8 Absurd Quotes On Censorship In China

  1. “Intended to better protect Internet users' privacy”
  2. “You can get all kinds of opinions. It's much open”
  3. “Strengthening Internet regulation is the will of the people”
  4. “While other countries have legislated to regulate the Internet, China has still been thinking about it”
  5. “Foreign-run VPNs illegal in China”
  6. “Censors Relax Grasp on Internet”
  7. “Thank god my husband had to shake his porn habit after he got here”
  8. “China: The Home to Facebook and Twitter?”

The world is a complex place, and reporting on it is a difficult task. Luckily journalists are good at getting catchy quotes and creating memorable headlines. These are supposed to give you a summary of the news and a brief idea of how the issue is developing. Sometimes they can be misleading, though. In an attempt to combat misconceptions of online censorship in China, we have selected 8 recent such quotes. These have been reported by mainstream media in China and/or outside China.

If your impression of the Internet in China is based on these claims, you may think that online censorship in China is intended to protect regular users, that it doesn’t threaten freedom of speech, that it’s wanted by the people, that it’s moderate, that circumventing it is illegal, that it’s being relaxed, that it exists to block pornography and that nonetheless more than a hundred million Chinese Internet users can access supposedly blocked websites.

If you don’t believe these claims, however, a very different picture emerges. We hope that this article can help stimulate a discussion over censorship more respectful of facts, definitions and data. Given yesterday's announcement of New Internet Management Rules such a discussion is more urgent than ever.

(1) “Intended to better protect Internet users' privacy”

Quoted from: Xinhua (Dec 24)
http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/china/2012-12/24/c_132059941.htm

On Christmas Eve, Xinhua announced that China is working on new regulation “intended to better protect Internet users' privacy”. So far, so good. It quickly becomes clear though that they intend to achieve this goal by “requiring Internet users to identify themselves to service providers”. 

Wait a minute. Privacy by required identification?

You are of course entitled to your own opinion. But are you entitled to your own definitions of words? According to Wikipedia, “privacy is the ability of an individual or group to seclude themselves or information about themselves and thereby reveal themselves selectively”. Requiring Internet users to identify themselves is surely the opposite of privacy. Claiming to protect privacy by requiring to identify is as absurd as the old “Freedom Is Slavery” concept from the book 1984.

Also, most user activity is already traceable on the Chinese Internet. Because you already do have to provide your name to your ISP, the authorities can in most cases identify the user behind a given post. All they need to do is to call the website operator who will give them the IP address of the user, after which they will call the ISP who will give them a name. If the IP address is used by one of the many Internet cafes, that’s not much safer. Internet cafes ask for identification when you walk in and keep records of their clients. All it takes is one additional phone call.

(2) “You can get all kinds of opinions. It's much open”

Quoted from: Liu Xiao Ming, China's ambassador to the UK (Dec 21)
http://www.scmp.com/news/china/article/1110810/chinas-internet-open-uk-a....

In an interview with the BBC, China’s ambassador to the UK said that “if you are in China and can get connected to the internet I think you can get all kinds of opinions. It's much open. A lot of things can be debated including politics and economic and cultural affairs.” The ambassador didn’t specify exactly how you could find all these opinions. But let’s assume he’s right and run some tests. Since he did include the topic of politics, let’s try to find “all kinds of opinions” on the Communist Party of China (中国共产党).

First let’s try Google. We browse to www.google.com and are redirected to www.google.com.hk, the Hong Kong version used by Google to serve users from all of China. We enter “中国共产党” and hit search. Unfortunately, the Great Firewall decides to reset our connection. We get a technical error message and no search results at all. We hit the back button and try again - same result. So far, no opinions of any kind.

Most Chinese Internet users don’t use Google, of course. Baidu is the leading search engine. So let’s head over to www.baidu.com in our quest for opinions. Again, we enter 中国共产党 and this time we get a full page of results. The first page is mostly made up of links to People’s Daily, Xinhua and China.com.cn, all of which are controlled by the party. But there’s also a link to the Chinese Wikipedia entry. Looking promising! We click it and the page starts loading. After a second, though, we get the same “connection reset” message that we got when we tried Google. 

