Domain name: .cn
Population: 1,321,290 000
Internet-users: 300,000,000
Average charge for one hour's connection at a cybercafé : about 1.5 euros
Average monthly salary: about 170 euros (Popular Bank of China)
Number of private Internet service providers: not available
Number of public Internet service providers: not available
Number of imprisoned bloggers: 49

The Chinese government has the sorry distinction of leading the world in repression of the Internet. With the world's largest number of Internet users, its censorship mechanisms are among the world's most blatant. However, the authorities are rarely caught napping on the content of articles posted online.

The Beijing Olympics were the occasion, under pressure from the media, for websites to be unblocked so that journalists could have access to news worldwide. However, it was especially the English versions of Wikipedia, YouTube and Blogspot that were made accessible. The Chinese versions of these sites remained blocked and most foreign-based Chinese news websites are still inaccessible.

Nearly 40,000 employees of the state and the party monitor files circulating on the Internet. Since it was introduced into the country in 1987, the authorities have controlled the information available through their expertise on the Web. For example, the largest blog platform used in the country is monitored by the information ministry.

Since all the blogs on this platform are hosted in China, the government can easily control them if they consider their content to be contrary to the Party's principles. In 2008, nearly 3,000 news websites were made inaccessible within the country. The censorship system is highly organised. The Information Bureau of the Council of State and the Publicity Department (formerly the Propaganda Department) are the main instruments of censorship. They tirelessly send instructions to websites. One such example: "The newspaper Minzhu yu Fazhi Shibao (Democracy and Legal Times) is using unregulated sources of information. We ask you therefore not to use articles originating with this newspaper. Websites which have reproduced them are asked to delete them immediately. Please reply to this message".

This order was sent to websites on 8 May 2006 by Fan Tao, deputy director of the Internet news management bureau in Beijing. The government filters news through the use of key words. These "banned" words can sometimes be replaced by asterisks and controlled by moderators before they are posted online. For example, all the words associated with the pro-democracy movement, bloodily suppressed by the authorities, on Tiananmen Square in 1989 are prohibited on the network: "1989.6.4", "student wave of 89", "student movement of 89", "unrest", "riots", "massacres", "rebellion" and so on. Internet users tend to use signs such as " ", " / ", " \ ", between the words to avoid censorship, but websites have installed new filters that can detect these codes. Websites even pick up homonyms and synonyms. There are today around 400-500 banned key words relating to the events of 4 June 1989.

The information ministry launched a major filtering campaign on 5 January 2009, in a bid to counter pornography. The minister urged all Internet actors to redouble their vigilance on content of websites to which they allowed access. The authorities particularly asked hosts and access providers to regulate online publications themselves, which the state enterprises did. But among the blocked websites were the New York Times and the political blog portal Bullog (, because this one "posts a huge amount of negative news in the political field", the information ministry said.

A "Made in China" Internet that mistrusts all competition

Control exercised by the Chinese Communist Party is eased greatly by the fact that it is services provided by Chinese companies that attract the use, ahead of Yahoo! and Google, the most used search engine is, which makes up 60% of searches (20% for Google) and scrupulously filters "subversive" content. On subjects such as the "Tiananmen massacre" or "Charter 08" the following message appears: "Some results are not displayed according to laws, rules and politics".

The most used blog platform is Sina, which was the first to obtain a government licence to post news. It is subjected to a self-discipline pact imposed by the Internet Society of China (ISC), affiliated to the Chinese ministry of industry and information, in August 2007. The pact "encourages" registration of the identity of clients before posting their articles and keeping their personal information. The judicial authorities effectively have a monopoly on the closure of certain websites. Far from easing the pressure, the government has issued new regulations that came into force in January 2008, forcing websites to obtain advance permission from the government.

Foreign Internet sector companies are also being brought to heel. The Google search engine, has been censored since 2004. Yahoo! was pushed into denunciation during the riots that shook Tibet in March 2008 and it posted portraits of four Tibetan demonstrators alongside an appeal for witnesses. Shortly afterwards, one of the demonstrators gave himself up and another was arrested after being denounced. The same goes for the company Skype which, following an agreement with Chinese firm TOM, allows the authorities to intercept its communications.

Online information in defiance of the authorities

According to the China Internet Network Information Center (Cnnic), the symbolic bar of 300 million Internet users was passed in January 2009. One quarter of these have their own blog. Despite "preventive" control of the flow of information, a space for expression does exist for Chinese Internet users. Individuals have achieved prominence thanks to their online work as "citizen journalists". The blogger Zhou Shuguang, nicknamed Zola, has won the confidence of his readers by covering social issues. His website, which is not censored inside the country, has become a reference in China. The blogger, who has become the spokesman for the conditions of Chinese workers, is however watched by the local authorities who, for example, banned him from going to Beijing during the Olympics. He is also unable to leave the country.

Currently, 49 cyber-dissidents and bloggers are behind bars, most of them for "revealing state secrets abroad". And 2009 is a test year for the circulation of news online. Two historic anniversaries are coming up this year: the 50th anniversary of the uprising of the Tibetan people and the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen revolt. A crackdown has already begun to prevent things getting out of hand. The renowned human rights defender Liu Xiaobo was arrested on 8 December 2008 for posting an article online based on the 1977 Charter of Czechoslovak dissidents.More than 300 intellectuals and human rights activists were the original signatories of "Charter 08", which calls for democratic reform and respect for basic freedoms. Liu Xiaobo is still awaiting trial.

Three subjects were widely followed and discussed by Internet users in 2008 and 2009: the organisation of the Beijing Olympics in August 2008, the Sichuan earthquake in May 2008 and the scandal of the contaminated milk sold by the Sanlu factory, which sickened 12,900 babies, two of whom died.

The Beijing Olympics in August 2008, focused international attention on China. Militants took advantage of the opportunity to repeat their demands. Hu Jia was one of these, calling for democratic reform. He was arrested in December 2007 and sentenced to three and a half years in prison for "incitement to subversion of state power" on 3 April 2008. The Internet activist used his blog to condemn repression of human rights defenders by the Chinese regime. Internet users criticised the distribution of aid after the Sichuan earthquake and called for a national mobilisation. One of them, Huang Qi, has been held since 10 June 2008 in the Sichuan capital of Chengdu for posting articles on his website condemning the poor management of international aid by the local authorities.

The scandal of the contaminated milk at the Sanlu factory, broke on 14 September 2008. However, a journalist on the magazine Nanfang Zhoumo (Southern Weekly) turned out to have had most of the information about it since July 2008. If he had been authorised to reveal the information as soon as it was known, the catastrophic health consequences of this food poisoning – nearly 13,000 children affected and at least two deaths – could have been very much reduced. But for reasons connected with China's image, the information was officially censored before and during the Olympic Games. The government sent the media written censorship instructions, including Article 8 that said "any subject linked to food safety, such as mineral water being a source of cancer cannot be published".

Links: website of journalism and media study centre at Hong Kong University (English) (Boxun): website with news from China (English and Mandarin) website of the organisation, Chinese Human Rights Defenders (English and Mandarin) website of the organisation, Human Rights in China (English) official news agency Xinhua (English, Mandarin) blog on the Internet in Asia (English) blog of Chinese film star Xu Jinglei, the country's most popular (Mandarin)


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