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Internet Police
China, in the opinion of many, has the most extensive Internet censorship system in the world. The government has spent tens of millions--perhaps hundreds of millions--of dollars on filters and other blocking devices to prevent the spread of information over the Internet.

Former Chinese dissident Fang Lizhi wrote in the New York Review of Books, “The regime’s curbs on the Internet today range from filtering out large numbers of “sensitive” terms to simply unplugging the Web in an entire region for weeks on end. When Beijing hosted the twenty-ninth Olympic Games in the summer of 2008, the authorities, with their international face at stake, loosened Internet controls temporarily, but as soon as the games were over they returned controls to normal. [Source: Fang Lizhi, New York Review of Books, November 10, 2011]

China constantly strives to exert its control over the Internet, blocking content it deems politically sensitive as part of a vast censorship system. A special 30,000-member police unit checks chat lines, looks for spikes in Internet traffic, monitors and screens websites and blogs for sensitive material and blocks access to violators. Advanced technoloy is deployed to block access to overseas websites regarded as threatening. China has purchased much of its filtering and spying equipment from the American companies like Cisco Systems and Dynamic Internet technology.

More than 500 cities have established internet police bureaus. The Public Security Ministry has even introduced a male and female pair of characters in police uniforms that can pop up on person’s screen when a sensitive website is sought out to remind them their activities can be monitored.

Michael Wines wrote in the New York Times, The mushrooming growth of China’s Internet business has spawned a sort of land rush for regulatory turf by government agencies that see in it a chance to gain more authority or more money, or both. At least 14 government units, from the culture and information technology ministries to offices that oversee films and books, have some hand in what appears on China’s Internet. Others have interests in Internet-related ventures like the sale of censorship software that could prove to be lucrative sources of income. [Source: Michael Wines, New York Times, May 4, 2011]

As of early 2007, the government had shut down more than 700 online forums and websites and blocked more than 10,000 sites. including thousands of popular news, political and religious sites. Access to business, cultural, and educational sites is generally no a problem because Beijing views access to them as essential for being part of the globalized world.

Both domestic and foreign providers must comply with restrictions designed to suppress political dissent and track down offenders. Each week representatives of China’s most popular websites are summoned to the Internet Propaganda Management Department and are told which news they should keep off their services.

A specific “ideological education” campaign was launched against student websites used by million to discuss a wide range of topics, including pop culture and politics. The government has even conducted tests to explore how “harmful information” can be expunged quickly from the Internet in the event of an “emergency.”

Good Websites and Sources on the Internet in China: Wikipedia article on Internet Censorship in China Wikipedia ; Open Net Initiative on the Internet in China ; Great Firewall Website Test / ; Harvard Law School Report on Internet Filtering ; China Internet Network Information Center ;The Berkeley China Internet Project and China Digital Times

Good Websites and Sources on the Chinese Media: Council of Foreign Relations on Media Censorship in China ;, an English-language blog on the Chinese media ; China Media Blog ; China Today ; Freedom House Report ; List of Media in China ; Modern Chinese Literature and Culture (MCLC) Media Bibliography Modern Chinese Literature and Culture (MCLC) ; News About China ; China Media Project ;China Digital Times


Chinese Government Use of the Internet

Beijing encourages Internet use for education and business but tries to block Web surfers from seeing material deemed subversive or obscene. The government tries to block Internet users in China from seeing the U.S.-based microblog site Twitter and has begun requiring Chinese sites to confirm the identity of users.

Perhaps the even bigger reason is the schizophrenia Beijing feels toward the Web. While on one hand it wants to control the Internet, it also increasingly relies on it, with almost all government agencies and city offices now maintaining their own websites and often blogs, as well. Police stations, for example, regularly use micro-blogging, usually called “weibo” in China, for everything from citing crime statistics to publicizing social order campaigns. Just as important, the Internet has become key for Beijing to monitor what its citizens are concerned or riled up about, whether it’s official corruption or high property prices.