Apart from information directly controlled by the government and Wikipedia, which is blocked, there’s a third source among our list of results though: Baidu Baike. This is an online encyclopedia similar to Wikipedia. Finally, a collaborative approach to what the ruling party is, made by and available to all Chinese people - or is it? To the top right, we spot a message saying that the entry is locked (词条已锁定). So, no collaboration, just another top-down channel telling people what the party is with no ability to object or comment.

Search engines are irrelevant in today's world of social media, you may retort. Twitter and Facebook may be blocked in China, but there are of course plenty of local versions offering Chinese Internet users easy ways to freely communicate with each other, bypassing central decision-making. Or do they? We head over to Sina Weibo, the biggest microblog in China, and give our search for 中国共产党 a last go. Unfortunately, we get no results at all. Instead, we’re informed that according to relevant laws, legislation and policy, results for 中国共产党 could not be shown (“根据相关法律法规和政策,“中国共产党”搜索结果未予显示”).

Of course, this does not mean that there is not a range of opinions on the ruling party on the Chinese Internet. If you search for the same term on FreeWeibo (which allows searches for any keywords and includes posts deleted by Sina, but is blocked in China), you’ll find a lot of content. If you know who to follow on Weibo, you can create your own range of opinions and catch most of them before they’re deleted. You can use euphemisms for blocked keywords to get around the censorship. You can use circumvention tools to get around the Great Firewall and access all content on Google, Wikipedia etc. There are always ways around censorship. The point is that it’s not available to most people. And it’s not enough to connect to the Internet, as stated by Mr Liu Xiao Ming.

(3) “Strengthening Internet regulation is the will of the people”

Quoted from: Global Times (Dec 21)
http://opinion.huanqiu.com/editorial/2012-12/3402855.html.

In what seems to be a contradiction of the previous claim that you can get all kinds of opinions in China, when it comes to Internet regulation the people has one will (if you ask Global Times). They claim that it’s clear that Chinese people want more and stronger regulation of the Internet.

Global Times says nothing about the many Chinese Internet users who want less regulation and more freedom online. Conveniently, Sina Weibo frequently deletes such messages too.

But before strengthening online regulation, how about enforcing existing ones? Here’s a good place to start, from the Constitution of The People's Republic of China:

Article 35. Citizens of the People's Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration.

If citizens of China have freedom of speech, then why are large volumes of posts on Sina Weibo being deleted daily? If citizens of China have freedom of the press, then why are the websites of The New York Times and Bloomberg blocked?

(4) “While other countries have legislated to regulate the Internet, China has still been thinking about it”

Quoted from: Global Times (Dec 21)
http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/751471.shtml.

The Global Times goes on to say that “China's legislation on the Internet and actual management over it have been moderate so far”. This leaves the reader somewhat puzzled as to whether there is currently no legislation at all (since China has been thinking about it) or some limited legislation. Assuming the latter, let’s remember what this moderate legislation entails:

  • Google Drive, Picasa, Google Plus, Google Sites, Facebook, YouTube, Yahoo Hong Kong, Yahoo Taiwan, Baidu Zhidao Taiwan, Twitter, Blogspot, Wordpress, Blogger, IMDB, hundreds of Wikipedia articles, DailyMotion, Netflix, AOL Video, New York Times, Dropbox, Nicovideo, Vimeo, Slideshare and thousands more websites are all blocked.
  • All activity on Chinese websites is tracked and just by asking the ISP or the Internet cafe most users can be identified and arrested for posting something the authorities didn’t like, such as this joke or this call to start a new party.
  • All Chinese websites are required to self-censor. For example, Sina Weibo, the biggest microblog, blocks searches for thousands of keywords and deletes massive amounts of posts by users.

Assuming that this is the moderate approach, what would more radical regulation entail?

(5) “Foreign-run VPNs illegal in China”

Quoted from: Fang Binxing, “designer of the GFW” (Dec 14)
http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/750158.shtml.

"As far as I know, companies running a VPN business in China must register with the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. I haven't heard that any foreign companies have registered," Fang said.

VPN businesses are by their nature not registered in China. They are online businesses offering services to any users connected to the Internet. Claiming that they would have to register in China is like claiming that any website with users in China needs a Chinese license.

(6) “Censors Relax Grasp on Internet”

Quoted from: Reuters (Dec 10)
http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/12/10/us-china-politics-idUSBRE8B90A...

