There was a lot of scoffing last month when a big announcement was finally made of a pledge signed by many major blog providers encouraging their users to self-censor their blogging activities. The ‘new’ pact didn't just rehash aims that many before it had attempted and largely failed to achieve, but the official justification given for its implementation also left netizens without much room for agreement.
Mandatory standards for blog service providers the pact proscribed include the use of “certain” but unspecified software and hardware, the abiding by of “a specific guide” in regards to all content serviced, the provision of open complaint hotlines and “windows”, allowing for the “supervision, tips and complaints” from “the public”, with all tips and complaints to be dealt with immediately, as well as encouraging BSPs to implement ‘real name registration’, but requiring BSPs to enact an effective “user information safety management system” to “protect” user information for real name bloggers.
Suggestions provided for bloggers themselves were primarily to ‘strengthen supervision of the content of their blog posts, encourage public supervision over blogs, refrain from spreading pornographic, obscene and illegal information, refrain from infringing upon others’ intellectual property rights, using blogs to spread viruses and refrain from spreading false information.’
Then on the day of the pledge launch ceremony, general secretary of the Internet Society of China Huang Chengqing identified the three most problematic characteristics of the blogsphere as its “openness, interactiveness and anonymity“. Then Guo Kaitian, Vice President of Tencent (QQ), the leading internet media and services company with a less-than-stellar reputation which co-organized the event was quick to add: “these problems not only create large complications for society, but at the same time restrict the healthy growth of the blog (provider) industry itself; for this reason, the blogging industry needs to strengthen standards and conduct.”
There was no complete list of all content provider companies which have signed on made public, but at least included are: People's Net, QianLong, Sina, Sohu, Netease, Hexun, Tianya, MSN China, Yahoo! China, Bloggers Associated, Voice of China, Tencent/QQ, Tom.com, Blog.com.cn, Yesky.com and BlogChina.
King of Chinese bloggers Keso quickly came out with a strong (‘you ain't gonna make us your bitches’) editorial against the pact, pointing out just how many near-identical ‘internet self discipline pacts’ had come before, and dismissing this latest version as just a media show.
In questioning the move for BSPs to collect user information including but not limited to bloggers’ names, IP addresses, phone numbers and e-mail addresses, Keso pointed out that one of the most often quoted examples of ‘blog violence’ has been committed by one of China's foremost celebrities, Han Han, who blogs in his real name on the largest BSP there is in China. He also tears apart the claim that many are making that there is “international precedent” for real name registration when the only example there is is what South Korea has done, adding that even the Korean government has admitted the expected results have not been achieved.
“Honestly, I can't figure out what the point is in making these Blog Service Providers collect user information. Do they hope to add yet another channel for the leaking of personal information? Out of need to meet third-quarter quotas? Or need to retaliate?”
As with all its previous incarnations, bloggers quickly stopped beating themselves up over recommended self-discipline. Now well into the third quarter, however, the 17th National Congress is just less than a month away and a major crackdown on blogging has begun in preparation; perhaps as a sign of the the severity of the situation, livid Chinese bloggers can even now be seen praying for strength in foreign tongues.
If the self-discipline pledge was the warning shot, several bombs were dropped all at once late last month when the plugs were pulled on Internet Data Centers all across the country, from 500 servers up north in Luoyang to as many as 3,000 way down south in Shantou, leaving operators there struggling to re-route their traffic through other IDCs which themselves don't know if they could be next up on the chopping block.
Oft-quoted Shanghai-based blogger Wang Jianshuo isn't the only one left frustrated by all this:
After that, news about whole IDC was shutdown came one after one, and each time, at least hundreds of servers were complete unplugged from Internet. Since these IDC host about 100 to 200 websites per server, I cannot imagine how many sites were shutdown. If this continues, I guess the total number of shutdown sites may quickly be one million. In Shanghai, many data centers were very simply completely unplugged, and each time, hundreds of servers or tens of thousands of websites were disconnected from Internet. The Waigaoqiao Data Center, the largest and one of the most advanced data centers in Shanghai were completely closed these days.
