, these guys got in and attacked."

Cyberkiller, who listens to American techno music and watches Hollywood films, says he welcomes a Western pop invasion of China.

But he says that "globalization must be matched by equalization.... In the Internet world, there are no superpowers, and countries that try to act like one will be subject to cyberattacks from "hackers for justice" all over the world."

The Dissident

Lin Hai, jailed as China's first cyber-dissident in 1998, says the Internet is exposing a generation of "little emperors" to not only Western pop hits, but also political ideals that the Communist "thought police" spent decades blocking.

Lin was locked away in Shanghai's most notorious prison for a year and a half for providing Chinese e-mail addresses to an on-line, pro-democracy magazine based in the US. He says the Web invasion is eating away at Beijing's once-total control over the media here.

"When someone set off a bomb at Tiananmen Square [in Beijing] recently, the news traveled all over the world through the Internet within one hour," he says. "That forced the government to publish the event in its own media, and that kind of pressure to release information is going to grow."

Lin and other young Chinese say they see the Internet as a digital juggernaut that will flatten China's social and political pyramid. "On the Internet, the people and the government are nearly equal," Lin says. "On the Internet, there is more freedom to speak than in the real world."

"On the Internet, people have more power," he says.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society