“The government for a long time has recognized that the Internet is a place for citizens to let off steam but is also a platform that allows the government to get a read on what is going on across the country, in the provinces,” says Goldkorn. “But they have a tough time balancing that with their desire to ensure the Internet does not lead to instability, or to any kind of threat to their control.”

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Government Control of Internet Users in China

Internet users are supposed to register with police and sign an agreement promising not to harm the country or do anything illegal. The Ministry of Posts and Telecommunication is the only authorized provider.

“Internet police” can jam e-mail viewed as threatening, tap the Internet the same way it does telephone lines, and monitor Internet users who type in word like "Taiwan" or "Falun Gong" in their e-mail accounts.

Most users don't care about blocked sites so much. They aren’t that interested in politics and when they do view an illegal site is most likely to be a pornographic one. One survey found that four out of five Chinese want the Internet to be controlled mainly out of concern about pornography. As long as Chinese users have access to the chat lines and games they like they are happy. The government makes no secret about its intention to block sites. Most Internet-related businesses are willing to comply and the government even hands out wards to those that do the job eagerly and efficiently. The owner of one large Internet company told the New York Times, “We don’t want to annoy the government.”

Some users however upset. Reuters described one Internet user who was unable to access his friend’s holiday photographs on, because had been blocked for showing images of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. Wikpedia and a number of seemingly harmless blogs have also been blocked Almost as quickly as they are blocked though, links to browser plug ins and other methods to subvert the filters are posted on blogs and in chart rooms.

The Chinese government has been accused of forcing foreign hotels to install Internet filters on computers in the hotels that allow the government to spy and eavesdrop on Internet uses at the hotel. Among the ideas proposed at the 2010 National People’s Congress to improve security were placing all the country‘s Internet cafes under government control and installing surveillance cameras in all cell phones,

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Control on the Internet Stepped Up After Protests in 2009 and 2011

Internet controls ramped up in late 2009, when officials observed how social networking sites and other forums helped inflame unrelated outbursts of protests and rioting in Iran and Xinjiang, the restive region in China’s west. In August 2009 article on the Iran protests, a monthly journal published by the central propaganda department warned of the challenge posed by sites like Twitter and Facebook, which the authorities had blocked days after riots in Xinjiang. In January 2010, after Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced a new United States policy to counter online censorship abroad, an editorial published by People’s Daily charged that the United States had used the Internet — YouTube and Twitter in particular — to stir up “online warfare” against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president. The Internet’s influence on the volatile events in Iran and Xinjiang “impacted the leadership like an earthquake,” said one media investor with high-level ties to China’s regulators who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of damaging that relationship.

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Jasmine Revolution Protest in
Beijing organized through the Internet
and Twitter-like microblogs

In February and March 2011, after the so-call Jasmine Revolution “protests” in several Chinese cities, the Chinese government appeared to have stepped up its censorship of electronic media. Sharon Lafraniere wrote in the New York Times, “A host of evidence over the past several weeks shows that Chinese authorities are more determined than ever to police cellphone calls, electronic messages, e-mail and access to the Internet in order to smother any hint of antigovernment sentiment. In the cat-and-mouse game that characterizes electronic communications here, analysts suggest that the cat is getting bigger, especially since revolts began to ricochet through the Middle East and North Africa, and homegrown efforts to organize protests in China began to circulate on the Internet in February. about a month ago. [Source: Sharon Lafraniere, New York Times, March 21, 2011]

A Beijing entrepreneur, discussing restaurant choices with his fiancée over their cellphones quoted Queen Gertrude’s response to Hamlet from the Shakespeare play: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” The second time he said the word “protest,” her phone cut off. He spoke English, but another caller, repeating the same phrase on Monday in Chinese over a different phone, was also cut off in midsentence.

