As a result of the connective power of the Internet, "drinking tea" has now become a widespread euphemism for being interrogated by the authorities for crossing the invisible line into forbidden political activity. One of the most valuable tools in the authoritarian toolkit is social ostracization, and in Asian societies that place a high value on conformity and communitarian values, this is an even more potent threat. Even behind the Great Firewall, the Internet has proven to be a valuable means of weakening the authorities' ability to keep dissidents feeling they are in a lonely, futile battle against an unassailable system. As one activist put it to the AP:
"The way to control dissidents' activities is by creating fear and isolation. Other people don't dare to become your friends. You feel threatened," he said. "But the Internet countered that effort by connecting those people. They have a sense of community, which makes them bolder and stronger."
The indomitable China Digital Times has translated some of the "drinking tea" stories on its website (here and here). The pluck, determination and humor (another great weapon against the singularly humorless authoritarians in Beijing) that these young political activists demonstrate in relating their confrontations with the authorities gives me hope for the future of China.