As Xi Jinping was making his much heralded trip to Shenzhen, Reuters decided to report on “an apparent easing of Internet search restrictions that the party has energetically used to suppress information that could threaten one-party rule”. As evidence for this claim, they referred to the fact that you could now search for the names of certain top leaders, including Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang, on Sina Weibo.

Sina Weibo did indeed change their management of these keywords. However, going from the previous state of admitting censorship to allowing the search but showing only a limited set of prescreened results is not necessarily a step towards less censorship. If Sina admits to censoring results, users can find ways around the censorship. If Sina pretends to not censor results, users may never know and may think that what they see is a realistic, uncensored representation of user opinions.

All the while, Sina continues to delete unwanted comments on leaders. The authorities are stepping up interference with VPNs, used to circumvent the Great Firewall. Mainstream English-language media (Bloomberg, New York Times) has been blocked for the first time in years. The authorities are strongly pushing an agenda to further step up regulation of the Internet. None of this suggests that they are “relaxing their grasp on the Internet”.

(7) “Thank god my husband had to shake his porn habit after he got here”

Quoted from: Nellie Yellow, interviewed by Global Times (Oct 14)
http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/738210.shtml

The idea that censorship in China exists to protect people from foreign, sinful pornography is as widespread as it is false. While thousands of keywords are blocked on Google, “porn” is not one of them. And going through the search results on the first page, only three websites are blocked by the Great Firewall, while five others are perfectly accessible.

Sina Weibo does seem to take censoring pornography much more seriously. They block hundreds of sexual keywords, and most likely use a filter to automatically detect and remove pornographic images. The central authorities don’t object, but their management of the Great Firewall also suggests that they don’t think it should be prioritized. Perhaps they even get instructions from certain officials, who enjoy pornography, to let many such websites through.

(8) “China: The Home to Facebook and Twitter?”

Quoted from: GlobalWebIndex (Sep 27)
http://globalwebindex.net/thinking/china-the-home-to-facebook-and-twitter/

Research from GlobalWebIndex and eMarketer made headlines in September when they claimed that Google Plus, Facebook and Twitter, which are all blocked in China, nonetheless had achieved 107 million, 64 million and 35 million active users, respectively, in China. We posted eight questions to them, which they never responded to and TheNextWeb soon joined us in debunking their flawed figures.

Did we miss some good quotes? Do you disagree with our views? Your comments are much appreciated!

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Thu, Nov 30, 2017

About those 674 apps that Apple censored in China

Apple opened the door on its censorship practices in China - but just a crack.

Tue, May 23, 2017

Is China establishing cyber sovereignty in the United States?

Last week Twitter came under attack from a DDoS attack orchestrated by the Chinese authorities. While such attacks are not uncommon for websites like Twitter, this one proved unusual. While the Chinese authorities use the Great Firewall to block harmful content from reaching its citizens, it now uses DDoS attacks to take down content that appears on websites beyond its borders. For the Chinese authorities, it is not simply good enough to “protect” the interests of Chinese citizens at home - in their view of cyber sovereignty, any content that might harm China’s interests must be removed, regardless of where the website is located.

And so last week the Chinese authorities determined that Twitter was the target. In particular, the authorities targeted the Twitter account for Guo Wengui (https://twitter.com/KwokMiles), the rebel billionaire who is slowly leaking information about corrupt Chinese government officials via his Twitter account and through his YouTube videos. Guo appeared to ramp up his whistle-blowing efforts last week and the Chinese authorities, in turn, ramped up theirs.

via https://twitter.com/KwokMiles/status/863689935798374401

Mon, Dec 12, 2016

China is the obstacle to Google’s plan to end internet censorship

It’s been three years since Eric Schmidt proclaimed that Google would chart a course to ending online censorship within ten years. Now is a great time to check on Google’s progress, reassess the landscape, benchmark Google’s efforts against others who share the same goal, postulate on the China strategy and offer suggestions on how they might effectively move forward.

flowers on google china plaque

Flowers left outside Google China’s headquarters after its announcement it might leave the country in 2010. Photo: Wikicommons.

What has Google accomplished since November 2013?

The first thing they have accomplished is an entire rebranding of both Google (now Alphabet) and Google Ideas (now Jigsaw). Throughout this blog post, reference is made to both new and old company names.

Google has started to develop two main tools which they believe can help in the fight against censorship. Jigsaw’s DDoS protection service, Project Shield, is effectively preventing censorship-inspired DDoS attacks and recently helped to repel an attack on Brian Krebs’ blog. The service is similar to other anti-DDoS services developed by internet freedom champions and for-profit services like Cloudflare.

