China Blocking Websites in Effort to Crack Down on Press Freedom

The Communist party government of China has resumed blocking some websites it had unblocked as a gesture of good will, after foreign reporters complained during the Olympics that certain foreign information sources were not available to them. The BBC and Reporters without Borders (RSF) report their sites being blocked, and the Chinese government says sites that contain information sympathetic to Tibetan or Taiwanese independence movements cannot be allowed to be read in China.

President Hu Jintao has, it seems, resumed his “smokeless war” on press freedom, which he announced soon after being named to his office. The campaign of censorship began with the arrest of “dissident” reporters critical of the Chinese state, the mass shutting down of Internet cafés, usually on the grounds of fire or building codes and public safety, and demanding the collaboration of foreign media giants in “filtering” undesirable terms from web searches, like “Tiananmen Square massacre”, “student uprising” and “free Tibet”.

RSF today condemned the Chinese government’s renewed constraints on media freedoms in a press release:

Reporters Without Borders condemns the Chinese government’s censorship of the websites of certain foreign news media such as Voice of America and the BBC and certain Chinese media based outside mainland China, which have been rendered inaccessible inside China since the start of December.

“Freedom of information is widely violated in China,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Right now, the authorities are gradually rolling back all the progress made in the run-up to this summer’s Olympic games, when even foreign websites in Mandarin were made accessible. The pretence of liberalisation is now over. The blocking of access to the websites of foreign news media speaks volumes about the government’s intolerance. We urge the authorities to unblock them again.”


Civil unrest in Tibet last year led to a violent crackdown on dissidents in the run-up to the Beijing Olympic Games and worldwide movement of protest against the hardline tactics of the Chinese regime. But the spontaneous reaction of hundreds of thousands of Chinese citizens to the catastrophic loss of life from the Sichuan earthquake and its aftermath was attribute largely to the public’s ability to engage more freely in use of communications technology and the organizational capacity of the Internet. It was treated by many as a lesson to the regime that Chinese society can be more harmonious and efficient if communications constraints are loosened.

Speaking for the BBC’s Chinese-language World Service operation, Lorna Ball told Reporters without Borders “We are disappointed that Chinese-speakers are no longer able to have access to neutral and independent news through our site’s Chinese-language version. China’s inhabitants were able to access the site during the Beijing Olympic Games. Now it seems there are some difficulties”. She also promised the BBC would work to ensure that access to its content was restored in China, without having to censor its reporting.

Liu Jianchao, a spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry, told the press that “The Chinese government conducts necessary management over the Internet” and said this was common practice among other nations. Liu was firm in stating the government’s position that this was not about restricting the rights of journalists, but that it was necessary to safeguard against banned content, saying: “You cannot deny, some websites actually contain content that violates China’s laws.”

China’s filtering methods depend largely on keyword searches. While many believe there is a comprehensive national “Great Firewall of China”, blocking unwanted information from banned sites from traveling over China’s communications networks, this is reportedly not the case. While some filtering is done by Internet Service Providers and search engine giants like Yahoo!, Google and Microsoft’s MSN service, much of it depends on the installation of keyword filtering software on end-use routers. According to the website Digital Inspiration (DI):

Some, but not all, of the routers in China have special software that scans for banned words. The result is that Web sites containing banned words are often not blocked until they reach the third or fourth router. Twenty-eight percent of Web sites containing words on the blacklist actually reached their destination.

DI also reports that “Cybercafés (net bars) in China are required to keep detailed logs of customers’ online activity on file for 60 days. If a user tries to access forbidden Web sites, a café must disconnect the user and file a report with state agencies”, adding that “People cannot use cyber services without an identification card, which is kept on record for at least 60 days.”

The Washington Post reported in February 2006 that the following key words are known to trigger content-blocking software, or are simply banned, in China [story continues below ?]:

People’s names — Bao Tong, Chen Yonglin, Cui Yingjie, Ding Jiaban, Du Zhaoyong, Gao Jingyun, Gao Zhisheng, He Jiadong, He Weifang, Hu Xingdou, Hu Yuehua, Hua Guofeng, Huang Jingao, Jiang Mianheng, Jiang Yangyong, Jiang Zemin, Jiao Guobiao, Jin Zhong, Li Zhiying, Liang Yuncai, Liu Jianfeng, Liu Junning, Liu Xiabobo, Nie Shubin, Sun Dawu, Wang Binyu, Wang Lixiong, Xu Zhiyong, Yang Bin, Yang Dongping, Yu Jie, Zhang Weiying, Zhang Xingshu, Zhang Zuhua, Zhao Yan, Zhao Qing, Zhu Chenghu, Zhu Wenhu, Zi Yang (in English), Ziyang (in Chinese), Ziyang (in English), zzy (in English, abbreviation for Zhao Ziyang)

Chinese politics — 17th party congress, Babaoshan, Beat the Central Propaganda Department, Blast the Central Propaganda Department, Block the road and demand back pay, Chief of the Finance Bureau, Children of high officials, China liberal (in English), Chinese Communist high officials, Denounce the Central Propaganda Department, Down with the Central Propaganda Department, Impeach, Lin Zhao Memorial Award, Patriots Alliance, Patriots Alliance (abbreviated), Patriots Alliance Web, Police chase after and kill police, Pollution lawsuit, Procedures for dismissing an official, Red Terror, Set fires to force people to relocate, Sons of high officials, The Central Propaganda Department is the AIDS of Chinese society, Villagers fight with weapons, Wang Anshi’s reform and the fall of the Northern Song dynasty

