HONG KONG—China has launched another wave of campaigning against "pornographic" online material, in a crackdown some see as a veiled bid to filter out politically unwelcome content at the same time.
The authorities have shut down at least 91 Web sites for pornographic and other "vulgar" content, as well as a blog portal frequented by signatories of the politically controversial "Charter 08" document.
"Ninety-one websites that included pornography and vulgar content had been closed down from Jan. 8 to 10," according to state-run portal China.com.cn.
Bullog.cn, a Chinese blog portal with many famous bloggers, including some signatories of the pro-democracy Charter 08, has been closed since Friday because of the "amount of politically harmful information," according to founder Luo Yonghao.
Meanwhile, an official report on "undesirable and illegal information" said Jan. 5 that while three Internet service providers (ISPs) had removed "vulgar" material from the indexes of blogs and forums, 11 companies had yet to complete the clean-up job.
Beijing's latest crackdown on Internet content targeted big names such as Google, Microsoft's MSN, and homegrown market-leading rivals Baidu and Sohu.com.
Sohu cleans up its act
An employee at Sohu.com, one of the 11 companies considered not clean enough yet, said the company was making efforts to clean up its content to comply with the latest campaign.
"All the relevant systems will undergo filtering, and sensitive information such as the pornographic information you mentioned won't get through to be posted," an employee at the customer service center at search engine Sohu.com said.
The guidelines rule out sexually explicit pictures and text, as well as material that violates people's right to privacy and content depicting violence and depravity, along with anything libelous, an official at the news office of the State Council said.
The Hong Kong-based coordinator for the International Federation of Journalists, Serenade Woo, said she was concerned that the government hadn't published details of the 91 Web sites, and that some of them had been closed for political reasons instead.
"A deeper reason behind this campaign may be the cutting off of the right to freedom of expression on the part of some people that the government or some high-ranking officials do not like, who say things online that they don't like, or who write articles that they don't like to read," Woo said.
"It also represents a cutting off of ordinary people's right to be informed."
'No absolute standards'
Some Chinese Internet users seemed unsure of the benefits of the latest clampdown.
"Maybe this will be of some benefit to young people, because they may see a bit less of this kind of content," a regular Internet user and university student from Henan said.
"But actually I wonder whether it's worth all the labor that it takes to do it, because there's no absolute standard to go by."
Guangxi-based freelance writer Jing Xi said that greater decadence is the inevitable by-product of a society starved for freedom of expression.
"It's very hard to get anything in the bookshops these days that is of a high standard, because it's so hard to publish, but there is plenty of the, shall we say, lower forms of entertainment," Jing said.
"But this should still be debated. Not everything new is necessarily bad," he said.
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.
Hundreds of dissidents, activists, and former officials have called for dramatic democratic reforms to China 's one-party state in the Charter, which was first published with the names of 303 Chinese citizens as signatories.
Activists now say more than 7,200 signatures have been gathered in support of Charter 08, sparking widespread detentions and interrogations of signatories.
Original reporting in Mandarin by Xin Yu and in Cantonese by Li Ruoqing. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.