Category Archives: internet

“Ai Weiwei bemoans block on his ‘Gangnam’ parody”

I’m not really sure what to make of this one. A few days ago Ai Weiwei released a video of himself and his friends jumping and dancing to the tune of Gangnam Style, with clips from the original video spliced in with footage from Ai’s studio. Honestly, it seemed pretty low-effort by Ai’s standards, and was almost disappointing given the possibilities of what Ai could do with that song and idea if he put some time in.

On the other hand, Reuters is now reporting that China went on a censorship spree to take the video down and delete all references to it from the Chinese net. I feel like that almost redeems the video- if the most bland, inoffensive statement ever made gets pulled down, and of a song and video that are all over the airwaves already in China at that, then the censors have come out looking unusually ridiculous, even for them.

Dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei criticized the government on Thursday for removing from Chinese websites his parody of Korean pop sensation Psy’s Gangnam Style video.

Ai, a world-renowned artist and China’s most prominent dissident, and staff of his company performed Psy’s famous horse dance in his Beijing studio and posted the video late on Wednesday to Chinese sites such as “Tudou”, the equivalent of the blocked YouTube site.

Ai, 55, called the video “Caonima”. “Caonima” means “grass mud horse” but the word, which sounds like a very crude insult, has also been taken on by Chinese Internet users, and by Ai himself, and featured in postings mocking the government’s online controls.

“We only filmed for a bit over 10 minutes but we used a whole day to edit, and eventually put it online at midnight,” Ai told Reuters.

“After we had uploaded it, a few hours later … we found that a lot of people, tens of thousands, had already watched it. Now, in China, it has already been totally removed, deleted entirely, and you can’t see it in China,” Ai said.

“Overall, we feel that every person has the right to express themselves, and this right of expression is fundamentally linked to our happiness and even our existence,” Ai said.

“When a society constantly demands that everyone should abandon this right, then the society becomes a society without creativity. It can never become a happy society.”

On the one hand, there wasn’t much creativity being exercised in Ai’s video… but on the other hand, it still got deleted, so Ai was proven right in spite of himself almost.

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“How China’s “Reincarnation Party” Takes Aim at Online Censors”

Liz Carter from Tea Leaf Nation on ‘reincarnated’ online accounts in China, which seem to be becoming something of a badge of honor:

Account deletion is one of the harshest forms of censorship on Sina Weibo, as it not only silences expression but severs genuine connections between users who have dedicated a large portion of their free time to sharing and storing the details of their lives online. This threat, in turn, brings about a degree of self-censorship that is impossible to quantify, but also inspires unique and creative ways to comment on controversial issues.

In the event of Weibo account deletion, however, netizens still have a solution: re-registration. The process is known in Chinese as “reincarnating,” or joining the “Reincarnation Party.”

So persistent and pervasive is the Reincarnation Party that it has its own entry in Baidu Baike, Baidu’s answer to Wikipedia, which defines the group as “those users who register new IDs after having their accounts deleted or posting privileges revoked for long periods of time. They add a number to indicate how many times they have reincarnated, such as ‘Life2‘[二世] or ‘Life3’[三世], after their original names to protest [the censorship].”

The phenomenon of the Reincarnation Party may not defeat online censorship all by itself, but it provides one window into the way ordinary netizens are pushing back creatively against the silencing of expression.

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“How Weibo Is Changing China”

Mary Kay Magistad of Yale Global on how Chinese Twitter is changing the rules of the game:

It was the last straw for Shanghai graduate student Wu Heng, when he heard that restaurants near him were using toxic chemicals to make pork taste like beef. He started a food-safety blog out of his dorm room in January. In April, he got 10,000 hits. In May, he got 5 million.

“Word spread on Weibo,” he says with a grin.

Food safety is but one of the hot-button issues that have raised a public outcry on Weibo, providing a new source of public pressure on the government. A similar outcry came last summer after a high-speed train crash killed 40 people, just days after the expensive and high-profile project was rushed into service. Weibo comments mocked official excuses and attempts to cover up bad management.

“This is unprecedented in Chinese history,” says Kaiser Kuo, the director of Corporate Communications at, the leading Chinese search engine. “There’s never been a time when there’s been a comparably large and impactful public sphere. It’s now driving, in many ways, the entire national dialogue.”

Wang Chen, who heads China’s State Internet Information Office, has said that Weibo and other microblogs should “serve society,” and not threaten public security.

