A Chinese rebellion against Internet censorship?

By: spambot on 5 February 2008
Posted in China, Asia

As severe weather conditions have paralyzed great swaths of China’s physical infrastructure in some of the worst timing imaginable, the New York Times has published a story about “increasingly determined social resistance” in Chinese cyberspace. According to Howard French, once sites providing a “harmless diversion or information” with “no discernible political content” began falling to the Great Firewall, netizens began taking action.

However, overseas-based websites like Flickr, YouTube, Wikipedia and Blogger are targeted precisely because the Chinese government cannot easily compel these private companies to dedicate considerable resources and manpower towards policing and calibrating content within its borders. While the vast majority of prohibited online material in China is reportedly related to pornography, perfecting the spin or control of ‘political’ content and breaking news (often, these are interchangeable) is clearly a top priority of the central government, in both law and practice.

Whether this apparently new mobilization against censorship is due to the overblocking of non-sensitive and non-political information, the NYT also alludes to a possible breakthrough in the battle for hearts and minds. Some take the idea of ‘victory’ even beyond a growing awareness of censorship and project its ultimate failure. Despite the best efforts of authorities that kept them under de facto house arrest for almost a year, human rights activist Hu Jia and his wife Zeng Jingyan, through blogging (see this Global Voices post), video diaries, and web sites, managed to communicate with the outside world. Although Hu has now been arrested and charged with a crime of endangering state security, and his wife and infant daughter remain under house arrest, his online visibility has helped to draw international scrutiny to his case.