The Chinese Internet as June 4 approaches

The Internet has slowed down dramatically here in Beijing and everyone I know is complaining. Blogspot/Blogger are nicely blocked again. A search for “tank man” on google immediately makes the screen go white. Even my daily email of google alerts of sites linking to mine won’t open, and makes the screen go white. And yet, a search for “Tiananmen Square massacre” is fine, and you can even get onto this site with no problem.

The consensus seems to be that they’re tightening things up as the big day gets closer, funneling just about everything through the filter as they sniff out unharmonious content. But it seems, as usual, random and irrational. And soooo annoying.

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 37 Comments

Richard, it’s a real tough topic when China turn to the six-four movement even China has opened to the world for tens of years, especially in 2009. if you know more about Chinese history you can figure out that it’s understandable to tighten things up. I strongly believe that free of speech and media is a long process and China will inevitably approach that.

May 19, 2009 @ 5:11 pm | Comment

attaboyu, I completely understand why they are restricting information at this time. I understand that it’s an approach that isn’t unique to the CCP in China. What does baffle me, however, is the haphazardness of the censorship, so random and irrational, sort of like rounding up people with Mexican passports who haven’t been to Mexico in ages because there’s a lot of swine flu in Mexico.

May 19, 2009 @ 5:20 pm | Comment

Yeah, like, why Blogspot and not, I dunno, WordPress? It’s pretty silly.

May 19, 2009 @ 5:32 pm | Comment

yeah, most of people except the CCP itself annoy of that. it’s difficult to explain the dirty and nasty politics here. and yet,there still has a long rugged way toward the requirements of the Declaration of Human Rights in China.

May 19, 2009 @ 5:40 pm | Comment

Actually Lisa, WordPress is now blocked, too. But not Typepad. Go figure.

May 19, 2009 @ 5:57 pm | Comment

Blogspot is blocked because of the amount of pr0n on there.

I’m still a few weeks ahead of Chinasmack on certain subjects that haven’t appeared.

May 19, 2009 @ 6:15 pm | Comment

“I strongly believe that free of speech and media is a long process and China will inevitably approach that.”

5000 years and counting…

May 19, 2009 @ 9:22 pm | Comment

And yes, for the literal minded or the truly moronic…I’m joking.

May 19, 2009 @ 10:00 pm | Comment

Lawrence, two words: bull shit. Blogspot comes and goes like the wind, being blocked for two years at a time and then inexplicably reappearing. Porn on the Net is ubiquitous. To cite that as a reason for it’s suddenly being blocked after being available for months is just silly.

Jeremiah, thanks for explaining you were joking. I’d never have known. :-)

May 19, 2009 @ 11:06 pm | Comment

Mudgrass Horse, to the rescue!

May 20, 2009 @ 2:06 am | Comment

Well, I agree that censorship is annoying, but I do not think it is irrational.

Have any of you think of the possibilities that preventing people from knowing certain things is just not everything the censors intend? Of course a big part of it is to prevent people from knowing about TAM, Dalai lama etc, but that has never been effective, at least from my own experience.

I have no big problem in finding out information about TAM when I was a high school kid, all that required was a little extra time and search. I do not know what the situation is like now, maybe the Net Nanny is getting more sophisticated, but so is the way to bypass it.

However, I do think there is another important function of censors, that is signaling. It block as much messages as it sends them out. Rather than preventing people from knowing the truth, it is more effective in telling people what government or CCP like and do not like, and the extent of these parameters.

And there is also a moral obligation in its traditional sense. CCP did not creat censorship in China, it has been in there for thousands of years. Things get blocked because they are considered wrong or evil, at least from the government’s point of view, and government or men in power is expected to protect people from these kind of things, even if in a flawed way.

As much as I do not agree with such point of view, I do understand it, and I do think when it comes to the censorship of politics and social content, censorship will definitely reduce in the long run and there will be less taboos, for good. But I also resist the arguement that censorship is irrational, it might be so if we consider it in a larger cultural sense, not just government actions, as it’s more like a habit or religion. But when it comes to the censorship of certain specific political content, what really matters is the very individual censor who decide to block it, his/her reasoning as well as value.

May 20, 2009 @ 3:41 am | Comment

“Actually Lisa, WordPress is now blocked, too. But not Typepad. Go figure”

Really? My site blocked? Unthinkable. I can’t tell from here in Australia.

May 20, 2009 @ 5:13 am | Comment

Shenzhen update: I tried all of these on both ADSL and Topway (Mac, PC and mobile) and none work on any configuration.

Blogger-blocked (again).
Youtube-blocked (again).
Wordpress–Not blocked.
Seaches for Vchocolate (wife’s birthday) and some ESPN podcasts are blocked too! How odd it that?!

Censorship isn’t the problem, per se, it’s the damned randomness of it all.

May 20, 2009 @ 6:45 am | Comment

I agree with “A Chinese” (actually, I agree with many Chinese, but in this case I agree with this particular Chinese).