“Google accused the Chinese government of disrupting its Gmail service in the country and making it appear as if technical problems at Google — not government intervention — were to blame, Lafraniere wrote. “Several popular virtual private-network services, or V.P.N.’s, designed to evade the government’s computerized censors, have been crippled. This has prompted an outcry from users as young as ninth graders with school research projects and sent them on a frustrating search for replacements that can pierce the so-called Great Firewall, a menu of direct censorship and “opinion guidance” that restricts what Internet users can read or write online. V.P.N.’s are popular with China’s huge expatriate community and Chinese entrepreneurs, researchers and scholars who expect to use the Internet freely. In an apology to customers in China for interrupted service, WiTopia, a V.P.N. provider, cited “increased blocking attempts.” No perpetrator was identified.

Beyond these problems, anecdotal evidence suggests that the government’s computers, which intercept incoming data and compare it with an ever-changing list of banned keywords or Web sites, are shutting out more information. The motive is often obvious: For six months or more, the censors have prevented Google searches of the English word “freedom.”

But other terms or Web sites are suddenly or sporadically blocked for reasons no ordinary user can fathom. One Beijing technology consultant, who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution against his company, said that for several days he could not visit the Web site for the Hong Kong Stock Exchange without a proxy. LinkedIn, a networking platform, was blocked for a day during the height of government concerns over Internet-based calls for protests in Chinese cities, he said.

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Jasmine Revolution Protest in
Beijing organized through the Internet
and Twitter-like microblogs

Chinese Government Internet Response to Perceived Threats

Hu Yong, a media professor at Peking University, said government censors were constantly spotting and reacting to new perceived threats. “The technology is improving and the range of sensitive terms is expanding because the depth and breadth of things they must manage just keeps on growing,” Mr. Hu said. [Source: Sharon Lafraniere, New York Times, March 21, 2011] China’s censorship machine has been operating ever more efficiently since mid-2008, and restrictions once viewed as temporary — like bans on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter — are now considered permanent. Government-friendly alternatives have sprung and developed a following. “The hard-liners have won the field, and now we are seeing exactly how they want to run the place,” Russell Leigh Moses, a Beijing analyst of China’s leadership, told the New York Times. “I think the gloves are coming off.”

Disrupting Web sites and Internet connections is a standard tactic in dealing with companies that fall out of government favor. Mark Seiden, an Internet consultant, said Chinese officials typically left the companies and users to guess the reason. In the Google case, an article on the Web site of People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s official publication, offered a strong hint. The March 4 article, attributed to a netizen, called Google a tool of the United States government. Like Facebook and Twitter, the article said, Google has “played a role in manufacturing social disorder” and sought to involve itself in other nations’ politics.

Mr. Moses, the Beijing analyst, said the latest moves further expand government control of electronic communications. “The model for this government is that every day is a new challenge and a new opportunity to show the strength of the state here,” he said. “There is clear confidence in the capability of the political authorities to maintain order.”

The fact that social networking sites have fueled the protests in Egypt will no doubt spur Chinese officials to further scrutinize such sites. And they may be right to pay attention: Zhao Jing, a liberal Chinese blogger who goes by the name of Michael Anti, said that “it was amazing netizens on Twitter cared about Egypt so much? that they had begun drawing parallels between China and Egypt. President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt was being called Mu Xiaoping, a reference to Deng Xiaoping, who quashed the 1989 popular protests in Beijing, while Tahrir Square in Cairo was being compared to Tiananmen Square.

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Guess Great Firewall Mechanism

Great Firewall of China

The Great Firewall of China is a term used to describe the blocking of websites and parts of websites by the Chinese government's $700 million Golden Shield infrastructure. Filtering systems referred as the Great Firewall of China work by blocking access to sites with keyword like Tibet, democracy, Tiananmen Square, Taiwan independence, sex, Dalai Lama, human rights, Amnesty International, or Falun Gong. If you type the words “democracy” or “freedom,” for example, on the MSB Spaces Web log service — a blogging service — you get the message: “You must enter a title for your space. This title must contain prohibited language, such as profanity. Please type a different title.”

