BEIJING—China’s relentless purge of websites that contain pornography may be awakening a sleeping giant—namely, China. In the wake of the news that in 2009 the Chinese government shuttered more than 13,000 websites and arrested 5,400 suspects in its war against online porn, a story Tuesday in the Wall Street Journal titled “China is Losing a War Over Internet” argues that such draconian measures will surely backfire and that the censors are already in a fatally defensive posture.
“In 2009, Beijing lost a big battle, too, in the so-called Green Dam episode,” the paper reports. “It was the most dramatic illustration of the limits of the censors' power. The government's plan to quietly compel all personal-computer makers put Web-filtering software known as Green Dam-Youth Escort into new PCs shipped into China was indefinitely shelved, amid anger from global technology companies and Chinese citizens alike.”
That said, the campaign continues unabated. The China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) has announced that since Dec. 9, 3,015 websites were turned in by reports and 10,160 others were caught by the screening of the register agencies.
The center is screening the 13 million .cn domains, of which 2618 have already been closed, accused of containing pornography. The illegal application rate of CN domains has narrowed down from 25 percent to 15 percent, an official said.
Indeed, China is engaged in a high-stakes cat-and-mouse game with its own citizens. As it pursues its aims, an increasing number of tech-savvy internet users have been able to access blocked social networking sites such as Twitter, to express defiance over Beijing's web restrictions and share prohibited information. More broadly, says the Journal, the internet has given citizens a chance to discuss and organize action on sensitive issues.
Significantly, the war over free access to the internet is being fought without the assistance of the largest internet portals and search engines in the world, which have consistently bowed to pressure not only from the Chinese government, but other governments as well. Most recently, it was revealed that Flickr, Bing and Yahoo! are all censoring sexual content in India, Singapore, Korea and Hong Kong, and of course, Australia has announced its intention to filter certain sexual content at the ISP level.
The war is not all about access to pornography, either. The Journal recounts the story of a man whose attempts to bring attention to the tainted milk scandal in China landed him in jail.
“After his young son was sickened by tainted milk in 2008, [Zhao Lianhai] started a website to help other families and share experiences,” reported the paper. “From a dimly lighted office in his home, Mr. Zhao compiled information from around the country into a database of children affected by the tainted formula, and published it on his website. Running the site and getting past government barriers on the Internet became a full-time activity for Mr. Zhao … who learned to outsmart China's censorship system by moving his site to different servers, using special software that circumvents government filters and registering Web domains outside of China. Mr. Zhao's activities so alarmed officials that they detained him in November, and formally arrested him in December.”
There are many other examples of China’s authoritarian crackdown on unfettered use, but for each critic the authorities stop, says the Journal, more rise. "There are simply too many people," Xiao Qiang, a scholar who studies the Chinese internet at the University of California at Berkeley, told the paper. "They can do that to a very small group … but the approach certainly is not good enough to intimidate all the voices online."