That is just the beginning…
The propaganda efforts were a little slow on the uptake; it was only this past week suddenly announced that not tens of thousands but “a total” of 18,401 websites have been shut down in recent months, just less than half of those for disseminating pornography.
Bloggers, of course, were quick to start documenting the pre-17th National Congress dispatching of the internet, with the collectively-edited MeMedia having done an enormous job of keeping tabs on a lot of what has happened thus far. One blogger linked to there writes of three whole floors of fully-certified IDCs in one building in Shanghai which were shut down earlier this month.
Another posts openly the full list of requirements passed to their company by the Public Security Bureau, namely an order for the real-name registration and immediate closure of all non-compliant blogs, BBSes, message boards and any other interactive spaces they host which remains effective until the Seventeenth National Congress wraps up in late October. Included is a general time-line:
Phase One: Strict inspection for BBS domain name registration; estimated time of completion: mid-July.
Phase Two: Strict inspection of registration-approved BBSes; estimated time of completion: mid-August.
Phase Three: Strict inspection of BBS servers and websites; estimated time of completion: late September.
In other words, all non-registration-approved forums will be shut down by around National Day.
One English-language response to what appear were similar requirements can be found here:
“Yes, thats right, the Chinese Government Censorship bureau has officially gone 神经病…Now anything that people can interact with is essentially illegal. No forums, no blogs (unless you sign up to be a good netizen and provide name, ID #, close relative as hostage etc), no web 2.0 essentially.
Net Nanny now wants us to go back to the dark ages.
They didn’t think this through very well. If everyone hosts here they have control.
What this is going to essentially do is push everyone to host oversea’s, where they have less control.”
Some might say that this is all not really that different from business as usual for blogging in China with independent blog domains having been deemed illegal earlier on, that anybody is at risk of getting their blog posts deleted without notice and that hinting at implementation of real-name registration has gone on for several years now.
Having claimed records of Department of Propaganda officials making statements in public like “we'd be better off without the internet” spread across the internet, blogs and, at one point, even on a CCTV message board hasn't left much room for benefit of the doubt when one considers just how seriously authorities might actually agree with an utterance like that against the backdrop of other recent events.
In other words, if war were to be declared on bloggers, is the state of today's China's blogsphere what it would look like? Starting this month we've seen blog posts being deleted in places where they almost never used to, comment sections being closed out of fear, and the occasional blogger getting a jab in while they're at it——
——and outspoken bloggers like Wang Xiaoshan who had comments turned off to begin with now also deleting their own posts with no explanation.
That last deletion was once a high-profile post which dealt indirectly just with the Olympics, so chances are that solid discussion of the issues on the table for the upcoming Seventeenth National Congress might not be seen at all; the blogger which the post in question had written about, a leading Chinese sports journalist, had, for a week last month, opened a blog merely to discuss whether or not not even to boycott next year's Olympics, but if one even ought to support them. The blog lasted about a week before it was shut down, but on his original blog now named ‘Opposing the Olympics will not be allowed‘, he wrote this week that police had come looking for him:
Six days later, this short-lived blog was then “harmonized”. A few days after that, the authorities showed up wanting to have a chat with me, get an idea about my ideological stance, social connections, who I've been in touch with. You could wait your whole life and never see big, tough me as nervous as I was then, but I was resolved: I didn't feel I'd done anything wrong.
They started off nicely enough, saying my blog had been getting played up by some overseas media, asking if I knew. I said I didn't know (I really didn't). They said I'd been distorted and taken advantage of, that I'd become a victim. I said if people take advantage of me, that's not my doing. They said the Olympics are so blah blah blah good for the people, I said it's best if everyone maintains their own perspective.
Back in the office, narcissistic little me went straight to Baidu, wanting to see how foreign media had taken advantage of me. I can't search for foreign-language news, so I just found some Chinese-language reports, and they said it was for real, that my blog had been shut down by authorities because it didn't support the Beijing Olympics.
The authorities got one thing straight, I truly have become a victim, but a victim of being set up, a victim of thuggish acts, and not a victim of foreign media.
