China’s Web Crackdown—Is Porn the Real Target?


2004.10.13
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HONG KONG—The Chinese authorities say they have had a strong public response to their crackdown on undesirable Web sites, with tip-offs leading to the arrests of hundreds of people and the closure of more than a thousand sites.

With Internet pornography the ostensible target, China’s Internet police have closed 1,125 pornographic Web sites and arrested 445 people suspected of running them, official media reported.

Rewards for tip-offs

“These were live performances—real people putting on a show,” Zhang said. She said that relatively few hard-core porn sites had been snared in Guangdong compared with ad hoc Webcam shows.

“Of course young people can’t be allowed to see these things. We must be very firm about this.”

An official who answered the phone at the headquarters of the Internet police in Beijing declined to be interviewed. “If you want to find anything out about our work you have to contact the press office. We can’t talk to you directly,” the official said.

Official media said that some significant pornography sites were closed in Shanghai and Beijing. Police rewarded informers by paying them 500 yuan (U.S.$60) to 2,000 yuan (U.S.$241), Xinhua news agency said.

Authorities also shut down 290 Web sites that promoted gambling and fraud. Of the total number of people arrested, 85 had already stood trial, Xhinua reported, but it gave no details of the sentences handed down.

Hidden agenda?

China has spent large sums on setting up its Internet police, who monitor China’s 87 million so-called netizens for “undesirable” content, either pornography and other vice sites, or political discussions and articles critical of the Communist Party’s authoritarian rule.

“This is really an excuse, a strategy. The real target is freedom of expression.”

“Most of the sites that were reported were ones with Webcams, the kind that you can get with instant messaging systems, and they were using those channels to broadcast their sex shows,” an official at the cultural affairs bureau in China’s southern province of Guangdong told RFA’s Mandarin service.

Chris Wu, general editor of the U.S.-based China Affairs Web site, told RFA he wasn’t convinced by the anti-pornography angle pushed by state-run media.

“This is really an excuse, a strategy. The real target is freedom of expression. There are prostitutes and brothels in bars and ‘hair salons’ all over China. And yet they’re going after the Internet cafes instead of these places,” Wu said. “They’re just using it to suppress freedom of thought and expression among the Chinese people.”

Fears for vulnerable youth

But Guangdong cultural official Ms. Zhang said there were growing concerns that children and young people were accessing pornographic content on the Internet.

“Of course young people can’t be allowed to see these things. We must be very firm about that. What parent is going to want their child to visit such sites? Of course they wouldn’t.”

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