BEIJING—Like hell freezing over, reports that China’s Great Firewall has come down seem too good to be true. Some technical glitch or server overload must have occurred, because the notorious censors can’t have thrown their hands up in defeat already … could they?
Though not exactly confirmed, the story has legs, and it seems pretty clear from the few reports out there that something is definitely going on in China with respect to a newfound ability to access porn sites. The first reports started leaking out at the end of May. A post on shlaowai.com claimed that YouPorn, the massively popular porn tube site, was easily accessible on the mainland without having to resort to virtual private networks (VPN).
“Ladies and gentleman, more gentleman than ladies, porn is officially unblocked,” wrote AK47. “I’m sure most of you have noticed by now, but in case you haven’t, we’re all once again free to browse the web looking to satisfy whatever sick sexual fantasy you may have. Go ahead, try it out, as long as it’s not social media, no mention of Tibet, and something with lots of sweaty men and women acting in a natural (and unnatural) state for the sake of calming the nerves of men and women, it’s uncensored.”
Tuesday, Telegraph Shanghai correspondent Malcolm Moore wrote an article that corroborated that news, saying that some friends had mentioned a few weeks earlier that “a whole host of pornographic websites were now freely accessible in China.”
Not being a fan of the genre, he’d forgotten about it until the ChinaGeeks blog asked him on Twitter whether it was true that YouPorn was not accessible.
“So anyway,” he wrote, “after a bit of *ahem* research, it turns out that you can now search on Google any sexual activity you like inside China and access it without censorship. Some, but not all, Chinese pornographic websites are also available.”
Considering the authorities’ very public campaign against online porn, and in light of the recent crackdown on prostitution in Beijing, Shanghai and Dongguan, Moore was left to speculate about the reasons for the sudden apparent about-face.
“No one knows why there has been a sudden change of heart,” he wrote. “The friends who first told me the news speculated that with the recent spate of extreme violence carried out by middle-aged men (the kindergarten stabbings, today’s shoot-out in a court in Hunan), the government might be allowing pornography in order to vent some pent-up testosterone.”
Others thought it was more likely a matter of the censors reaching a technical capacity. The Great Firewall had gone down before, after all, but then it was only hours before it was back up; this time, weeks have passed without a return to the previous status quo. Were the censors focused on politics rather than porn?
“Well, the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre is just around the corner on June 4,” Moore speculated, “and it may be that the censors are spending all of their time scrubbing the Chinese internet of political dissent. (It is worth noting, however, that last year’s 20th anniversary of Tiananmen Square did not coincide with an unblocking of pornographic sites).”
The fact that YouTube is still blocked lends a thin reed of credence to that theory, but not everyone is buying the idea that the government has softened its position.
“I watched a television news report on a crackdown on pornographic organizations just a couple of days ago,” Li Yinhe, China’s leading sexologist, told Moore. “Perhaps after a heavy period of suppression, they are relaxing their control for a little while. And perhaps their computers have been overwhelmed. The censorship will be back though, and will stay for as long as pornography is illegal.”
Underscoring that point, five men were sentenced Tuesday to jail terms of up to six years for running China's most popular nude webcam chat rooms. According to ShanghaiDaily.com, the site had more than 30 million registered members.
“The Internet pornography ring caught police attention last April when its page views surged up to 730 million,” the article reported. “Hubei police raided Zheng's company in January in Chongqing, arresting dozens of young women working scarcely clad in front of webcams. The police said most of the hostesses were university students.”
That said, for many others the last month has been a springtime of openness in a country renowned for its repressive behavior.
“I’ve been viewing YouPorn freely for the past month,” wrote a commenter on shlaowai.com. “Hey AK47, besides the internet the porn distribution is legal at those legal sex shops. If horny men wanted some porn they would have to simply buy it. But on the internet it’s a better variety and private. If you noticed only the free sites are unblocked, but bigger sites like Penthouse, Hustler, or DVD dispensers are half-blocked to fully-blocked.”