Exactly what does threaten public security is open to interpretation, and Sina and other microblog providers are expected to interpret broadly as they exercise censorship on behalf of the government. Critical comments are wiped away; entire Weibo accounts are sometimes deleted. Popular blogger Isaac Mao had 30,000 followers when his account was closed in June. He’d written a comment criticizing China’s space program as a waste of money.

And lest ordinary citizens think they can get creative in their own political uses of Weibo – Anti has his doubts.

“You can’t use Weibo to organize a social movement,” he says. “Because as soon as you use the word ‘gather,’ the keyword would get picked up, and the warning would be sent to the local police station. So even before you gather at the restaurant, you’ll already have the police there. I call it Censorship 2.0.”

Still, Chinese Weibo users are using what Baidu’s Kaiser Kuo calls “delightful creativity” in using homonyms, puns and wordplay to get messages across. Those who want to post longer, edgier messages often post them as photos, to get around both censors and the word limit. Kuo says social media companies are left to balance between following the law and letting the virtual public square that’s their customer base thrive.

“Internet companies in China serve two masters,” he says. “They need to keep users happy, and none of them labor under the illusion that people prefer censored search results…. We are obliged to obey the law in China. And we are also compelled to explore the elasticity of our boundaries.”

Many a Chinese Weibo user is doing exactly that, transforming the relationship between Chinese citizens and their government.

“Before, it was very much one-way communication; the government disseminated information to the public” says environmentalist Ma Jun, whose Beijing-based Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs runs a popular website that maps, names and shames polluting factories around China. “But Weibo is different. It’s created, for the first time, a sort of equal two-way communication.”

That doesn’t mean democracy is about to break out. Ma says, for all the heady change Weibo has brought in its first three years, civil society in China is still in its infancy.

“For thousands of years, this country was ruled top down, and it doesn’t have a long tradition of transparency or public participation in decision making,” he says. “Now, it’s quite a critical moment, because the country is facing all these challenges. The environmental challenge is just one of them. There are many other social challenges. If we want to go through these smoothly, there’s an increasing understanding that the government alone cannot fully micromanage all these challenges. It needs the society to help.”

An increasingly vocal and growing Chinese middle-class is proving itself willing, even insistent, on playing that role – and a 3-year-old called Weibo is making it ever harder for the government to ignore those voices.

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“Chinese netizens celebrate “Tweet Deletion Festival”

From Shanghaiist, the Chinese reaction to World Press Freedom Day:

Yesterday I sent out a few tweets on Tencent Weibo, and this morning when I woke up, I found I could not log into my account anymore. It just so happens that today is World Press Freedom Day. Time to celebrate.
-Murong Xuecun

It’s World Press Freedom Day, but in just one morning, I’ve already received five tweet deletion notices on Sina Weibo. Today in history: The United Nations General Assembly declared May 3 to be World Press Freedom Day in a decision on 20 Dec 1993. Weibo is supposed to be a free media, and on this World Press Freedom Day, any tweet regarding Chen Guangcheng is deleted. What press freedom is there to speak of?
-Liu Xiaoyuan

For the world, today is World Press Freedom Day. For China, today is World Press Freedom Day。 But because the media in China is way too free, the two different days are different. Hearty congratulations to China for being ranked 187th among the 197 countries for press freedom by Freedom House. We actually managed to beat North Korea.
-Ran Yunfei

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“China’s censorship can never defeat the internet”

Ai Weiwei writing in The Guardian:

Chairman Mao used to say: “As communists we gain control with the power of the gun and maintain control with the power of the pen.” You can see propaganda and the control of ideology as an authoritarian society’s most important task. Before the internet, all people could do was watch TV or read the People’s Daily. They would carefully read between the lines to see what had happened. Now it is very different. The papers try to talk about things, but even before they appear, everyone has talked about it on the internet.

But since we got the net and could write blogs – and now microblogs – people have started to share ideas, and a new sense of freedom has arisen. Of course, it varies from silly posts about what you’ve had for breakfast to serious discussions of the news but, either way, people are learning how to exercise their own rights. It is a unique, treasured moment. People have started to feel the breeze. The internet is a wild land with its own games, languages and gestures through which we are starting to share common feelings.

But the government cannot give up control. It blocks major internet platforms – such as Twitter and Facebook – because it is afraid of free discussion. And it deletes information. The government computer has one button: delete.

But censorship by itself doesn’t work. It is, as Mao said, about the pen and the gun. At midnight they can come into your room and take you away. They can put a black hood on you, take you to a secret place and interrogate you, trying to stop what you’re doing. They threaten people, your family, saying: “Your children won’t find jobs.”