Censorship is very important in China, and it is not irrational. People. especially Chinese people, need to be protected from harmful information. I have heard many times from the CCP that too much of the wrong information will lead to instability, and from this we can clearly see that the Chinese people in particular must have a hard time with processing new or complicated information.

Another example: I once convinced a neighbor lady here that all male foreigners had three nipples. It took a little work with some strawberry jam, a bit of candle wax, and my girlfriend’s rouge powder, but I created a decent looking replica and showed it to her. She was telling everybody about it for weeks.

Now cruel Westerners want to expose this poor babbling idiot to complex ideas like “democracy” and “Zhao Ziyang”? The old bird would likely croak.

So, A Chinese…I applaud you for supporting censorship and protecting your people. God knows they need it.

May 20, 2009 @ 9:33 am | Comment

BAC, right, that’s true.

May 20, 2009 @ 9:54 am | Comment

@ Matthew Rice

Actully I oppose censorship, and welcome a freer media environment, in case you misunderstood my point.

I say I understand it does not mean I support it. Maybe my understanding is wrong or flaw, but it’s another question, if it was the case,I hope people could point it out.

May 20, 2009 @ 12:31 pm | Comment

The people in China are not allowed to have, to know or to do things which other people can. When do the people in China deserve to or want to be equal with other people?

The legend has it that in old China, the Westerners once put up a sign outside a park in Shanghai which said: no Chinese and dog allowed. Who knows if this is true or made up. Anyway, the story is often told to keep the Fenqing’s nationalistic and patriotic sentiment alive.

Now the Chinese govt essentially is doing the same thing to degrade the people in China when it denies them the access to many of the websites while all other people have unrestricted access, including the access to one online park, http://www.6park.com

May 20, 2009 @ 1:27 pm | Comment

A Chinese,

But you had me convinced! I mean, isn’t it possible that all of these propaganda filled books, including this atrocious forgery by “Zhao Ziyang,” are a plot to destabilize the Motherland. How much more obvious can it be? We must protect the innocent Chinese from having alternative points of view shoved down their throats by uncaring Westerners and their traitorous Chinese allies. Especially those points of view the party has “a moral obligation” to show people “it dislikes.”

Are you with me? Don’t let these silly Westerners steer you down the path of liberalism and humanity. Don’t you see where that leads? Look at the US! Have you seen “My Sweet Sixteen” on MTV? That’s what they want for China. FIGHT the POWER! Say no to liberalism and bad reality television.

May 20, 2009 @ 1:43 pm | Comment

@ Matthew Rice

In that case, I suggest you
1.
go to
http://bbs.tiexue.net/
http://www.anti-cnn.com/
http://www.wyzxsx.com/
2.
buy Global Times (Chinese edition,not English one)
3.
apply a job at China Daily

You will definitely find many like-minded people there, and most of them should be nice, given what you believe

cheers

May 20, 2009 @ 3:00 pm | Comment

Matt, take a pill. You wore out the sarcasm in the first comment.

Read AC’s first comment, adjust to the poor phrasing of paragraph 5, and try to grok – A Chinese is not Matt Rice, nor is he fenqing.

May 20, 2009 @ 3:28 pm | Comment

Okay, I think what A Chinese said was that censorship was bad, but it wasn’t irrational, and I think that’s a good argument. EXCEPT that in the case of the Net Nanny, once you get past the obvious hot-button issues like TAM, a lot of what actually goes on is pretty…well, random. Like Blogspot not Typepad for example. This strikes me as more of a CYA move than any kind of reflection of rational decision-making.

But @A Chinese, I get your point, and I think it’s a good one.

May 20, 2009 @ 3:29 pm | Comment

el chino AIP wrote:

“The legend has it that in old China, the Westerners once put up a sign outside a park in Shanghai which said: no Chinese and dog allowed. Who knows if this is true or made up. Anyway, the story is often told to keep the Fenqing’s nationalistic and patriotic sentiment alive.”

el Chino, I think we laid that one to rest – right here at Peking Duck! Check it out, posted June 17, 2005 (Richard, has it really been four years?!) ,it’s the third post from the top:

http://www.pekingduck.org/2005/06/page/7/

May 20, 2009 @ 4:14 pm | Comment

@ otherlisa

Thanks lisa

One article that I found especially thought provocating when it comes to Chinese censorship was Xan’s Gagging Speech, from Dec last year
http://xanskinner.spaces.live.com/blog/cns!F92952EA9124A41B!3552.entry#comment

As for Net Nanny, I still do not know its exactly how it works, guess we will never see the full picture. But if we assume the very action of blocking is practiced by individual with that power, then they should have some basis for that, even if it is highly ideological oriented, value based action. I think information asymmetry could be a very important factor here.

If we consider what censors’ believe and ideology as a certain mechanism, which directly affect how they perceive threat, and the content on websites as input, the combination of two could yield some weird results in our eyes. I reckon it is more likely that it is because they are more sensitive to something we do not yet know, or it could even be merely for example setting, like I said before, signalling a particular political or ideological stand.

Of course, that’s only my speculation.

May 20, 2009 @ 4:35 pm | Comment

Tim, isn’t that scary? Time sure flies when you’re having fun.

