Hacking into Freedom City

"The Gulag Archipelago" meets "Counter-Strike" in China. Your mission, should you choose to accept it: Deliver milk powder.

By Andrew Leonard
March 6, 2008 4:15PM (UTC)
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Perhaps only in China could a mission to deliver milk powder to the mother of an infant become a subversive, fully documented adventure worthy of Tom Cruise action hero Hollywood treatment. Is there anywhere else where a repressive state is so strenuously attempting to keep the lid on a fully wired population?

A truly extraordinary document has been circulating in the Chinese blogosphere, detailing the efforts of a young man to smuggle milk powder to Zeng Jinyan, a Chinese activist currently under house arrest in the surreally named BOBO Freedom City. Thanks to John Kennedy, a tireless bridge blogger at Global Voices Online, the English-speaking world can now also be amazed at "Hack Into Freedom City." (Hat tip to China Digital Times for the link.)


Much of "Hack Into Freedom City" details the aspiring milk powder hero's unsuccessful efforts to figure out a way past the security forces guarding the complex in which Zeng and her baby are detained. The protagonist sometimes appears to be inhabiting a video game in his own mind -- there's a decidedly psych ward fantasy tint to the whole escapade, made all the more bizarre by regular global pop culture namechecks. George Orwell could easily have written the totalitarian surveillance state aspect of this story, but the individualist megalomania of this "manual" for a "A Professionally Executed Milk Powder Delivery" is online DIY generation sui generis.

2. Preparation:

Luckily, just prior to this I had finished reading "The Gulag Archipelago," so I was mentally prepared for the conditions inside an institution. However, this was still not enough, so I did a crash course in learning some criminal procedure law and investigation and interrogation methodology. Aside from that, my head was full of the first-person shooters in "Delta Force" and "Counter-Strike" -- so I was thinking of what was needed for a military operation.

Too good to be true? Perhaps. But in the mundane details -- the workers blithely climbing over a fence to get into a boiler room while security guards watch idly, the dogs that come to check him out as he plots his strategy -- there is more than a whiff of truth. And the denouement seals the deal. But I won't spoil it. All I'll tell you is that at the end, Metallica's "Seek and Destroy" plays over the closing credits.

Andrew Leonard

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

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