China may seem quite successful in its controls, but it has only raised the water level. It’s like building a dam: it thinks there is more water so it will build it higher. But every drop of water is still in there. It doesn’t understand how to let the pressure out. It builds up a way to maintain control and push the problem to the next generation.

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Filed under censorship, Great Firewall, internet


The government announced this a long time ago, but I’m still surprised it’s actually coming to fruition (via Shanghaiist):

The Weibo accounts hosted by Sina, Sohu, NetEase and Tencent will require real name and ID number registration from all users by March 16th, with unregistered users to be denied posting and forwarding capabilities. The announcement was made at the Beijing Weibo Development Management Regulations Seminar held today in Beijing.

Users who don’t register will still be able to view other accounts. For users who do register, there are reassurances that real names will be kept secret with Weibo hosts, and will not be viewable by other users on Weibo.

Nah, they’ll just be viewable by the PSB office that would like to invite you over to ‘have tea.’ We’ll see exactly how much of a chilling effect this exerts on the freest speech China has to offer.

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“Twitter Wins New Fans Over Censorship”

Amidst all the complaints, Twitter seems to have made a few fans (via WSJ):

“It is impossible to have boundless freedom, even on the Internet and even in countries that make freedom their main selling point,” read an editorial published Monday on the English-language website of the Global Times. “The announcement of Twitter might have shown that it has already realized the fact and made a choice between being an idealistic political tool as many hope and following pragmatic commercial rules as a company.”

Beijing-based investor and Chinese Internet watcher Bill Bishop told China Real Time on Friday that he doubted Twitter was making a play for China, saying the company would have to be “incredibly naïve” to think it could compete in a market already saturated with microblogging services that had earned the trust of the government. The main question, Mr. Bishop said, was whether Chinese state media would seize on the announcement as evidence of the need for Internet censorship.

He didn’t have to wait long for an answer.

In its editorial, Global Times, a nationalist-leaning tabloid published by Communist Party flagship newspaper People’s Daily, described selective censorship as “normal practice” and “a necessary step in the evolution of Twitter.” It’s important for Twitter “to respect the cultures and ideas of different countries so as to blend into local environments harmoniously,” the paper added.

Are they just trying to troll Twitter? Getting Global Times behind you is just giving more ammo to the backlash movement.

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“China: Only Talking About a Revolution”

Global Voices Online has a great summary of all the noise generated by Han Han’s three essays, which were posted a few days ago and have been garnering a wide spectrum of reactions since then. As writer John Kennedy summarizes:

Race car driver, author and one of China’s most popular bloggers, Han Han dropped a bomb this weekend with three new blog posts, respectively discussing the possibilities for revolution, democracy and freedom in China.

Unlike Chen Wei, who was just sentenced to nine years in prison for writing four essays, Han and his views on the reform vs. revolution debate and Chinese citizens’ ability to survive institutions such as freedom or democracy have, at least for the moment, brought discussion of a more open future China from the academic and ‘dissident’ spheres to the top of mainstream blog portals and all throughout microblog sites.

Between the three essays, Han frankly addresses questions that Chinese public intellectuals are often criticized for shying away from, but is himself now being accused of misrepresenting the many people in China who do advocate serious political change.

He then goes on to post a number of good comments on the pieces. Well worth a read.

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“China’s love affair with blogging wanes”

When people predicted that microblogging was moments away (slight strawman) from destroying the government, this is why I was skeptical:

Chinese internet users’ love affair with microblogs has started to cool with stricter censorship slowing the spread of sensitive information and stifling debate.

Many heavy users of Sina Weibo, the country’s leading Twitter substitute, told the Financial Times that they felt that the microblog had become less vibrant as new controls were introduced over the last few months.

“Sina is cracking down hard,” says Xie Wen, a prominent internet entrepreneur and prolific microblogger. He notes that posts which would have attracted large numbers of re-tweets and comments before the new restrictions are now barely making any impact, a complaint echoed by many other prominent microbloggers.

Sina Weibo user activity peaked after two high-speed trains collided in eastern China in July, killing 40 people. The news itself, as well as the much-criticised search and rescue efforts, were tweeted from the disaster site, driving many to hit out at the government’s handling of the accident and question China’s development model and governance.

Since then, the government and party officials have appealed to Sina to monitor more closely what is said and make sure sensitive content is not spread too far, too fast.

Sina has complied, making changes to the site which some think have made it a less attractive news source and may have reduced the amount of time users spend on the microblog.