The primary Firewall barriers are: 1) the Domain Name System (DNS) block, which prevents users from locating entire websites and addresses based on the domain name; 2) disrupting the “connect phase,” which prevents users form connecting with certain blacklisted sites by impeeding their ability to connect with them; and 3) the URL keyword block, which prevents users from connecting with certain sites or articles that have blacklisted keywords.

Much of the blocking of the Internet by the Chinese government is done by disrupting the “connect phase,” and with the URL keyword block in this way: 1) a user enters a URL (address) to a browser; 2) the monitoring system checks whether the URL is on a blacklist (if it is the user is sent an error message); 3) filtering systems check whether the text on the URL requested contains flagged terms (again if it does the user is sent an error message). There are also filers that screen e-mail and search engine request.

The URL keyword block can block an entire site with the blacklisted keyword or only a part of the site or an article with the blacklisted keyword. With this system users are punished with broken connections and display of the message “the connection has been reset.” The broken connections can last more than a hour if a user repeatedly tries to access a certain blacklisted keyword. If the offense continues further the Internet police can be alerted and they may try to locate the user The surveillance system is constantly being updated with new keywords added all the time.

Father of Firewall Pelted Online and In Person

China's nervousness about the power of social networking was on display when the computer scientist seen as the father of China's "Great Firewall" of internet controls apparently was forced offline by angry comments within a few hours of opening a microblog. Anonymous posters peppered the microblog of Fang Binxing with hundreds of caustic or sarcastic comments, and eventually all of Mr Fang's posts and the responses were taken down.

Then the same sort of thing happened in person. In May 2011, Fang, , the principal of Beijing University of Posts & Telecommunications, was pelted with eggs and a shoe while giving a lecture at Wuhan University. China Want Times reported: “While the eggs launched at Fang seem to have missed, the shoe thrown by a female student allegedly struck its target. Though reports of the attack have not been confirmed, netizens in China reposted the news widely online soon after and online encyclopedia Wikipedia has listed the incident in Fang Bingxing's entry. [Source: Want China Times May 19 2011]

Fang is known for his substantial contribution to China's internet censorship infrastructure. He began working at the National Computer Network Emergency Response Technical Team/Coordination Center of China in 1999 as deputy chief engineer and from 2000 he served as chief engineer and director. It was in this position that he oversaw the development of the filtering and blocking technology that has become known as China's "Great Firewall."

Internet users regard Fang as an enemy who has stripped netizens of the ability to view and download online content freely. After hearing that Fang was due to give a lecture at Wuhan University, netizens jokingly offered rewards to whoever could successfully pelt him with an object.

Rewards on offer included a DVD of Japanese porn star Sora Aoi, one night at a five star hotel in Hong Kong, one large hug, a round trip air ticket to Shanghai, a week in California, or one night stand with the person offering the prize. It is believed all the rewards mentioned are genuine.

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The blocking and surveillance systems that the Chinese use rely on routers — switches located where fiber optic cables cross international borders.

All Internet connections between China and the rest of the world are routed through a relatively small number of optic cables at one of three points: 1) the Beijing-Tianjin Qingdao connection in north, where cables come in from Japan; 2) the Shanghai connection on the central coat, where cables also come in from Japan; and 3) the Guangzhou connection in the south, where the cables come in from Hong Kong. There are some lines that run through Central Asia and Russia but they carry little traffic. An illustration of how fragile this system is came in 2006 when an earthquake around Taiwan that cut some major sea cables into China, disrupted international transmissions to and from China for weeks.[Source: James Fallows, The Atlantic, March 2008]

The Chinese are able to monitor Internet traffic by installing monitoring devises at the “international gateways” into China. Using a technique called “mirroring” that does incorporate extremely small mirrors, information that travels through the gateways is copied and sent with mirroring routers to “Golden Shield” computers which sort through the data and determine if anything should be blocked.

The mirror routers — many designed by Cisco — can be used to eavesdrop on transmissions. If the transmissions pick up something deemed offensive — a key word for example — the transmission can be blocked, Some of the systems are quite sophisticated and block only certain parts of transmissions and let others through. With a site like CNN or BBC, sports may be allowed to pass through while the news is blocked. When a site is blocked an error message appears.

