China Closes 'Porn' Sites

Is China's crackdown on 'indecency' aimed at online pornography—or dissent?

2009.04.01
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china-internet-305.jpg Customers surf the Web at an Internet bar in Beijing, Jan. 15, 2009.
AFP

HONG KONGChinese authorities have shut down nearly 2,000 Web sites as part of a government campaign against indecent content on the Internet. But observers say many sites carrying pornography have quickly reopened, while serious political sites have been banned for good.

"I found out that many Web sites that have lewd material have been reopened after a brief shutdown," online writer and Independent Chinese PEN member Liu Yiming said.

Beijing's latest crackdown on Internet content has targeted big names such as Google, Microsoft's MSN, and homegrown market-leading rivals Baidu and Sohu.com.

You can find much more erotic content than politically sensitive materials in Chinese cyberspace."

Xiao Qiang, Berkeley School of Journalism China Internet Project

China's ruling Communist Party is wary of threats to its grip on information and has conducted numerous censorship efforts targeting pornography, political criticism, and Web scams.

Liu said the current campaign had targeted Web sites advocating freedom of expression more than those offering pornographic content.

Blog site banned

"This indicates that the anti-pornography campaign is just an excuse, and the hidden agenda is to crack down on the more outspoken Web sites," Liu added.

He said the cutting edge Bullog site had migrated to a server overseas, and was unlikely ever to be allowed to exist in China.

"Now the site is still not accessible in China unless you use a proxy server," Liu said.

Bullog.cn was founded by Luo Yonghao in 2006 as a response to heavy censorship of discussions on mainstream portals such as Sohu and Baidu.

It invited bloggers known for a strong liberal or scientific emphasis in their writings to contribute.

"The cyber police are ignoring a lot of Web sites containing obscenity. They don't care about those sites, but they are deeply concerned about politically sensitive content," Liu added.

China launched its campaign against online pornography in early January via seven government agencies, including the State Council's Information Office and the ministries of Public Security and Culture.

'More self-censorship'

According to official media reports, the campaign has so far resulted in the shutdown of 1,646 Web sites hosting pornographic and erotic content.

Zhang Wei, manager of the popular Chinese Boyair online forum in China, said he supported the government’s campaign.

"I think some Web sites intentionally put out erotic materials and they should be shut down," he said.

"But this campaign might accidentally or mistakenly kill some sites which don’t have indecent material."

Overseas Chinese activists said the true target of the campaign has nothing to do with indecency.

"The main concern ... is to target politically sensitive, but not unchaste, content," said Xiao Qiang, University of California adjunct professor and director of the Berkeley School of Journalism China Internet Project.

"It results in more serious self-censorship," Xiao said.

"Actually you can find much more erotic content than politically sensitive materials in Chinese cyberspace."

Call for legal process

A site titled "Life Along the Qian River," once reported in official media as being closed down for containing erotic content, was easily accessible Monday.

The outspoken "Legal World" Web site dealing with social injustice, and the popular Douban forums which had hosted discussions about freedom of expression, were both unavailable.

Neither Douban nor Legal World offered any erotic content.

Beijing-based media commentator Ling Cangzhou said he was unhappy with the government's campaign.

"To shut down a Web site, one should have to go through a legal process," Ling said.

"Using administrative power to shut down so many Web sites will have a negative impact on the freedom of expression. I personally disagree with this kind of shutdown," he added.

China had 253 million Internet users by mid-2008, according to official statistics from the China Internet Network Information Center.

They spend more time online than netizens in any other country with the exception of France and South Korea.

Chinese Web surfers are also more likely to contribute to blogs, forums, chat rooms, and other social media such as photo and video-sharing sites.

Original reporting in Mandarin by Xin Yu and Wen Jian. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated by Chen Ping. Written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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