Linux is like a Chinese peasant uprising

When the oppressed recognize their suffering, they find the strength to overthrow those in power, reports Beijing's China Youth Daily.

Published July 6, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

As if Microsoft didn't have enough to worry about ... If the analysis of a Chinese media outlet is correct, the mighty software corporation better be on the lookout for an armed peasant rebellion.

Two weeks ago, in an article entitled "Anti-Microsoft 'subculture,'" Beijing's China Youth Daily took a look at the growth of the Linux-based operating system.

"The rise of Linux is legendary," reads the article, in an awkward English translation, "a little like the peasant uprising of Chen Sheng and Wu Guang. In a world of hegemony long suppressed, many feel oppressed but the majority doesn't know where their suffering originates. Once someone stands up, he will have followers like clouds."

Chen Sheng and Wu Guang are famous figures from ancient Chinese history, laborers on the Great Wall who began a rebellion in 206 B.C. against the tyrant emperor Qin Shi HuangDi. The Chen Sheng-Wu Guang rebellion is often employed by Chinese writers as a kind of code phrase to talk about the era when Chairman Mao Zedong (the latter-day Qin Shi HuangDi) ruled China, but it is also generally useful for describing any situation in which the righteous masses take action to overthrow a corrupt and overweening ruler. But this may be the first time that the analogy has been applied to the world of software.

According to the China Youth Daily, one of the factors fueling the growth of Linux is anti-Microsoft fervor that may be the result of "software companies imposing the laws and legal regulations of the traditional market-economy age upon the new 'age of the information economy'... True competition between freeware and commercial software has begun. This is a conflict between software beliefs."

Early adopters might be advised to beware, however, before throwing down their hoes and charging into the fray. Chen Sheng and Wu Guang were both killed in battle -- other revolutionary-come-latelies ended up actually winning the fight, and went on to found the Han Dynasty. And even though Chairman Mao is gone, China is still ruled by the oh-so-very-authoritarian Chinese Communist Party. Dislodging those hegemonic powers can be tricky.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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