Who Needs a Nanny?

From guest-blogger Other Lisa, cross-posted in her blog, The Paper Tiger

The invaluable China Digital Times has pulled together several articles that illustrate both the great lengths to which the Chinese government has gone in its attempts to control cyberspace and the surprisingly vigorous public debate that these efforts have provoked.

First comes a report from the pioneering Nanfang Daily (which those of you fluent in Chinese can read in its entirety) detailing the width, height and breadth of the Great Firewall:

“Since 1996, 14 bureaus and departments including the Central Propaganda Bureau, State Council Information Office, Public Security Bureau, Ministry of Culture, and the Administration of Press and Publications have all participated in managing the Internet. All together, they have issued close to 50 laws and regulations, creating the world’s most abundant and comprehensive system of rules to manage the Internet?An expert who studies Internet law told a reporter from this paper that the effectiveness of our government’s emphasis on Internet security and management, ‘is very rare in the world.'”

Which I guess you could interpret as a criticism or further validation of China’s unique historical circumstances…

According to Radio Free Asia, the Chinese government continues to strengthen and broaden its control of China’s cyberspace. On top of recent requirements for Chinese bloggers to register their sites with the government, many universities are requiring that BBS users provide their real names in order to post, and residents of Shenzhen wishing to use instant messaging technology have also been ordered to have their real identities verified by the IM company providing the technology. The goal of all this?

“The sole purpose of the real-name registration system is to impose severe controls over public opinion in cyberspace and to further a surveillance society in China,” U.S.-based dissident-turned-blogger Xiao Qiang said in a recent commentary broadcast by RFA.

Xiao said national security and propaganda departments had also trained a network of on-line “commentators” to manipulate public opinion as expressed in Internet forums, BBSs and message groups.

“On one hand, the Chinese government forces netizens to expose their real identities to facilitate government supervision, while on the other, it pays to train Party publicity personnel to hide their identities to fabricate false public opinion,” he said…

…Zhou said the Web site registration requirement–now apparently being taken up by Tencent in Shenzhen–gave the government instant control over the relatively small number of its citizens who organized instant message groups, or QQs, or other on-line discussion media.

Self-censorship was the ultimate goal, he said.

“It means organizers have to scrutinize the speech themselves for fear of getting into trouble, because postings that are offensive to the authorities often appear on the QQ sites,” he said.

But the Net Nanny’s stifling hegemony is starting to chafe, and not just among fringe cyber-dissidents:

Liu Ze, an official at the Beijing Cultural Center who follows developments on Internet controls by the government, said he thought that compulsory real-name registration was going too far.

“I support or advocate certain appropriate restrictions. I advocate Internet real-name system but it should not be mandatory,” Liu said.

Government attempts to censor the Web have drawn the strongest reaction from China’s otherwise docile university students, many of whom were angered by the closure of high-profile BBS discussion boards like Beijing University’s Yitahutu last year.

“There are many things to be exchanged, whether it is technology or other things,” a university student in the northern coastal province of Shandong told RFA reporter Yan Ming.

“The Internet is an educational platform. Even though it does not affect us, we still feel uncomfortable [about real-name registration] because people have their privacy,” the student said.

I don’t really know if market liberalization leads to dem0cracy or not, or if it’s true that Chinese people really don’t value dem0cracy nearly as much as they do stability. But I have the sense that as China joins the world, as her people develop expectations of privacy and self-expression, that they will not be so willing to passively submit to the Net Nanny’s smothering form of baby-sitting.

The Discussion: 17 Comments

This gave me a flashback to the cheesy 1970s TV series, “Nanny And The Professor”
(singing): “Phoebe Figallilly is a silly name….let’s ban it…..”

August 19, 2005 @ 3:10 am | Comment

The CCP has to employ a small army of internet agents to post messages on bulletin boards, supporting it and massaging public opinion. If they were smart, like Western political parties, they could get people to do all that for free in their spare time.

August 19, 2005 @ 5:07 am | Comment

For that, Peter, you would need a spirit of competition….something to make someone want their side to win. Unfortunately, such spirit is not possible when all competition is stifled. The CCP COULD do that if they allowed another political party in China.

August 19, 2005 @ 6:43 am | Comment

In a lot of ways the CCP is a very broad church. It’s split into both political and regional factions, the younger members and the old guard, the conservative and the progressive etc etc.

The problem is, it’s just not accountable or answerable to the people, nor does it operate in a society that lives under the rule of law.

I think one of the biggest fears the CCP have re the www is the potential for bringing people together across the country (never mind the rest of the world). Keeping disputes/riots/disturbances etc localised and divided is one of the key parts of the CCP’s strategy for retaining its rule.

August 19, 2005 @ 9:40 am | Comment

Any state that has to block information from its people is illigitimate. Where are all the CCP apologists? We are criticised as hypocrites when we condemn China’s aggression in Tibet, Xinjiang and towards Taiwan, its territorial claims that take in the whole of the South China Sea, its labour laws, police state above the law and contempt fopr democracy. But for some reason they stay strangely silent when the question turns up regarding freedom of information, a basic human right and one enshrined in China’s own constitution.

August 19, 2005 @ 10:03 am | Comment

My God, other Lisa, the fact that you have to type dem0cracy in such a way to get past the fascist censors says it all.