But Weibo users also suspect that Sina is interfering manually with content posted by the most-followed bloggers who have a record of criticising the government or discussing censorship.

Sina refused to comment for this story.

Last month, Luo Changping, deputy managing editor of Caijing Magazine, said increasing numbers of accounts were being cancelled, new search restrictions were appearing and the list of words defined as ‘sensitive’, was growing.

Liu Xiaoyuan, a human rights lawyer said the messages he posts on Sina Weibo are often visible to himself but hidden from everyone else, a complaint shared by other bloggers.

Mr Xie warns that Sina Weibo is facing a watershed moment. “Weibo is being sustained by the five per cent most active users. What will happen if you castrate those?” he says. “If you lose the trust and sympathy of many active users, won’t they eventually leave?”

Beijing is treading a fine line. Allowing social media is a key part of the government’s internet policy because it believes they provide a pressure valve but it wants more control.

To be sure, the internet is changing the relationship between Beijing and the people. But there are plenty of ways to muzzle this newfound power, or even coopt it for the purposes of the state. Beijing may not have been able to simply close Weibo when it was at the height of its relevancy after the Wenzhou crash- but after strangling it for a while, would there still be as much of an outcry?

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“China’s newest export: Internet censorship”

Another piece from David Rohde, who posts about a deeply worrying trend:

China’s system is a potent, vast and sophisticated network of computer, legal and human censorship. The Chinese model is spreading to other authoritarian regimes. And governments worldwide, including the United States, are aggressively trying to legislate the Internet.

“There is a growing trend toward Internet censorship in a range of countries,” said Rebecca MacKinnon, a prominent online democracy advocate and author of the forthcoming book “Consent of the Networked: The Worldwide Struggle for Internet Freedom.” “The same technology that helps secure your network from attack, that actually enables you to censor your network also.”

The problem is not software or hardware developed in a secret Chinese government laboratory. Recent news reports have uncovered American and European companies selling surveillance technologies to Libya, Syria, Bahrain, Thailand and other governments that block the web and brutally suppress dissent.

A core problem is the pursuit of the almighty online dollar. An extraordinary story in The Guardian introduced readers to Jerry Lucas, the president of TeleStrategies, a Virginia company that organizes conferences around the world where firms sell surveillance and other technologies to governments. In an interview, Lucas said companies have no ethical obligation to determine if their products are being sold to regimes that will use them to suppress dissent.

“That’s just not my job to determine who’s a bad country and who’s a good country,” he told the reporter. “We’re a for-profit company. Our business is bringing governments together who want to buy this technology.”

A morning coffee with a prominent Chinese blogger brought to life the success of the Chinese model and the chilling intersection of modern communication and surveillance. The blogger, who asked not to be named, said the Chinese government’s “Great Firewall” is succeeding. Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are banned in China, but the government allows the Chinese computer firm Sina Weibo to operate microblogs that are the mirror image of Twitter.

Sina Weibo’s CEO, in an interview with Forbes Asia, said the company has as many as 100 employees working 24 hours a day to track and block user content, in order to avoid running afoul of the government.

The blogger said that basing the servers in China made it possible for the Chinese government to allow microblogging but maintain control. “Put the server in your hands, the data in your hands,” he said. “The people are happy but they don’t overthrow you.”

He said that when he blogs in English, electronic and human censors largely ignore his work. When he expresses dissent in Chinese, the content is blocked by programs that search the web for banned terms, such as “Tiananmen Square,” “Tibet,” or “Falun Gong.”

“They just stop the topic,” the blogger said. “They have good search engines for the different topics.”

The “well it isn’t our fault if our products just happen to enable governments seeking to censor information, find dissidents, and crush dissent- what could we do, we’re just a for-profit company trying to make some money!” argument is one of the most loathsome things I’ve ever read. Their actions have real-life consequences for people around the world, but corporations exist to serve the dollar, not the human being. Are Western arms companies allowed to do business with these governments? If not, why should these companies be allowed to do so?! And beyond the law, why is it that they can get away with it without being shamed out of society by everyone else in the country?!


Filed under capitalism, censorship, internet

“China is ripe for its own Occupy protests”

CS Monitor has an article about OWS and China- I find their hypothesizing about what would happen if OWS protests appeared in China to be pretty silly, but their timeline of Beijing’s reaction to OWS is interesting:

In the early days of the OWS movement, when protests were confined to US cities, a China Daily OpEd (Sept. 30) harshly attacked the American media for journalistic hypocrisy, for not giving coverage to protests in their own country even as they had relished covering protests in the Arab world just a few months earlier. A couple weeks later, state-run Xinhua News was harsher still, arguing that the protests in New York’s Zuccotti Park “laid bare malpractices of the US government and ailments of its political and economic systems.”

