Internet /content


Internet /content
Internet content in China is in many ways similar to Internet content elsewhere. There are Internet portals, chat-rooms, noticeboards, e-auction and e-commerce sites for Internet shopping as well as websites for businesses, news organizations, universities, research projects, government departments and so on. However, the Chinese government is constantly faced with a difficult dilemma. As with other media, it is keen to keep Internet content under state and Party control as far as possible (see state control of media). Yet at the same time, it is keen to promote the development of the Internet for all the commercial, educational and cultural potential that it has for the betterment of the country, its economy and its people.
Control of Internet content has generally been erratic, retrospective and often through unpublished rules. It also depends to a large degree on systems of self-censorship and perceived surveillance by Internet content providers (ICPs) who fear the consequences of upsetting those in power. In October 2000, a State Council decree established that ICPs should be able to supply the authorities, on demand, with the full content as well as records of all visitors to their sites for the preceding two-month period. This followed a number of well-publicized cases of political security breaches. One pro-democracy activist, for instance, was arrested in 1998 after sending tens of thousands of Chinese email addresses to a prodemocracy newsletter in the United States. Others have included activists who have posted details about the events of 1989, Tibetan independence and so on. A few well-publicized arrests have therefore served as a potent warning to others who might contemplate similar action.
In the early 2000s, the Chinese government has become more adept at blocking key foreign news websites such as CNN, the BBC or US and European newspapers. However, it is still impossible for the government to block all such sites and there have always been notable loopholes. Moderately competent Internet users who are so inclined have always also been able to find ways around such blocking, for instance by entering banned websites through an anonymous gateway site.
The blocking of foreign news and politically motivated sites is a significant issue, not least because it is a government preoccupation. However, it is also easily blown out of proportion. It should be remembered also that the vast majority of Chinese Internet users do not have sufficiently good English, or other languages, to be able to read foreign sites. Similarly most of them show little interest in such sites and according to user surveys show increasing satisfaction with the content that is available. At the same time, it is not generally difficult to find politically sensitive comments or jokes on noticeboards or in chat rooms—at times even on sites such as that of the People’s Daily or CCTV (Chinese Central Television).
In the midst of concern over the control of Internet content in China, it is easy to forget the plethora of new sources of information that the Internet has made available to Chinese users. Leaving foreign sites aside, the massive proliferation of Chinese sources of news, comment, cultural debate, economic and business information, to mention just a few, has been astounding. Chinese citizens can now readily read news from sources all over the country, they have greater access than ever to government information and advice including reports, statistics, official documents or decrees, and they can communicate effortlessly using email with people throughout the country and the world. The Internet may not be the bringer of freedom, democracy and civil society to China, but it is radically transforming flows of information throughout the country and among its citizens.
The most popular websites in China are portals, and recent Internet user surveys have consistently shown that users’ primary concerns in using the Internet are to gather information (46.1 per cent) or for leisure and entertainment purposes (31.1 per cent) (CNNIC 2002). Three-quarters of those seeking information are looking for news and the most widely used online service is email.
Chase, Michael and Mulvenon, James (2002). You’ve Got Dissent Chinese Dissident Use of the Internet and Beijing’s Counter-Strategies. Santa Monica: Rand.
CNNIC (2002). Statistical Report of the Development of the Internet in China (2002/1). Beijing: China Internet Network Information Centre (CNNIC).
Fravel, M.T. (2000). ‘Online and on China: Research Sources in the Information Age’. China Quarterly 163: 821–42.
Harwit, E. and Clark, D. (2001). ‘Shaping the Internet in China: Evolution of Political Control over Network Infrastructure and Content’. Asian Survey 41.3: 377–408.
Tsui, Lokman (2003). ‘The Panopticon as the Antithesis of a Space of Freedom: Control and Regulation of the Internet in China’. China Information 17.2: 65–82.
Yang, Guobin (2003). ‘The Internet and Civil Society in China: A Preliminary Assessment’. Journal of Contemporary China 12.36 (August): 453–75.
KEVIN LATHAM

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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