August 19, 2005 @ 10:06 am | Comment

Keir, I don’t know that I needed to go to those lengths, but since that’s one of the Nanny’s “naughty words” I figure why take the chance?

The Nanny is such a prude!

August 19, 2005 @ 10:30 am | Comment


Not sure where to start, but let me try.

You are right, China today doesn’t have freedom of information, news are being censored by the government. Most if not all Chinese probably know it.

The main difference is that Chinese are more than willing to give the government the chance to improve itself. After all, it is Chinese’s life we are talking about here, it is their government. I think nobody in China wants to see an unstable China, because it is their life that will be affected. (I’m leaving globalization out of this).

To me, I really welcome criticism on China, but when I feel I’m reading blind criticism (kind of like the blind rage those Chinese youth showed against Japanese), it is really a turn off and I’ll just start doing my “eye rolling” act.

August 19, 2005 @ 12:28 pm | Comment

Ivan, that “nanny and the professor” reference was a low blow! I’ve been humming it the entire morning.

August 19, 2005 @ 1:11 pm | Comment

To be honest wawa, I especially look forward to seing your comments because you help put things in perspective and give me a better understanding of how Chinese really view issues. My interaction with Chinese is usually limited to those who disregard any laws of the road and hit me while I cycle to work, or waitresses. Oh yeah, and my girlfriend. But then we got into an argument over where the heart is located (obviously it’s in the centre but she maintains it’s in the left cavity) and even with pictures we still can’t agree.

August 19, 2005 @ 8:09 pm | Comment


To the contrary of what you may suggect, I am not afraid to talk about the freedom of information in China. I have just visited this thread and let me answer you now.

I have no direct experiences from China’s censorship restriction so my opinion may not be accurate. When I am in the US, I read news from the western media, news on AP and reuster on Yahoo and Google, Editorials/Op-Ed pages from New York Times, Washington Post and IHT. When I visited China, I found no trouble accessing these same news sources in China. I generally don’t get news from the Chinese sources although I occationally visit Sina.com and Sohu.com.

Regarding the freedom of information, there is no comparision between the US and China. Having say that, for most Chinese, I think there are too much information, not lack of information.

August 19, 2005 @ 10:03 pm | Comment

Wawa wrote,

>I think nobody in China wants to see an unstable China

That’s none sense; what statability? I was somewhat with this type of argument many year ago when China was a backwater. But later I realized that the the leaders simply wanted to hold on to their monopoly power and didn’t want to start any political reform. This argument is a scare tactic; unfortunaly, many Chinese believe in it. China has developed to a stage that it can afford some shocks.

August 19, 2005 @ 10:31 pm | Comment

Chinese censors don’t take too much of an interest in the English Language international media–partly because the language barrier makes them inaccessable to what? 80, 90%? of the Chinese population. How long do you think these news organisations would last if they carried a Chinese-language version of the site?

Unless a news group, such as the BBC (which has always been blocked in China–it’s even difficult to access via proxy) regularly features stories about T1bet, XJ, F*L*G, etc.

The Chinese gvot make no secret of their desire to create a “China-only” Internet, i.e. politically safe and tightly controlled.

Censorship is certainly around, for example, CNN broadcasts have frequently been cut when featuring certain China stories. In addition, I watch the HK evening news most nights here in Guangzhou. Nearly every night, part(s) of the news bulletin is censored–both English and Cantonese broadcasts.

On top of the censorship, a lot of Chinese people treat foreign media with great suspicion–the govt usually encourages this. “Always putting China down” “Anti-China” “Lies about China” etc etc are very common phrases that I’ve heard over the years from Chines epeople when discussing foreign news channels and media.

August 19, 2005 @ 10:39 pm | Comment

Re Renxu’s 10:31pm post, he hits the nail on the head. The govt definitely uses the traditional Chinese cultural fear of “chaos” (luan4) as a scare tactic to excuse and justify the excesses of CCP rule and lack of reform/openess/freed0m.

August 19, 2005 @ 10:42 pm | Comment

The world really is a confusing place. Was it me that posted China might be heading to turmoil, or was it Martyn?

August 19, 2005 @ 11:16 pm | Comment

My simplistic view: While there appears to be a corelation between market liberalization and democracy, it was not an overnight process in in either Taiwan or the Republic of Korea, and some would argue that it is not yet at that stage in Singapore. The two mentioned republics did not truly begin to democratize until the late 1990s, and even then the process was slow, and is yet to be consolidated. If we accept the political birth of these countries as 1949/50, then the PRC has at least a generation to go to reach the point where these nations are today. Given that the Economist does not see PRC economic parity with the U.S. until sometime between 2041-2050, we should not expect any serious political liberalization until then. At the same time we should note that while the governments of both the ROK and Taiwan were authoritarian, they did allow multiple political parties, something that the PRC, Vietnam, and other would be 2nd generation Asian tigers and a dragon steadfastly refuse to allow. Perhaps over the long term we shall yet see evidence that without political liberalization, economic development is correspondingly hampered.

August 20, 2005 @ 1:14 am | Comment

We’re already seeing that lirelou. Don’t take my word for it. Go read official comments by people like the head of the supreme court or Wang Gang or CASS or the Central Party School. They all know the one-party state isn’t working, the problem is trying to politically liberalise without having the ideologues throw you out like Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang.

August 20, 2005 @ 12:36 pm | Comment

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