The government has tried to require users to register using their real names and prevent them from using anonymous names which they have traditionally relied on to mask their identity so they can speak freely without persecution. Police reportedly have access to software developed by Cisco that allows them to track people’s work histories and political tendencies. Much of the surveillance software is thought to have been developed by the Chinese themselves, much of it by engineers in the Chinese military.

Green Dam

In 2009, the Chinese government released a controversial web filtering software called Green Dam-Youth escort. The original plan called for it to be installed on all computers put on sale but this requirement deeply angered both domestic and international computers makers. Users voiced their anger in forums and blogs and circulated petitions condemning the plan and called for a boycott of the Internet on the day the filter was introduced, July 1, 2009.

Rules that went into effect on November 2008 and said to be aimed at cracking down on pirated software required Internet cafe operators in the city of Nanchang, Jiangxi province replace unlicensed software with legitimate copies of either Microsoft Windows or China's Red Flag Linux operating system, while paying a fee. However, Radio Free Asia said cafes were being required to install Red Flag Linux even if they were using authorized copies of Windows. It quoted Xiao Qiang, director of the California-based China Internet Project, as saying the new rules would help the authorities to undertake heightened surveillance of the cafes. [Source: AP, December 4, 2008]

In the end the system was only installed on computers in public places such as schools and Internet cafes and consumers were given the choice of whether or not to have it installed on new computers they purchased. The government said the primary purpose of the software was to filter out violent and pornographic content to protect youths but many felt the filter would used to block any site the government disapproved of.

Green Dam critics claimed the system could be used to monitor user web-surfing activities and condemned how the contract to run it was given without open bidding to two little-known software firms with military connections.

Green dam technology exists. China’s leading instant-messaging service, called QQ, automatically installs a program on users’ computers that monitors their communications and blocks censored text. Green Dam or other filtering software remains installed on computers in some Internet cafes and schools. The government is reportedly working on a version for cellphones.

Solid Oak Software, a Santa-Barbara-based software company, has alleged that the designers of the Green-Dam Youth escort software stole some of their programming code from Solid Oak and planned to seek an injunction against the Chinese developer but admitted they were not sure how far they would get.

Government Control of Computers Sold in China

China is planning to introduce a system in May 2010 that requires foreign firms to disclose secret information about digital products such as IC card, flat-panel televisions and digital copiers sold to the Chinese government. Described as an accreditation system for IT security, it would oblige foreign companies to disclose certain products source codes — text written in computer programming language that controls digital appliances and other high-tech products. If a company fails to disclose the information that is demanded then the Chinese government could ban the firm from exporting their products to China.

Foreign companies are not happy about the idea of disclosing secret information about their products. They see the move as compromising their intellectual property rights and an attempt steal company secrets on top to being repressive. Some think the proposal could lead to a major trade dispute. The original plan called for the rule to apply to all produces made or sold in China but international outrage over the issue was loud and intense the rule was later scaled down to only cover products purchased by the Chinese government. The Japanese firm Hitachi said it would suspend production of high-grade digital products in China and halt sales if China goes through with its plan to introduce a system to require it to disclose secret information about it products.

Internet Companies Collaborating with the Chinese Government

A number of Internet companies have played significant roles as Internet informers for the Chinese government. In October 2008, Citizen Lab issued a report revealing that TOM-Skype, a joint venture by Skype and an arm of Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing's empire offering encrypted voice and text messaging services inside of China, saved copies of text messages on a network of eight servers. [Source: Peter Lee, Asia Times, April 8, 2009]

This was a big deal for three reasons.: First, though TOM-Skype admitted that Chinese-mandated filtering software would knock out messages with forbidden keywords, it had previously claimed that the filtered messages were discarded. Not true. The filtered messages were stored on the eight servers. [Ibid]

