October 05, 2007

Censorship and Privacy...
I was reminded of a post that I wrote a while back this week during my Torts class when we were talking about the alleged tort of Invasion of Privacy (it's recognised in some jurisdictions under Common Law). I didn't want to post this until after I left China for obvious reasons, so here's the post more or less in its entirety.
It's well known around the world that China has a lot of censorship in many areas and it's been evident living here. It's been rated in the bottom 10 countries for censorship. Even this blog is blocked from time to time by the Great Firewall of China. There seem to be two types of blocks in China -soft blocks and hard blocks. Soft blocks are easy enough to get around using an anonymous proxy (i.e. to read my blog when it's blocked), but hard blocks are pretty much impossible to get around.
Starting off with personal anecdotes, I have friends and have met travellers who have had their Lonely Planet China guides confiscated at overland border crossings, but not when entering by air, with the excuse from the border guards that the books are "wrong". They have a map of China which doesn't include a certain highly-disputed island/province. You can't buy Lonely Planet China in bookstores that sell LP for every other country, but there are a few places in Beijing with secret imports.
A friend of mine was entering the country overland from Vietnam when the border
guards went through her bag. They of course removed her LP China, but also a history book she had about China. When asked why they confiscated it, the border guard said "it contains 'wrong' history" and that "maybe [she] should buy a book with 'correct' history at the government controlled XinHua Bookstore". The real reason for confiscation? The book had a photo of a man in front of a tank from a certain 'incident' in 1989.
I've been reading an interesting blog lately called Truth About China, which has as itstagline "Truth About China, for people who want the truth". They recently ran a story about a French website blocked for warning of risks of investing in China. A section of the report that gets the site hard blocked in China is:
"The Middle Kingdom has managed to divert international investments for its benefit, obtain technologies without anything in return other that the promises arising from our own imagination, gag its dissidents - including those abroad - and ensnare the west in its golden clutches (...) Perhaps it is time to realise this before we are closed in the Chinese trap for good"
Supposedly you can read the whole story, but it's hard blocked in China.
Another example is Google.cn, the site that you get redirected to after typing Google.com within China. Massive amounts of information are directly censored, and some of the sites listed end up being blocked anyway. For example, even though Wikipedia.org comes up in some searches, it's always blocked (some pages about China are hard blocked, the rest is soft blocked). A funny joke I found referring to Wikipedia and China goes like this:
Question: What do you call a cooperative community of individuals, each granted use of the means of production, working as equals not for profit but to produce something that is collectively owned by all?
Answer: A threat to Communism.

The perfect example though is in the image section of Google. Go to
Google.com and type in Tiananmen Square. What's the image that appears? Now check out Google.cn's versions of Tiananmen Square. At the time of writing this there are apparently only a few photos of Tian'anmen Square on the internet, showing photos of happy soldiers, ethnic minorities, and tourists.
There was an interesting article on Yahoo!news not too long ago about blogging in China, and how it scares the Central Government. They're worried in part because "blogging is a disruptive technology that helps open up people's minds". I keep reading that in the near future China will make it necessary forbloggers to register with their real ID before they can post.
All in all though, things are much better than they were just a few years ago. Here are a few more links in case you're interested:
Danwei on Television censorship in China
Business Week: The Great Firewall of China (2006)
CNN: Tech execs get grilled over China business (2006)
CBS: China's Internet Censorship (2002)


Anonymous said...

When you apply for a visa to China always list "leisure" as your reason, never "business" unless you want lots of questions. Winston

Stephen said...

Ya, I've heard that before.
Another no-no is to say that you're going to spend leisure time in the "Autonomous Region of Tibet".

Anonymous said...

absolutely astounding