Patrice Riemens on Tue, 1 Feb 2011 17:34:03 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Nicholas Kristof: Banned in Beijing! (NYT)

One more in the ongoing Mozorov yes - Mozorov no discussion!

source: paper NYT supplement in the SDZ found in the ICE yesterday (!)
original at:

Banned in Beijing!


Psst. Don?t tell the Chinese government, but I started a Chinese-language
blog here in China, and it contains counterrevolutionary praise of
dissidents. It?s at

Now let?s count ? 1, 2, 3 ... ? and see how long my blog stays up. My
hunch is that State Security will ?harmonize? it quickly. In Chinese, Web
sites are mockingly referred to as ?harmonized? when the government
vaporizes them so as to nurture a ?harmonious society.?

China now has about 450 million Internet users, far more than any other
country, and perhaps 100 million bloggers. The imprisoned writer Liu
Xiaobo, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, has said, ?The Internet is God?s
gift to the Chinese people.? I tend to agree, but it?s also true that
Chinese cyberspace remains a proletarian dictatorship. In November, the
government sent a young woman, Cheng Jianping, to labor camp for a year
for posting a single mocking sentence.

My teenage kids accompanied me on this trip, and they?re used to being
dragged around to witness one injustice or another. But my daughter has
rarely been more indignant than when she discovered that Facebook, YouTube
and Twitter are blocked in China.

So I decided to conduct my latest experiment in Chinese Internet freedom.
I began this series of experiments in 2003 by seeing what I could get away
with in Chinese Internet chat rooms.

On this visit, I started with blogging and with microblogging, the Chinese
version of Twitter. But, in an ominous sign, I discovered that the Chinese
authorities had tightened the rules since my last experiments. These days,
anyone starting an online account must supply an ID card number and
cellphone number. That means that the authorities can quickly track down
nettlesome commentators.

Once I got started, though, the censors were less aggressive than I had
expected, apparently relying more on intimidation than on actual
censorship. Even my microblog posts about Mr. Liu, the imprisoned
dissident, went up. A similar post mentioning the banned Falun Gong
movement triggered an automatic review, but then a moderator approved it.

(A Chinese moderator once explained to me that grunt-level censors are
mostly young computer geeks who believe in Internet freedom and try to
sabotage their responsibilities without getting fired.)

Still, there are limits. I posted a reference to the June 4, 1989,
Tiananmen massacre. It went up automatically, and then was removed by a
moderator 20 minutes later.

The challenge for the authorities is that there is just too much to police
by moderators, and automatic filters don?t work terribly well. Chinese
routinely use well-known code phrases for terms that will be censored
(June 4 might become June 2+2, or May 35). Likewise, Chinese can usually
get around the ?great firewall of China? by using widely available
software, like Freegate, or by tunneling through a virtual private

Most Chinese aren?t overtly political ? seeking out banned pornography is
typically regarded as more rewarding than chasing down tracts about
multiparty democracy. Still, Internet controls are widely resented. My bet
is that more young Chinese are vexed by their government?s censorship than
by its rejection of multiparty democracy.

Michael Anti, a prominent Chinese blogger, says that the central
government may increasingly allow Chinese netizens to criticize abuses by
local governments, even as it blocks disparagement of the central
leadership. Since the worst human rights abuses are often by local
authorities, that would be a modest step forward.

A recent book by Evgeny Morozov, ?The Net Delusion,? argues that
Westerners get carried away by the potential of the Internet to
democratize societies, failing to appreciate that dictators can also use
the Web to buttress their regimes. A fair point. But like Mr. Liu, I see
the Internet as a powerful force to help remold China.

Frankly, my own experiments had mixed results. My microblog quickly
attracted notice, partly because a Chinese friend with more than one
million followers directed readers to it. An hour later, it had been

Meanwhile, I published my separate Chinese blog (at the web address
mentioned above). It was just as edgy and included a slightly veiled
birthday greeting to Mr. Liu in prison. But I didn?t promote it, so the
authorities didn?t care, or didn?t notice. It has remained up for several
weeks ? but now that I?ve mentioned it in this column, it?s presumably

To me, the lesson of my experiments is that the Chinese Internet is too
vast for the government to monitor fully. It can toss individuals in
prison. But it can?t block the information revolution itself.

Mr. Liu may be in prison, but my hunch is that his judgment will be
vindicated: the Internet will one day be remembered as helping to
transform China, byte by byte. Let a billion blogs bloom.


Update | 10:00 AM ET: My blog has indeed been ?harmonized.? There is now a
curt message in Chinese saying that this blog has already been closed.
Once again the lesson seems to be that the Chinese authorities are
relatively lenient about provocative postings ? until they get attention.


Long running commentary on all this in the Hidden Harmonies China Blog:

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