Censorship in China at times is so extreme that it is almost laughable, like when they claimed foreigners couldn’t go to Tibet because of the weather (it was the anniversary of anti-Chinese riots). The news articles are so carefully screened for any material that doesn’t portray the official line that they can end up being whittled down to a single sentence. So today we are going to be looking at the ways the Chinese gov’t controls the news and the net.
It’s no secret that the internet here is tightly controlled. Over the past four years I have seen (most of) Wikipedia become available, and have seen Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, and countless other sites disappear without explanation. These sites are referred to as being beyond “the Great Firewall of China”.
For the most part sites that end up blocked all have a few things in common, 1. They allow people to communicate quickly 2. They are without censorship and 3. They are foreign companies.
I think most of us assume that these sites are blocked because of the new methods of communications they enable, but actually China has clones of all three of these major sites (Chinese Youtube, Chinese Facebook, Chinese Twitter). The biggest problem is not that the foreign sites are something unique, but that they do not have to agree to the strict set of rules placed on Chinese websites.
I first became aware of this when I was talking with a close Chinese friend. He had tried to write a blog post that mentioned Hu Jintao (current leader of China), but the website said it was sensitive content and could not be published, even though his comment was fairly positive. He was a bit confused so he tried a variety of other terms that referred to the President, only to find that those too were sensitive.
This list of “sensitive” terms is widely disputed as to what is or isn’t blocked, but the consensus seems to be that it is fairly massive, and is updated within a few hours of unrest (examples here). After a new phrase is added to the list a message is sent out to all of the webmasters of China’s popular social sites to delete any post containing the offending content (this can come with a 30 minute time frame for compliance).
When I first read this I couldn’t help picturing the scene from 1984 where the workers in the Ministry of Truth are tossing the old books that no longer fit the government line into the massive incinerator.
Newspapers and broadcasts are largely self-censored, after all the only way to get promoted is by not making any political mistakes. So it is best to run the most sterile version of any story, unless it is a slam dunk smear job against a foreign country (usually the US). Chinese newspapers also have a few special requirements, 1. They are not to report on issues outside of their local area, 2. They are required to run national news using only the official statement.
With this level of censorship it’s easy to picture China as a place where the people blindly follow the omnipresent gov’t, but tomorrow we’ll see why that isn’t the case.