May 20, 2009 @ 4:37 pm | Comment

@A Chinese, I’m not sure where you are, but if you can get to it, this Philip Pan article is a great illustration of how the system works – or doesn’t.

May 20, 2009 @ 4:52 pm | Comment

Lisa, thanks a lot for that link – it’s been a long time since I thought about that story. Reminds me also of just how spectacular a journalist Philip Pan is.

May 20, 2009 @ 5:07 pm | Comment

@otherlisa

Thanks for the link, very interesting read (although I think have read it before some time ago)

May 20, 2009 @ 5:43 pm | Comment

By the way, just remembered, He Qinglian has a more comprehensive study on this issue, I read her book few years back, it is probably the most detailed one so far on this issue, altough might be a little bit out of date

English
http://www.amazon.com/Fog-Censorship-Media-Control-China/dp/097173562X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1242810902&sr=1-1
Chinese
http://www.danke4china.net/xszz/wszg/index.htm

May 20, 2009 @ 5:47 pm | Comment

O dieux petits, maudits, méchants de l’internet chinois!
O monstres vulgaires ! Tirant sans cesse dans l’oubli
Toute une partie de nos pensées et rêves
Même de nous-mêmes
Mâchant, crachant dans un néant béant
Dissimulant les vérités, nos réalités,
Et en poussant banalités
Tuant l’esprit déjà tout essoufflé
D’une nation entiere.

May 20, 2009 @ 6:21 pm | Comment

wordpress is also blocked here in shenzhen. a true pain in the ass. petition, anyone?

May 20, 2009 @ 6:32 pm | Comment

I’ve always been more or less of “A Chinese’s” opinion, i.e. that the censorshop is pretty sophisticated and, overall, basically rational from the perspective of regime preservation. If you make something taboo, then it’s more powerful—a protest packs much more of a punch in China than in the U.S., where protests are pretty normal. But if the government were to allow protests and allow people to write whatever they want, their room to maneuver would be slowly limited. Soon, they would be having their banquets and giving their cleverly phrased philosophies in a world that moved on without them or was openly, daily antagonistic.

The point from the government’s side isn’t to block but to channel the general flow of information. In fact, some information can be quite useful to the government.

For example, last time I was in China, a couple newspapers had as their front-page story the storming of the summit in Thailand by red shirt activists. Now, there’s nothing wrong with this being on the front page (and it should have received more press in the U.S. and elsewhere) but the message I took away was: “Look, democracy is messy. Aren’t you glad you don’t live in a chaotic place like Thailand?

Of course, one could argue that Thailand’s problem is a LACK of democracy and that elites, the monarchy and the military have a habit of refusing to accept the results of elections and that that is what got the country into all its trouble… but that would be a long way down the comments thread and would fall outside the meme pounded home by website after website and used as talking points by fenqing on foreign websites.

Anyway, I don’t comment here much. Forgive the rambling post!

May 21, 2009 @ 5:13 am | Comment

Thailand’s the classic case study of the messiness of democracy. II can understand why one side refuses to accept the results of an election when they are so clearly won through manipulation of an uneducated rural class who can easily be sold a bill of goods, either from a snake-oil salesman hustling insurance or a smiling politician promising them the world on a populist platter of pure BS. Democracy can be such hell. Just not as bad as most other forms of hell.

May 21, 2009 @ 10:25 am | Comment

[...] seems to be little discussion of the incident and where censorship (and probably security) are ramping up. In all likelihood, June Fourth will pass without incident on the Mainland, while candlelight [...]

May 21, 2009 @ 11:13 am | Pingback

Well—and not to get too off topic but—part of the “manipulation” of the rural class in Thailand was cheap healthcare. Thaksin was corrupt. However, in addition to Thailand’s traditional vote-buying, he also bought votes in the way I would want a politician to buy votes: by providing stuff people need and to the people who need it the most. If China were to become democratic one day, I would hope that this kind of simple calculus would push some much-needed reforms in the Chinese countryside, too (in fact, it seems to do so already in some village elections).

Thailand’s yellow shirts could offer something to the poor if they wanted to, but they have whined instead about the uneducated masses and about reapportioning parliament so that rural areas have less of a vote. The only thing messy here seems to be elites’ ability to keep returning to power via the military and a wink from the monarchy.

Anyway, again, this is all a side discussion…

May 21, 2009 @ 11:47 am | Comment

An interesting side discussion though…

@ A Chinese, thanks for the link!

May 21, 2009 @ 12:50 pm | Comment

Agree, quite interesting, and maybe China can draw some lessons from Thailand’s political chaos. Maybe if China let its government be more chaotic and prone to bi-annual military coups Beijing would be as much fun as Bangkok.

May 21, 2009 @ 12:53 pm | Comment

Slower and slower……

Accessing foreign sites from Beijing is pretty slow lately. In fact, today most sites load faster through VPN than without VPN, which is odd. I’m starting to believe the explanation given here (The Peking Duck) might be true….

May 22, 2009 @ 2:47 pm | Trackback

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