If you’ve ever posted something online and then worried about being thrown in jail or possibly a mental institution because you dared to state your opinion, then you probably live in China. Today I read a very revealing and lengthy article about internet censorship in China in which the author asks the questions:
“Is China’s internet beyond redemption? Is it destined to be a tool of surveillance and repression, managed by the Chinese government and serviced by cynical Western partners?”
The Chinese government has taken the concept of “Big Brother” to new heights (or rather, lows) with their building of what is often called the Chinese Firewall, a system designed to deny its citizens access to a multitude of information, most importantly, anything that is critical of the current regime.
Western news sources such as CNN.com are blocked so that the Chinese government can disseminate misinformation without having to deal with bothersome, trivial things like truth, facts, and human rights. Not one to limit itself to attempting to control only the large institutions, China’s government also determinedly goes after individuals who dare to criticize them in any way.
Like Li Hua, a high school teacher in a remote provence of China. In response to the buyout of the public school where he worked, which he believed was ordered by local officials, he wrote a folk song in his local dialect which made fun of Chinese officials. The song was posted on the internet. Bad move if you’re a Chinese guy who wants to stay out of jail. Li was incarcerated 5 days later. The Washington Post reports:
“He was interrogated twice, he recalled, and forced to translate the song into Mandarin Chinese so his jailers could understand it. At noon on the seventh day, he was released, but only after writing a self-criticism about how naughty it was to compose ribald lyrics describing the actions of party officials.
‘I felt the sky was broken and the earth was cracked,’ Li said, still appearing shaken and dejected as he described his experience six weeks later. ‘When I made up that folk song, I could never have imagined it would bring me such trouble.'”
He Weihua, A Chinese blogger, was recently committed to a mental hospital, a common tactic of the government used to quiet and discredit its critics:
“A relative reported that He Weihua is not at all suffering from insanity. He has written a substantial amount of articles about human rights for the regime-critical website Boxun, which has been blocked in China by the board of censors. He Weihua had already been committed to a psychiatric clinic in December 2004, reported Reporters without Borders. In 2006 he barely escaped being run over by a motorcycle driver, who demanded that he discontinue his human rights activities.”
Reporters without Borders has published numerous articles regarding censorship and human rights violations in China, including Government Gets Blog Service Providers to Sign “Self-Discipline” Pact to End Anonymous Blogging and Repression Continues in China, One Year before Olympic Games. They state:
“At least 30 journalists and 50 Internet users are currently detained in China. Some of them since the 1980s. The government blocks access to thousands for news websites. It jams the Chinese, Tibetan and Uyghur-language programmes of 10 international radio stations. After focusing on websites and chat forums, the authorities are now concentrating on blogs and video-sharing sites. China’s blog services incorporate all the filters that block keywords considered ‘subversive’ by the censors. The law severely punishes ‘divulging state secrets,’ ‘subversion’ and ‘defamation’ – charges that are regularly used to silence the most outspoken critics.”
Free-world companies, such as Cisco Systems, Yahoo, and Google, have been widely criticized for doing business with China on the Chinese government’s terms and thus contributing to censorship. Google defended its actions last year at a hearing before the Committee on International Relations of the House of Representatives:
“Figuring out how to deal with China has been a difficult exercise for Google. The requirements of doing business in China include self-censorship – something that runs counter to Google’s most basic values and commitments as a company. Despite that, we made a decision to launch a new product for China – Google.cn – that respects the content restrictions imposed by Chinese laws and regulations. Understandably, many are puzzled or upset by our decision. But our decision was based on a judgment that Google.cn will make a meaningful – though imperfect – contribution to the overall expansion of access to information in China.”
Researchers at UC Davis and the University of New Mexico are currently working on a tool to monitor changes in censored words in China. They describe China’s method of censorship this way:
“‘Imagine you want to remove the history of the Wounded Knee massacre from the Library of Congress,’ Crandall said. ‘You could remove ‘Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee’ and a few other selected books, or you could remove every book in the entire library that contains the word ‘massacre.”
By analogy, Chinese Internet censorship based on keyword filtering is the equivalent of the latter — and indeed, the keyword “massacre” (in Chinese) is on the blacklist.”
But what do the Chinese people themselves think about all of this? With their limited access to information, do they even know what’s going on? Chinaview posted the results of a survey of Chinese internet users. According to the survey:
“Most believe that overseas news about China is more accurate and would like to see more. Over 87.9% responded that overseas news is more objective, with different viewpoints, the reports are more profound and can touch the core of issues. Only 1.76% believe that news in China is accurate.”
The article goes on to state:
“While those surveyed are tech savvy and use anti-blockage software to access overseas websites, 72% remain concerned about their own safety.”
- Cute China Internet Censorship — Cartoon characters pop up on screen to remind Chinese citizens they’re being watched (the picture in this post is from this website and is one person’s response to this sickening, cutesy way of threatening people).
- Beijing Notebook — The blog of a foreigner living in China, including her experiences with censorship.
- The Internet’s Black Holes — A graphic showing areas of the world where news is not free to circulate.
- Internet Censorship in the People’s Republic of China — The low-down from Wikipedia (which has, itself, been blocked on and off).