China bloggers, beware!

Despite China’s much praised “leniency” toward cyberdissident Du Daobin, China’s net surfers and bloggers (and especially Shanghai’s) need to know they are being closely watched by the CCP, which is ruthlessly revving up its control of the Internet, according to the NY Times. Emphasis added:

Both in China and abroad, some commentators quickly applauded what seemed like an official show of leniency toward the accused man, Du Daobin, a prolific author of online essays on issues of democracy and free speech.

But many among China’s rapidly growing group of Internet commentators are warning that what appears to be government magnanimity in this high-profile case conceals a quiet but concerted push to tighten controls of the Internet and surveillance of its users even though China’s restrictions on the medium are already among the broadest and most invasive anywhere….

As its first line of defense against what in another era China’s Communist leadership might have called ideological pollution, Beijing controls the Internet by insisting that all Web traffic pass through government-controlled servers. Now, coming on top of these measures, which are all deployed at the national level, China’s provincial governments are getting into the act, introducing regulations of their own that critics say severely impinge on privacy and freedom of speech.

In recent weeks, Shanghai, China’s largest and most Internet-connected city, has quietly introduced a series of controls, arguably the country’s most far-reaching yet, and critics fear, a model eventually to be used nationwide. Described by city officials as a measure intended to combat pornography and to bar entry for minors to Internet bars, the Shanghai regulations require customers to use swipe cards that would allow administrators or others to record their national identity numbers and track their Internet use.

The regulations have kicked up little public debate, in part because they have received little publicity here during the planning stage. But fierce protests have appeared online, where many active Internet users are interpreting the new regulations as an extension of the police state….

Some experts on China’s Internet censorship say that in releasing Mr. Du recently, the government may have been making a subtle bow to China’s own domestic public opinion, as expressed through online communication and debate.

International analysts who follow China’s Internet scene say that the government has been particularly taken aback by the explosion in a new form of online communication for China – the Weblog, or blog. It started last year with a celebrated case of a young woman who made a running online commentary about her own sex life, and now hundreds of thousands of people take enthusiastically to this form.

Ah yes, Muzi Mei (or is it Mu Zi Mei?). No matter how the blog phenomenon caught on in China, it certainly appears to have the CCP in a tizzy.

According to the analysts, the country’s censors, always eager to contain waves of public opinion before they get out of hand, particularly in matters of politics, have become alarmed that despite their intense efforts, Internet technology is quickly making free expression far harder to control.

“With the Du case, the government is saying, ‘Look, our actions may be nicer than in the past, but fundamentally, the judgment of the crime is unchanged, so don’t be fooled, we are also willing to be harsh,’ ” said Xiao Qiang, director of the China Internet Project at the University of California at Berkeley. “No matter how hard they try, though, it is a fact that the volume of online information is increasing vastly, and there’s nothing the government can do about that. You can monitor hundreds of bulletin boards, but controlling hundreds of thousands of bloggers is very different.”

I wonder if the new controls have anything to do with recent remarks I’ve seen in some Chinese blogs about problems connecting to certain sites, and long page-load times. If I remember, some of these were from Shanghai blogs (but I’m not certain). I also have to wonder, what is to stop China from banning blogs altogether. First blogger, then typepad and some native blogging services. If blogs pose such a threat to social stability and harmony (gimme a break), why not impose a blanket ban?

In any case, it’s not good news. It also seems wasteful, because most of us believe, sensibly, that the government simply can’t win the battle to wrap its tentacles around the hydra that is the Internet. So the fact that they’re so intent on investing huge numbers of renminbi and man-hours to do so is irrational — but it is also completely in keeping with the government’s mindset. Sadly, it is proof positive that the change for which so many thirst is arriving more slowly and less impressively than anticipated. This is a step in the wrong direction, perhaps even a Great Leap Backwards.

The Discussion: 7 Comments

RE Shanghai

How do waiguoren without ID cards get into internet bars in Shanghai?

June 26, 2004 @ 11:30 pm | Comment

Great question! Maybe waiguoren are exempt — I found they usually left us round-eyed people alone. They’re usually much stricter on their own than on foreigners.

June 26, 2004 @ 11:33 pm | Comment

Hmm, so when I sit in the internet bar reading my reactionary news papers (you’d be amazed at the garbage that I read), then writing even more reactionary messages on your blog, I’m less of a threat to the government than a nine year old boy looking at boobies.

Joy, and in America they consider foreigners to be the greatest threat.

June 27, 2004 @ 1:47 am | Comment

Yes. If you’re doing it in English your ability to inflame the Chinese masses is minimal. And the last thing they want is problems with the US embassy and the resulting bad press of harassing a foreigner. So keep doing what you’re doing.

June 27, 2004 @ 11:35 am | Comment

Perhaps the asserted control has to do with employment as well. At last count I read, 40,000 souls were employed to look at the Internet. It seems many of those might be taken right out of college, who otherwise could be up to “no good” with their own private Internet activities. Keeping thousands employed and under the state’s thumb is not a bad policy given the CCP’s need to protect itself.

June 27, 2004 @ 9:12 pm | Comment

Asia by Blog

Asia by Blog is now going to be a Monday and Thursday thing to provide a broader spread of stories from around Asian blogging. This week’s main focus is South Korea’s renewed love of censorship. China is well known for it’s censorship of blogging, as R…

June 28, 2004 @ 12:52 am | Comment


The only thing that could get me into the US embassy is the promise of European Toilet, I’m not Ameircan.

I do write some inflamitory things in Chinese though not on my main homepage, but I am not visible enough or a good enough Chinese litrasicst to start an uprising.

June 28, 2004 @ 5:03 am | Comment

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