China’s new crackdown on university Web sites

More bad news as the Great Cybernanny tightens her ugly grip on China’s Internet.

Universities across China are tightening controls on student-run Internet discussion forums as part of a Communist Party campaign to strengthen what it calls “ideological education” on campuses. The crackdown has caused widespread resentment among students and prompted at least two demonstrations in recent days.

The Web sites, which run on school computer networks, host some of China’s largest and liveliest online bulletin boards. They serve as virtual meeting places where millions of educated Chinese across the country gather for discussions about everything from pop culture to politics.

But in recent weeks, universities have started blocking off-campus users from participating, including alumni and students and faculty from other universities, according to students and college officials. They have also begun requiring students to register with their real names when going online, eliminating the anonymity that allowed participants to speak without fear of punishment by the authorities.

The new restrictions come during a general tightening of controls on the Chinese media by the party’s propaganda authorities, who have struggled to control debate on the Internet and have viewed university Web sites with particular concern because they allow students from across the country to easily communicate with one another.

This is a must-read article by one of the best correspondents in China, Philip Pan (Pomfret’s successor), who has been closely following China’s repression of student dissent. Some of it is painful to read:

“There’s no hope at all. The bulletin board era is over,” said one student who resigned as a Web site manager and spoke on condition of anonymity. “Student leaders opposed the policy, but college officials said they were following orders from above and asked, ‘Would you be happier if the site was shut down completely?'”

Many students used the Internet to express their anger at the Chinese leadership. “By locking up young students, separating them and monitoring them, they will lose the people’s hearts,” wrote one student at Tsinghua.

“I just can’t figure it out,” wrote another student at Beijing University. “Why do policymakers use the most indiscreet and stupid methods, which does nothing to help them and instead sets the young elite against them?”

Now that is an excellent question. You’d think they would have learned at least a little bit from that “incident” of 15 years ago.

There’s a common belief that the Internet simply has to prevail in the end, that there is simply no way the CCP can contain it. Maybe. In the meantime, you have to give them high marks for trying.

The Discussion: 13 Comments

ESWN already has some good stuff on this issue- and without the propaganda one would normally expect from the western press.

I’m not saying any of this is right or wrong, just that there may be more to it.

March 24, 2005 @ 7:25 am | Comment

Well, really? That’s too bad.

But it also strikes me as very odd. There’re countless BBS’s on the internet where university students can visit freely and post anonimously. Restricting only on the universities BBS’s has no practical point, as every sensible person will know. Even the propaganda officials can’t be that dumb. Strange indeed.

March 24, 2005 @ 5:43 pm | Comment

Is it possible that the crackdown, which is likely to be limited in its effectiveness (as noted above), is to appease some doddering old Party member who is not happy with the way things are going? To show that they’re doing _something_?

March 24, 2005 @ 6:25 pm | Comment

Could well be, Andrea. I’m curious as to why the students quoted in the article were so distraught, even desperate. Pan is such a smart reporter, I have to suspect that there may be more substance to this than we’re at first inclined to believe.

March 24, 2005 @ 7:14 pm | Comment

I’m not sure how this is supposed to be a “blow” to democracy. I thought even most universities in America limited digital privileges to its actual tuition paying students. (saves on the bandwidth too)I can’t use my library without a student ID and I can’t use the computer lab without it either. Same goes for the use of databases like JSTOR or LexusNexus. I’m not even sure if a university bbs exists but it’d probably be one where only students can post. Likewise as laoxia mentioned, there are untold numbers of public and private message boards in China, all invariably less politically scrutinized than one at a university.

March 24, 2005 @ 9:06 pm | Comment

As the man said

The came the Jews and I said nothing ….

It might be small and minor act of censorship, but it is an act of censorship nontheless, if you let this go, what else will you let go later on.

Remember Nazi Germany.

March 25, 2005 @ 2:43 am | Comment

In some(but not all) bigger cities I’ve been to, the only place university students can get access online , is inside the campus, because all the outside internet cafes near campus are banned , or too far away for students’ limited time, execpt some students are well off enough to live outside the campus.

And “internet cafes” inside the campus, are very restrictive in terms of access, your
identity, and time(close at 10:30PM), but
comparatively much cheaper.

So the crackdown on campus websites at least limited considerable amount of students’ freedom to use BBS.

At least that’s what I saw back when I was a post graduate student in Guangzhou city.

March 25, 2005 @ 3:38 am | Comment

This type of oppression from the government and school administrators is intended to quiet a voice, but actually does the opposite. These students who once posted on a university forum for their peers now have an international voice as their story is picked up by the media.

I run a student forum for students at the University of Maryland University College (UMUC) and we have not had any pressure from school administrators to moderate the board. Of course, we just started. Others at the University of Phoenix and Capella have had pressure from their school administration to shut down their sites. The difference here is that the pressure is coming from the school instead of the government.

Unfortunately for these students, if the site and network is owned by the university then the university could easily moderate their views. Is it possible in China to start your own site as we have done with

March 26, 2005 @ 7:12 am | Comment

One of the most popular use for the internet in China is online BBS/forums and shutting off-campus access to the university BBSes probably impact more Chinese internet users than the blocking of all foreign websites combined. Yes, there are many other online forums, but they don’t come close to the university BBSes in terms of popularity, liveliness, and the wide range of topics covered. The names of the BBSes of Tsinghua and Beijing universities are pretty much synonymous with the internet in the same way that Yahoo and AOL are in the US. Maybe other online forums will eventually replace these university BBSes, but for now, this is a very important victory for the censors.

March 26, 2005 @ 7:34 am | Comment

Hui Mao,

Thanks for responding to my questions. I’d invite you (and others) to our forum to explain the situation to our readers at UMUC

March 26, 2005 @ 8:03 am | Comment

Oh come on, Andrea and Richard. I hope this is the last time you resort to the ‘old guard’ theory. They must be kicking well into their 100s to meet your expectation. Why can’t the New Guards act as relentless as the old ones, or even more so? This is exactly Hu’s case.

I almost agreed to ‘western propaganda’ line at my first sight of ‘old Party member’.

What I don’t understand is, this time the Party acts like a loser while actually it has been winning China’s Internet. They have done an extraordinary job and there is no indication that they are going to lose any time soon. Look at everywhere, or even here, CCP propaganda has such a high penetration rate, and so many faces like patriotic BBS posters, weaponary fans, or ‘Shanghai bloggers’, so on and so forth, that you have to admit that they are just wining. Why call off the game out of sudden?

March 28, 2005 @ 6:36 am | Comment

‘Shanghai bloggers’

LOL, you should use “blogger” or my name instead of “bloggers”, otherwise it’s a little offensive to other guys blogging in shanghai

March 29, 2005 @ 7:33 am | Comment

bellevue, sometimes i think if you are put in the position of whom you hate, it’s very possible that you will be worse than them

March 29, 2005 @ 7:35 am | Comment

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