Finally I decided to write all this down (I'll just have to keep the finer details of the conversation we had to myself, maybe I can write a twisted novel with them), also just to warn those friends who would attempt to not support the Olympics, to proceed with care, and no matter what, I won't feel you've done anything wrong whatsoever.
Tracking bloggers down at their homes or places of work hasn't become a common sight—but don't think for a second that they're not watching you—in that one is at least seldom able to read about such occurrences, but yo2.cn, China's response to WordPress with an added touch of social networking has become a ghost town this past week; where once there were profile photos, one now mostly only sees generic default user photos. Click on any of them and you get “503 Error! Service Unavailable!” and the notice that as of September 13 all yo2 ‘blog visitation authority’ has been temporarily suspended.
Chinese Media workers who blog on the side are, one would assume, more psychologically prepared in general to deal with something like blog posts being deleted and, in at least one recent case, an entire blog itself, but they also tend to be the ones making the most noise when these things do occur. Mentioned in that post were four journalist-bloggers, two in each of China's two main media centers, Guangzhou in the south and Beijing, what they've been dealing with, some for years, and how they've responded. From looking at the circumstance the four of them face, however, one can imagine the sort of things nameless bloggers across the country are dealing with every day:
Li Yong, Legal Daily news, reporter, Beijing (shut down in protest against ongoing deletions)
Chen Min, Southern Weekly, editor, Guangzhou (ongoing post deletions)
Yan Lieshan, Southern Weekly, editor, Guangzhou (ongoing post deletions)
Ling Cangzhou, unknown, Beijing (abandoned in protest against deleted post)
Among other things, Southern Weekly editor Chen Min had this to say on his blog:
Just report a few new discoveries to the people of this country. The first is that posts on my NetEase blog are being deleted left and right. I've been treated with this kind of reception in the past, but they always at least left a corpse, but now, they're not even leaving that, deleting things as clean as a whistle, very fucking environmentally friendly, very fucking harmonious. I wanted to lose my temper, but then I suddenly changed my mind. Fuck it. Losing my temper won't change anything, I'll just have to bear with it and move on.
Not to suggest that journalist bloggers are being targeted any more than your average engaged blogger, but if they ever were, given their tendency to borrow heavily from and/or build off of their own professionally published work, a ban on online redistribution of content from their particular publication would be a good place to start. In fact, just such an order was sent down recently from the State Council Information Office singling out three of the most highly-regarded publications in the country by name, Southern Metropolis Daily, Southern Weekly and Southern People Weekly, the second of which is the employer for two of the five bloggers mentioned above.
Aside from taking self-censorship to extremes, the majority of
resistanceresponse to all of this has been rather constructive. In the ‘bad laws stay on the books until enough of us defy them’ vein, from two ongoing lawsuits, one in Shanghai against China Telecom for blocking an IP address and another launched by a blogger in Beijing against BSP Sohu for blocking individual blog posts, and one even in Guangzhou filed by a consumer complaints website which demands a public hearing regarding its pending closure. And then there's the call to let a thousand class-action lawsuits bloom.
In the meantime, might well-meaning bloggers begin infiltrating the official-side system? At least one blogger has already had himself certified as an internet security professional; like him, many bloggers have recognized the benefits of switching to independent blog domains hosted overseas. Talk of a mass exodus can increasingly be seen, the Social Brain Foundation has already begun offering interested bloggers a free way out, and while lists of proxy tricks on the other side of the GFW grow dusty, IT bloggers here have been dusting them off and translating an updated range of choices into Chinese.
There was a Great Firewall of China song, lost for now in the yo2 ghost town, which may or may not lie beside the river of the 3 watches-wearing crabs, or contain any such non-approved Seventeenth National Congress-days words as ‘tiger’, ‘space’, ‘SMS’ or ‘era’; other unbloggable words can be found by testing against any URL here.
There are at least two questions that people are asking, at least one of which sets off keyword filters: just how many blogs, forums, BBS’ and websites out there have disappeared in total over the past weeks, and how long until all this stops and things start to get better?