Specific Issues and Events — Buy corpses, Cadres transferred from the military, Cashfiesta, Cat abuse, Changxin Coal Mountain, China Youth Daily staff evaluation system, Chinese orphanage, Chinese Yangshen Yizhi Gong, Demobilized soldiers transferred to other industries, Dongyang, Dongzhou, Fetus soup, Foot and mouth disease, Fuzhou pig case, Gaoxin Hospital, High-speed train petition, Hire a killer to murder one’s wife, Honghai Bay, Horseracing, Jinxin Pharmaceutical, Kelemayi, Linyi family planning, Market access system, Mascot, Military wages, No Friendlies, Prosecutor committed suicide, Pubu Ravine, Shanwei government, Suicide of deputy mayor, Suicide of Kuerle mayor, Swiss University of Finance, Taishi village, Top ten worst cities, Wanzhou, Weitan, Zhang Chunxian welcomes supervision against corruption

Falun Gong (Terms related to the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement, including phrases from its “Nine Commentaries” manifesto against the Communist Party) — Chinese Communist Party brutally kills people, dajiyuan (in English), Defy the heavens, earth and nature. Mao Zedong, Epoch Times, Epoch Times (written with a different character), Epoch Times news Web site, Evaluate the Chinese Communist Party, Evaluate the Chinese Communist Party (abbreviated), falundafa (in English), flg (in English), Fozhan Qianshou Fa, Guantong Liangji Fa, In the Chinese Communist Party, common standards of humanity don’t exist, Li Hongzhi, lihongzhi (in English), Master Li, minghui (in English), Mother and daughter accused each other, and students and teachers became enemies, New Tynasty TV Station, Nine Commentaries, No. 1 evil cult in the world, Obedient citizens under its brutal rule, People become brutal in violence, Chinese Communist Party, People developed a concept of the Chinese Communist Party, but, People who could escape have escaped, and had people to seek refuge with, Quit the party, Run the opposite direction of the so-called ideals of Communism, Shenzhou Jiachifa, Spring Festival Gala of the World’s Chinese, Steal people’s painstaking work, Truth, Compassion, Tolerance, Zhenshanren (in English)

Overseas Web Sites, Publications and Dissident Groups — Century China Foundation, China Issues Forum, China Renaissance Forum, China Society Forum, China Spring, Chinese Current Affairs, Chinese World Forum, EastSouthWestNorth Forum, EastWestSouthNorth Forum, Forum of Wind, Rain and the Divine Land, Freedom and Democracy Forum, Freedom to Write Award, Great China Forum, Han Style, Huatong Current Affairs Forum, Huaxia Digest, Huayue Current Affairs Forum, Independent Chinese PEN Center, Jimaoxin Collection, Justice Party Forum, New Birth Web, New Observer Forum, North American Freedom Forum, reminbao (In English), remingbao (In English), Small Reference, Spring and Summer Forum, Voice of the People Forum, Worldwide Reader Forum, You Say I Say Forum, Zhengming Forum, Zhidian Jiangshan Forum, Zhongshan Wind and Rain Forum

Taiwan — Establish Taiwan Country Movement Organization, Great President Chen Shui-bian, Independent League of Taiwan Youth, Independent Taiwan Association, New Party, Taiwan Freedom League, Taiwan Political Discussion Zone

Ethnic Minorities — East Turkestan, East Turkestan (abbreviated), Han-Hui conflicts, Henan Zhongmu, Hui rebellion, Hui village, Langcheng Gang, Nancheng Gang, Nanren Village, Tibet independence, Xinjiang independence, Zhongmu County

Tiananmen Square — Memoirs of June 4 participants, Redress June 4, Tiananmen videotape, Tiananmen incident, Tiananmen massacre, Tiananmen generation, World Economic Herald

Censorship — Cleaning and rectifying Web sites, China’s true content, Internet commentator, News blockade

International — Indonesia, North Korea falls out with China, Paris riots, Tsunami

Other — Armageddon, Bomb, Bug, Handmade pistol, Nuclear bomb, Wiretap, Chinese People Tell the Truth, Chinese People Justice and Evil, China Social Progressive Party, Chinese Truth Report, Dazhong Zhenren Zhenshi, Jingdongriji, Night talk of the Forbidden City, People’s Inside Information and Truth

Among the reasons suspected for the sudden retrenchment of Hu’s efforts to gain total control of Chinese media are events or potential commemorations that could cause unrest in China in 2009. June 2009 will mark the 20th anniversary of the student uprising that ended with the Tiananmen Square massacre, an event the Chinese government still openly aims to erase from Chinese historical consciousness. 2009 will also mark the 50th anniversary of China’s seizing control of all of territorial Tibet. The government may fear that both could lead to civil unrest.

But there is also the issue of China’s economic situation. Long the leading light in east Asia’s booming economies, China is now suffering as its main manunfacturing sales markets overseas, the United States and the European Union, suffering deepending economic and credit troubles, undermining business funding, credit for industrial production, and demand for retail conumser goods. There is a rising rate of unemployment and some fear regional ethnic strife and anti-government movements could be inflamed by economic hardship, especially if the impression spreads that the regime is dealing ineffectively with the problems facing the nation.


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