Thu, Nov 24, 2016

Facebook: Please, not like this

Facebook is considering launching a censorship tool that would enable the world’s biggest social network to “enter” the China market. Sadly, nobody will be surprised by anything that Mark Zuckerberg decides to do in order to enter the China market. With such low expectations, Facebook is poised to usurp Apple as China’s favorite foreign intelligence gathering partner. If the company launches in China using this strategy they will also successfully erase any bargaining power that other media organizations may hold with the Chinese authorities.

Tue, Jul 05, 2016

GreatFire.org 现在开始测试VPN在中国的速度和稳定性

在中国有一个普遍观念,如果你有一个可以使用的VPN,那么你应该保持沉默。就信息自由而言,这种观念的问题在于获取知识竟成了一种秘密。今天,我们推出一个项目,希望能够摧毁这种模型。

我们最新的网站,翻墙中心,目的在于实时提供那些能够在中国使用的翻墙方案的信息和数据。在2011年以来我们就已经开始收集在中国被屏蔽的网站,现在我们也将增加那些可用的VPN和其他翻墙工具。

我们发布翻墙中心主要有四个目的。

我们的首要目标是助长使用翻墙工具的国人的数量。通过分享我们这些工具的信息和数据,我们希望对更广泛的受众展示那些工具时可以使用的。

我们的第二个目标是通过带来工具性能的透明化来提升中国用户的翻墙体验。我们将会测试工具的速度(流行网站的加载速度)和稳定性(流行网站加载成功的程度)。

我们开发速度测试的目的是要真实反映用户的体验。当用户在网站测速时,浏览器在后台会从10个世界上最流行的网站上下载一些资源文件。根据Alexa排名,这些网站分别是Google, Facebook, YouTube, Baidu, Amazon, Yahoo, Wikipedia, QQ, Twitter and Microsoft Live。速度的结果是简单的计算下载文件文件的大小和下载所需的时间。我们同样也会验证下载的文件是否完整。如果文件的内容是错误的或者在40秒内无法完成下载,我们会标记为失败。这个数据被我们用来生成另一个重要指标-稳定性。

其他的速度测试工具仅仅是通过发送数据到它们自己的服务器来测量上传和下载的速度。这种数据无法反应用户的体验,因为正常的浏览器通常会频繁的发送一系列的请求(而不是上传或下载一个大文件)到许多的服务器,而不止是一个。

我们的第二个指标 - 稳定性 - 是其他的服务通常不会测试的。一个健康的互联网连接应该达到100%的稳定性,除非有人在测试中把网线拔了。但是在中国使用翻墙工具却不是这样。任何时候连接都有可能变得不稳定或十分缓慢。根据请求的大小,最终的地点和代理的方式,一些请求有可能会失败。比较服务的稳定性要比比较速度更加重要。

你可以测试任意的翻墙工具,列表之外的也可以。中国的VPN用户也可以测试他们的工具,测试结果也会添加到数据库中。这些数据都将会对所有人开放。实时的在中国测试是非常重要的,因为VPN随时都可能被封锁或解封。我们欢迎任何的关于测试过程的反馈。有技术能力的用户也可以通过审查我们的javascript代码来获悉我们的测试是如何工作的。

我们郑重的邀请翻墙工具的开发者们向我们提供测试过程的反馈。我们的第三个目标是帮助这些开发人员改进他们的产品,让更多的选择适用于中国的顾客。此外,越多的工具可以工作,就意味着中国当局对翻墙的打击就会越难。

中国的用户都知道,在过去的18个月中当局加紧了对翻墙工具的攻击。而翻墙中心将会吹响反击的号角。反其道而行之,让这不再成为秘密。我们要鼓励人们分享翻墙工具可以工作的信息。

我们的第四个目标就是要为GreatFire.org创造收益。目前GreatFire仍然依靠世界各地的热心人士和组织的捐款。我们希望减少对这些机构的依赖,并探寻GreatFire.org自给自足的道路。用户只需到翻墙中心就能购买任意一款我们目前在测试的付费工具。GreatFire将作为这些工具在中国的经销商,因此VPN供应商会给予我们每个零售的一部分。用户也不必在中国购买这些翻墙服务。

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