Secondly, TOM-Skype is supposed to be a private, encrypted service with encryption keys that were the secret property of the service's users. Nevertheless, it was revealed that, presumably at the behest of the Chinese government, TOM-Skype saved both the traffic and the keys needed to decrypt it. [Ibid]

Third, the servers were also apparently storing traffic that did not contain banned keywords - an indication that the Chinese government was selecting individuals and accounts to monitor, and dumping all their traffic on the servers for examination. [Ibid]

As the TOM-Skype case shows, any commercial participant in encrypted communication activities will be expected to provide a backdoor and/or a helping hand to Chinese security organizations. The attention of dissidents - and the security personnel who track them - must turn elsewhere for more private communications. [Ibid]

Government Control of Internet Cafes in China

Internet cafes are required by the government to have a license and register their customers identity. Users at cafes are required to register before using the Internet. The material users access can be easily monitored by the government. Much of the Special Internet software installed in computers in Internet cafes — that monitors pornography and sites critical of the government — has been sold to China by the American companies Hewlitt-Packard, Sun Microsystems, Microsoft and Cisco Systems.

Curfews have been imposed in Internet cafes to prevent children under 18 from entering. Violators face penalties of being shut down for 15 days or losing their licence. In April 2004, authorities in Shanghai began installing cameras at some cafes to keep an eye people while they were using computers and to prevent underage children from entering the cafes. .

In Shaoyang, a city in central Hunan Province, students under 18 are required to wear uniforms so they can be spotted more easily and kept from entering an Internet café. In Shanghai the city’s Communist Youth League set up 268 community centers where people were given free access to “healthy websites.” In the town of Gedong in Fangshan County in Shanxi Province all the Internet cafes were shot down. None of the campaigns worked very well. In Gedong, kids simply went to illegal cafes that bribed policemen to stay open.

Crackdowns at Internet Cafes in China

The government has closed down thousands of Internet cafes. The fire at the Internet Café that killed 24 people in 2002 gave the government an excuse to launch a big crackdown. Immediately after the fire all 2,400 Internet cafes in Beijing were closed for fire inspections. Those with safety violations were closed either permanently or until the problems were rectified. Those that met the requirements were required to apply for new licenses.

Raids and inspections of Internet café are often aimed at deterring children from using the cafes and preventing people from using them to communicate anonymously. Internet cafes that get caught allowing minors onto their premises twice can be closed for 15 days or fined.

Between October and December 2005, Chinese authorities closed down 12,575 Internet cafes for operating illegally, most of them near schools. When the Internet cafes are shut down, users usually make their way to illegal cafes. In June 2007, the Chinese government banned the opening of any new Internet Cafes for the rest of the year while it conducted a industry-wide survey.

Internet cafes that don't use the software the government requires do so at their own peril. In one crackdown, 40,000 police officers were enlisted to inspect 56,800 Internet cafes. During the raid, 6071 Internet cafes were temporarily closed and 1,843 were closed down completely. Some of the raids were shown on television.


Real Name System in China

In July 2007, the city of Xiamen banned anonymous web posting. According to the law all Internet users would have to use their real names, The move came after construction of a massive $1.4 billion chemical factory was halted by the use of a successful Internet campaign that incorporated the sending of a 1 million e-mail and text messages.

Regulators are pondering adopting a real-name system to clean up the Internet and clampdown on viscous attacks by anonymous posters. A new regulation introduced in 2010 limits those who can operate a site on China’s .cn domain to registered businesses, and requires operators to produce Chinese identification. “In case they need to shut you down for some subversive content, they need to know how to find you,” an executive with one Beijing firm that hosts Web sites told the New York Times.

There are issues over whether a real-name system is technically viable and to what extent banning anonymous online posting sacrifices freedom of speech.

