The More Things Change on the Chinese Internet…

…the more they stay the same. This has been an interesting week for the internet in China. First came the news — not surprising to anyone, probably — that China’s internet user base continues to grow, and reached 420 million in June. Then came the Beijing Daily report sounding the death-knell for Green Dam censorship and monitoring software that was going to be required on all computers sold in China before netizen complaints forced Beijing to back down. The news that the company behind Green Dam is belly-up (and that the government is no longer supporting it) might seem like cause for a little celebratory grave-dancing, if some less terrible things hadn’t also happened this week.

Microblogs nationwide went down, and when they came back up, they had all slapped “Beta” on to their logos. Slowly, netizens are discovering what that means. We reported yesterday that Sina’s weibo service no longer allows links to any foreign websites (blocked or not). Danwei reported ((Can’t load Danwei because of the effin’ GFW? Try Freedur.)) today that at least one person has discovered his name is now a “sensitive word” on Sina. What’s worse, the stepped-up censorship doesn’t seem limited to blogs.

Renowned lawyer and blogger Liu Xiaoyuan posted his own story of Sohu’s censorship to his Sohu and Sina blogs today:

In March of 2007, Sohu started to block and hide some of my blog posts. I got fed up with it and on August 16, 2007, filed a lawsuit with the Haidian district People’s Court. After nearly a year and two trials, both of my suits ((The second, presumably, was an appeal of the decision on the first suit; Liu does not go into any detail about this though.)) were rejected. If even the People’s Court sees but does not care about the violation of a citizen’s right to free speech, what could I do?

My blog posts continued to be blocked and hidden. Especially during the period of Yang Jia‘s case, a large number of posts were “purged”, but I had already become numb to it.

On July 28, 2009, I had been writing on my Sohu blog for more than three years. That day was the first time my blog was forcibly closed. They didn’t tell me anything [about why the blog was suddenly closed]. So fine, if you won’t tell me anything, then I will tell you something! I immediately registered another Sohu blog and gave Sohu a piece of my mind.

I never thought that this blog would be killed on July 12, 2010, before it had even reached one year of age. On the 13th, I opened another Sohu blog, but it only lived for a single day and was “assassinated” on the 14th.

I’ve said before, the best wat to protest when they close your blog is to open another. [I’ve opened another blog,] I really don’t know how long this one will survive.

Open your own blogs, let other people worry about closing them!

Within a few minutes, that post had been deleted from his Sohu blog, although it remains on his Sina blog, at least for the time being ((Although Sina also deletes specific posts of Liu’s on a fairly regular basis, as Liu often posts lists of the titles of recent posts of his that have been deleted.)). His Sohu blog now consists of a single brief post, entitled “Sohu moves so fast”:

Today, I opened a new Sohu blog and my first post [the post translated above] was deleted within five minutes. Sohu, Sohu, when did you become such cowards?

Green Dam may be dead, but censorship is clearly alive and well on the Chinese internet. Stepped up censorship from domestic portals (both microblogging and real blogging portals) is definitely a grave sign. On the other hand, there’s a chance the push could trigger a push back from netizens, just as the Green Dam software initiative did. Only time will tell, but feel free to speculate with me in the comments in the meantime.

You can also follow Liu Xiaoyuan via his Twitter.

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