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Surfing the Chinternet

What hides behind the "Great Firewall" of China?

7:30 AM, Jun 18, 2010 • By KELLEY CURRIE
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Last week, the Chinese government issued a new propaganda piece in the form of a policy paper on its Internet control policies. It serves as a typical example of Beijing's Orwellian use of language and formalism to dress up its authoritarianism as legal and rational. In Beijing's alternate universe, the Chinese people have exactly as much Internet freedom as they need, and the real threat to their optimal online experience comes from spam, pornography, and "illegal information" that endangers state security.  

A broad swath of what would be considered normal online speech in the West is proscribed like this in the piece's section on Internet "security:"

[N]o organization or individual may produce, duplicate, announce or disseminate information having the following contents: being against the cardinal principles set forth in the Constitution; endangering state security, divulging state secrets, subverting state power and jeopardizing national unification; damaging state honor and interests; instigating ethnic hatred or discrimination and jeopardizing ethnic unity; jeopardizing state religious policy, propagating heretical or superstitious ideas; spreading rumors, disrupting social order and stability; disseminating obscenity, pornography, gambling, violence, brutality and terror or abetting crime; humiliating or slandering others, trespassing on the lawful rights and interests of others; and other contents forbidden by laws and administrative regulations. These regulations are the legal basis for the protection of Internet information security within the territory of the People's Republic of China. All Chinese citizens, foreign citizens, legal persons and other organizations within the territory of China must obey these provisions.

At the same time, the paper asserts that: 

The Internet provides unprecedented convenience and a direct channel for the people to exercise their right to know, to participate, to be heard and to oversee, and is playing an increasingly important role in helping the government get to know the people's wishes, meet their needs and safeguard their interests. The Chinese government is determined to unswervingly safeguard the freedom of speech on the Internet enjoyed by Chinese citizens in accordance with the law.

Somebody tell that to all those Chinese dissidents -- such as Liu Xiaobo -- who are currently in jail for "exercising their right to know, to participate to be heard" through online advocacy.

This effort by Beijing to go on the offensive, by characterizing its approach to regulating the Internet in such terms, has added fuel to the discussion both inside China, and among China-watch dogs and Internet freedom advocates who worry about the extent and nature of China's Internet censorship regime and how to best fight it. One of the more interesting items in this debate comes from the China Digital Times, which translated a posting by a Chinese blogger that uses the white paper's self-congratulatory statistics hilariously to analyze the government's efforts at "harmonizing" opinion on the Chinternet.  With tongue planted firmly in cheek, the Chinese blogger analyzes the statistics the government provides on blogging to demonstrate that 98 percent of comments posted to Chinese websites are "harmonized," or deleted due to unauthorized content use.  What is most interesting about this post is that it first appeared on the uber-nationalist Chinese blog Iron and Blood Forum, whose netizens generally reserve their criticism of the Chinese government to cases where they think the government is not standing up for Chinese interests vigorously enough. The blogger's mocking tone clearly demonstrates the user's strong level of awareness of, and frustration with, the blinkered nature of the Chinternet.

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