The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology's latest regulation to preinstall filtering software on all new computers by July 1 has triggered public concern, anger and protest.
A survey on Sina.com, the largest news portal in China, showed that an overwhelming 83 percent of the 26,232 people polled said they would not use the software, known as Green Dam. Only 10 percent were in favor.
Despite the official claim that the software was designed to filter pornography and unhealthy content on the Internet, many people, including some computer experts, have disputed its effectiveness and are worried about its possible infringement on privacy, its potential to disrupt the operating system and other software, and the waste of $6.1 million of public fund on the project.
These are all legitimate concerns. But behind the whole story, one pivotal question to be raised is whether we believe people should have the right to make their own choice on such an issue, or the authorities, or someone else, should have the power to make such a decision.
Compared with 30 years ago, the country has achieved a lot in individual freedom by giving people the right to make their own decisions regarding their personal lives.
Under the planned economy three decades ago, the government decided the prices of all goods. Today, the market decides 99 percent of the prices based on supply and demand.
Three decades ago, the government even decided what sort of shirts and trousers were proper for its people. Flared trousers, for example, were banned. Today, our streets look like a colorful stage.
Till six years ago, people still needed an approval letter from their employers to get married or divorced. However bizarre it may sound to the people today, the policy had ruled the nation for decades.
The divorce process then could be absurdly long. Representatives from trade union, women's federation and neighborhood committee would all come and try to convince you that divorce is a bad idea - bad for the couple, bad for their children and bad for society.
It could be years or even decades before the divorce was finally approved. Today, it only takes 15 minutes for a couple to go through the formalities to tie or untie the knot at local civil affair bureaus.
Less than three decades ago, the rigid hukou (permanent residence permit) system didn't allow people to work in another city. Even husbands and wives with hukou in different cities had to work and live in separate places. Today, over 200 million migrant workers are on the move, although hukou is still a constraint.
Less than 20 years ago, doctors were mandated to report women who had abortions to their employers. Today, they respect a woman's choice and privacy.
No doubt we have witnessed a sea of change, with more and more people making their own social and economic decisions .
The government, though still wielding huge decision-making power, has also started to consult people on some decisions by hosting public hearings, such as the recent one on tap water pricing in Shanghai.
But clearly, some government department and officials are still used to the old practice of deciding for the people without seeking their consent.
In the Green Dam case, buyers, mostly adults, should be given the complete freedom to decide whether they want the filtering software to be installed in their computers or not.
Respect for an individual's right to choice is an important indicator of a free society, depriving them of which is gross transgression.
Let's not allow the Green Dam software to block our way into the future.