Repression 101: Censorship

Photo © funadium from Flickr

The first and most obvious feature of how Chinese government maintains order is through censorship. The Great Firewall of China, Xinhua News, and the censorship of books and publications is merely the most blunt instrument they have in their hands, but far from the only one.

By controlling the flow of information, they possess a strong ability to control the narrative of a given story. While it is not especially difficult to get around the Great Firewall, the question that most Chinese people ask themselves is: “Why bother?” China has successfully cast the media narrative as an “us vs them” situation, where foreign sources are automatically biased against China. The average Chinese person feels little incentive to seek out foreign sources of news for a different point of view. Similarly, despite there being almost no barriers to access, not many Americans actively seek out Al-Jazeera for a second opinon on world affairs.

Most Western media reports focus on the most basic of censorship methods—like blocked searches for sensitive keywords, deletion of blog posts, or media blackouts on certain news items. However, far more insidious than that is the censorship that editors impose upon themselves.

And on the Seventh Day News Rested

Front page news

Yesterday was the seventh day after the Wenzhou railway crash that claimed dozens of lives and rocked the Weibo micro-blogging universe. The seventh day after a death in China is called touqi (头七) and is an important milestone of mourning. All across China, instead of paying respects to the lives lost on July 23, netizens were venting their fury at a system hellbent on burying all the facts under a mountain of oppression and obfuscation.

Working from Home

Photo © jasonbchen from Flickr

When Ai Weiwei walked out of a Beijing prison last month after 81 days of imprisonment, there was one question on everyone’s mind: had the most consistently vocal dissident in China finally been silenced? On the night of his release, the artist could only manage a terse response when reached on the phone: “I’m released, I’m home, I’m fine…. In legal terms, I’m—how do you say?—on bail. So I cannot give any interviews. But I’m fine.”

But two days ago, news outlets reported that Ai has accepted a guest professorship at the Berlin University of the Arts. Ai also broke media silence when he described some details of his semi-house arrest.

Anti-social Behavior


Shortly after Google’s social networking platform, Google+, was launched on June 28, reports sprung up of it being blocked by the Chinese government. On June 30, The Guardian used two sites (Great Firewall of China and Just Ping) to ping from a Chinese server and, after failing to reach the site, concluded that the government […]

The World According to Xinhua


The world portrayed in China’s official media has a certain disconnect to reality. Hence the joke from ordinary Chinese: “When can my life resemble the one on CCTV”? Recently President Hu visited a woman in Beijing who said that she paid just 77 yuan in rent per month for low-income housing. Netizens immediately smelled foul play. They postulated that she was a public servant and had gotten the apartment through political connections. In all likelihood the woman really did qualify for low-income housing but the story shows how little credibility official media has among the tech-savvy middle class and how harshly the utopian world it portrays deviates from the daily life of most Chinese.

Writer’s Block

I’ve always dreamed of being censored by the Chinese government, to be an outspoken champion of reason and martyred like the philosophers of old.  Well, it didn’t turn out that way.

There’s No Business Like…

Google’s ultimatum that they’ll leave China rather than continue to censor their search engine is an interesting case, and one in which I feel we haven’t been told the full story.

Let’s be honest, not many corporations have qualms about doing business in China from a moral standpoint. The global recession has seen to that. Why Google would throw down the gauntlet in this way baffles my business sense—though there was a brou-ha-ha when they set up within the Great Firewall, it soon died down and people went back to pirating images and searching for porn with as much ease as before. We love Google—it makes our work so much easier, why not just turn a blind eye to their toadying to the Chinese government? Yahoo reported human rights activists to the Chinese government, Microsoft happily censored, and MySpace ditched politics and religion discussion groups when they set up in China. Ethics are ethics, but a Chinese cash cow is a Chinese cash cow.

Obama’s Trip to China

President Barack Obama recently completed a three-day tour of China as part of his week-long Asia trip. He held a town hall meeting with students in Shanghai and visited the Great Wall and the Forbidden City between meetings with Chinese leadership in Beijing. What can we glean about the future of these two countries based on his visit?

Writer’s Block

There is a Chinese idiom about a man who buried a sum of silver underground and, worried that passersby would find it, placed a sign next to the plot that read “ci di wu yin san bai liang,” or “There is not 300 liang of silver here.” Needless to say, the next day his silver was gone.

I wonder if the censorship bureau understands this parable because one thing everyone in China should know by now is that if you ever come across a website that terminates your Internet connection, start digging.