Leaked Propaganda Directives and Banned “Future”

The following leaked notice is an internal directive sent to internet commentators over the past week, translated by China Digital Times: “In order to circumscribe the influence of Taiwanese democracy, in order to progress further in the work of guiding public opinion, and in accordance with the requirements established by higher authorities to “be strategic, be skilled,” we hope that internet commentators conscientiously study the mindset of netizens, grasp international developments, and better perform the work of being an internet commentator. For this purpose, this notice is promulgated as set forth below: [Source: China Digital Times June 24, 2011]

(1) To the extent possible make America the target of criticism. Play down the existence of Taiwan. (2) Do not directly confront [the idea of] democracy; rather, frame the argument in terms of “what kind of system can truly implement democracy.” (3) To the extent possible, choose various examples in Western countries of violence and unreasonable circumstances to explain how democracy is not well-suited to capitalism.

(4) Use America’s and other countries’ interference in international affairs to explain how Western democracy is actually an invasion of other countries and [how the West] is forcibly pushing [on other countries] Western values. (5) Use the bloody and tear-stained history of a [once] weak people [i.e., China] to stir up pro-Party and patriotic emotions. (6) Increase the exposure that positive developments inside China receive; further accommodate the work of maintaining [social] stability.

In the meantime, a very long list of keywords is currently banned on Sina Weibo’s search function. Among those banned keywords (in Chinese) are: “Ai Weiwei, Ai Wei, Wei Wei, Ai, Wei, “Future” (similar to Weiwei), Fatty Ai, Fatty and Moon Half Son. [The latter are common nicknames for Ai Weiwei.]

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Government Control of Web Sites and Search Engines in China

James Glanz and John Markoff wrote in the New York Times, “Despite the hints of paranoia that revealed diplomatic cables related to Google hacker attacks leaked by Wikileaks, there are also clear signs that Chinese leaders do not consider the Internet an unstoppable force for openness and democracy, as some Americans believe. In fact, in the spring of 2011, around the time of the Google pullout, China’s State Council Information Office delivered a triumphant report to the leadership on its work to regulate traffic online, according to a crucial Chinese contact cited by the State Department in a cable in early 2010, when contacted directly by The Times. [Source: James Glanz and John Markoff, New York Times, December 4, 2010]

The message delivered by the office, the person said, was that “in the past, a lot of officials worried that the Web could not be controlled...But through the Google incident and other increased controls and surveillance, like real-name registration, they reached a conclusion: the Web is fundamentally controllable.” That confidence may also reflect what the cables show are repeated and often successful hacking attacks from China on the United States government, private enterprises and Western allies that began by 2002, several years before such intrusions were widely reported in the United States.

All major web sites that are authorized in China have to submit to security checks and are required to sign a code of conduct in which they promise to keep unauthorized content off their sites. Sites that "leak state secrets," contain pornography, or promote social disturbances can be shut down. Individuals that break laws risks being sent to prison for long sentences.

Web sites run by BBC, the New York Times, Time Warner's Pathfinder, human right groups, Falun Gong, Tibetan exiles, pro-democracy groups, and Taiwan independence groups have been blacked out. A surprising number of sexually explicit sites are accessible, which is ironic because the government originally claimed that the primary point of censorship was to block them out.

In 2002, the government blocked access to Google. Google was popular among Chinese users because if its wide-ranging search capacity and the fact its links were unblocked and uncensored. In April 2004, the government began a crackdown on Internet discussion groups with new rules that banned independent reporting not be approved by the government, and prohibited discussions of sensitive issues such as economic failures and criticism of the Chinese Party.

In December 2004, the government Internet watchdog agency the Center of Illegal and Harmful Information shut down 1,287 We sites because they spread “harmful information” on religious cults, superstition and pornography. Some of the sites were shut down after the government was alerted by informants paid between $60 and $240.

In September 2005, the Chinese government stepped up its crackdown on “unhealthy” sites and news sites were required websites to register with the State Council or with provincial-level government information offices. Bloggers were forbidden from post information that “creates social uncertainty.” In January 2007, Chinese President Hu Jintao ordered Internet regulators to promote “healthy online culture” and “purify the Internet environment.”

Image Sources: Human Rights Watch, Wiki Commons, Human Rights in China,

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated April 2012

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