Open thread: Chinese censorship

One mechanism of control used by the Chinese government is censorship of the media and the internet. Reportedly, this has been so comprehensive and successful that young people in China are unlikely to know about the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.

This is an important example of how governments are often the biggest threat to internet users.

The Economist recently reported on government manipulation of Chinese television, as well as on academic publishing.

All this is relevant in part because of how China is a rising power but not a free society, as well as because of what it reveals about how the Chinese Communist Party maintains popular legitimacy and control.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

6 thoughts on “Open thread: Chinese censorship”

  1. Despite censorship, China has some cool bookshops

    The government is ambivalent about them

    IN AN underground railway station below the main public library in Shanghai is a spacious bookshop called Jifeng. It is one of the city’s most respected, but its days are numbered. A display inside the entrance shows how many of them remain before the shop closes—147 as of September 6th. The authorities, it seems, have had enough of its open-minded selection of works and the talks it hosts on controversial topics.

    That, too, may test local officials’ tolerance. Like Jifeng, Commune tries to attract customers by organising talks—though not always as edgy as Jifeng’s. Speakers over the past year have included the Chinese translator of Umberto Eco’s novel, “Numero Zero”, which satirises politicians and the media; and a film director, Jia Zhangke, whose movies about the social costs of China’s boom sometimes rile the censors.

    But companies like Commune are careful not to provoke the authorities too blatantly. They obtain books published abroad from a state-owned distributor, the China National Publications Import and Export Corporation (its motto: “Opening, Harmonising, Innovating, Advancing”), which prohibits anything critical of the Communist Party. “There’s nothing we can do about it,” Ms Cheng says.

    In Shanghai, in a quiet side-street close to Jifeng, is a café called 1984 that looks much like a trendy bookshop (pictured, above). Its entrance hall is lined with different editions of George Orwell’s dystopian novel. But its owners are canny. “None of the books in this shop is for sale,” says a sign inside.

  2. Managing the Message

    What you can’t say about the 19th National Communist Party Congress on WeChat

    WeChat censored keywords related to the 19th National Communist Party Congress over a year prior to the event and updated blocked content as the event approached.

    Surprisingly, we found that even neutral references to official party policies and ideology were blocked in addition to references to the Congress, party leaders, and power struggles within the Communist Party of China.

  3. Skype Vanishes From App Stores in China, Including Apple’s

    Skype, which is owned by Microsoft, still functions in China, and its fate in the country is not yet clear. But its removal from the app stores is the most recent example of a decades-long push by China’s government to control and monitor the flow of information online.
    Continue reading the main story
    Related Coverage

    China Blocks WhatsApp, Broadening Online Censorship SEPT. 25, 2017
    Apple Removes Apps From China Store That Help Internet Users Evade Censorship JULY 29, 2017
    China’s New Cybersecurity Law Leaves Foreign Firms Guessing MAY 31, 2017

    While China has long wielded the most sophisticated and comprehensive internet controls in the world, under President Xi Jinping it has upped the ante, squelching most major foreign social networks and messaging apps one at a time.

    Earlier this autumn, the Facebook-owned messaging service WhatsApp was hit by blockages in China, becoming the latest in a long line of products to be rendered unusable by Chinese government filters. Others include Gmail, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, Telegram and Line.

  4. The hearing discussed elaborate efforts to control Chinese students in America. Sophie Richardson of Human Rights Watch, an NGO, described Chinese police visiting the parents of a student who two days earlier had raised “touchy subjects” in a closed-door college seminar in America. Mr Rubio noted government attempts to curb enrolment by Chinese students at the University of California in San Diego, after a speech by the Dalai Lama there. Meanwhile, Chinese attempts to co-opt public officials and academics, even at state and local level, continue apace. Chinese operations are “an extraordinarily important geopolitical issue,” said Mr Rubio.

    The immediate aim of Chinese sharp power is often self-censorship. Sometimes that takes pressure. In August the Chinese government asked a number of academic publishers to censor their databases of academic articles to exclude sensitive subjects such as the Tiananmen Square protests and unrest among ethnic Uighurs in Xinjiang. Springer and Cambridge University Press complied but, following furious criticism in the West, CUP reinstated the items.

    In November, at short notice, an Australian publisher withdrew a book, “Silent Invasion”, citing possible defamation suits from “Beijing’s agents of influence”. For those already anxious about rising Chinese intervention, the news appeared to confirm their worst fears—and substantiate the academic’s argument, summed up in the volume’s subtitle, “How China is turning Australia into a Puppet State”.

  5. Many observers believe that the great firewall’s porousness is a feature, not a bug—that its architects see benefit in a barrier that does not completely alienate entrepreneurs, academics and foreign residents, but which most Chinese web-users will not have the energy, or the finances (VPNs usually require subscriptions), to surmount. But doubts are growing about this interpretation. For the past year the government has been trying to make it harder to find, and use, VPNs—the most common form of firewall-leaping tool. Mr Wu’s punishment was clearly intended as a harsh warning to others in China not to try selling such services to ordinary consumers. Speculation is growing that even tougher curbs will be imposed in 2018.

    As well as closing down suppliers based in China, the government has made it more difficult for people in China to buy foreign VPN services. In July Apple dismayed civil-rights campaigners when it agreed to wipe VPN products from its Chinese app store. The company pulled down more than 600 of them. They are also disappearing from Android stores, though more slowly. Meanwhile most of the public places that used to offer unfiltered internet—such as hotels with many foreign guests—now provide the expurgated kind.

    Subscribers to the best-known foreign VPN services are still able to use their accounts in China. But they were rattled in July when Bloomberg, citing anonymous sources, reported that telecoms companies had been told to block access to unauthorised “personal” VPNs, presumably including foreign ones, by February 1st 2018. China’s internet providers may well have the ability to do so: during sensitive political events foreign VPNs often become cumbersome or even impossible to use, apparently because of government-ordered efforts to throttle them. The ministry in charge of cyber affairs issued a confusing rebuttal of Bloomberg’s story. Foreign diplomats in Beijing say they are finding it difficult to get straight answers from the government about how far it intends to go.

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