But as the Occupy movement spread globally, the Chinese response shifted. Assault on the silence of the American press gave way to anxiety about the possible effects Chinese media coverage might have on their Chinese audience.

On Oct. 17, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, after remarking that the issues raised by OWS may be “worth pondering,” cautioned the Chinese media, saying that their “reflections should be conducive to maintaining the sound and steady development of the world economy.” On the same day, editors of the Chinese Communist Party-run Global Times called for people to “calmly observe the protest movement and the global situation, and not be confused by extreme points of view.”

A few days later, on Oct. 19 and 20, Beijing authorities – setting aside any ambivalence they might have had about the Occupy movement – issued an order to the Chinese media to cease all reporting and commenting on the OWS movement.

What happened? Perhaps Beijing had examined the numbers in the intervening three days, and been reminded that as high as the income gap in the United States is, China’s income and wealth inequality is right up there as well, even higher according to some estimates. Or perhaps recognition had set in that China’s elite 1 percent just might – like America’s 1 percent elite – be open to charges of greed and corruption.

Given, too, that 36 percent of the Chinese people (that’s 481 million people) live on $2 a day or less, the Beijing leadership might have become worried that the Chinese would not remain as “calm” in the face of news about the US protests as the Global Times might wish.

Cyberspace censorship quickly followed after the media gag order. Searches for “Occupy Wall Street” and, more pointedly, for “Occupy Beijing,” “Occupy Shanghai,” “Occupy Guangzhou,” “Occupy Zhongnanhai,” and “Occupy Lhasa,” among a growing list of banned terms, now yield blank screens on microblogging sites like Sina Weibo (China’s version of Twitter).

Am I the only one highly amused by their shift from (rightly) calling out American hypocrisy, to then cowering in silence and blocking search terms when they realized that China has more than a few people who might be interested in protesting?

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Filed under activism, censorship, internet, Jasmine Revolution

“Where an Internet Joke Is Not Just a Joke”

The NYT has a piece up about how Chinese internet users evade the authorities using humor- read the entire thing through the link:

To slip past censors, Chinese bloggers have become masters of comic subterfuge, cloaking their messages in protective layers of irony and satire. This is not a new concept, but it has erupted so powerfully that it now defines the ethos of the Internet in China. Coded language has become part of mainstream culture, with the most contagious memes tapping into widely shared feelings about issues that cannot be openly discussed, from corruption and economic inequality to censorship itself. “Beyond its comic value, this humor shows where netizens are pushing against the boundaries of the state,” says Xiao Qiang, an adjunct professor at the University of California, Berkeley, whose Web site, China Digital Times, maintains an entertaining lexicon of coded Internet terms. “Nothing else gives us a clearer view of the pressure points in Chinese society.”

So pervasive is this irreverent subculture that the Chinese have a name for it: egao, meaning “evil works” or, more roughly, “mischievous mockery.” In its simplest form, egao (pronounced “EUH-gow”) lampoons the powerful without being overtly rebellious. President Hu Jintao’s favorite buzz word, “harmony,” which he deploys constantly when urging social stability, is hijacked to signify censorship itself, as in, “My blog’s been harmonized.” June 4, the censored date of the 1989 massacre of pro-democracy protesters, is rendered as May 35 — or “535.”

Satire is sometimes a safety valve that government might grudgingly permit. Better a virtual laugh, after all, than a real protest. But being laughed at, as Orwell found during his stint as a colonial police officer in Burma, can also be a ruler’s greatest fear. And the Chinese government, which last year sentenced a woman to a year of hard labor for a sarcastic three-word tweet, appears to suffer from an acute case of humor deficiency. “Jokes that mock the abuse of power do more than let off steam; they mobilize people’s emotions,” says Wen Yunchao, an outspoken blogger who often mounts sardonic Internet campaigns in defense of free speech. “Every time a joke takes off,” Wen says, “it chips away at the so-called authority of an authoritarian regime.”

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“What’s Behind the Communist Party’s Focus on Cultural Reform”

From the WSJ, potential answers to why ‘cultural reform’ is taking more and more of the spotlight at a time when there should be more important affairs on the agenda:

What’s the purpose of all this effort at putting the need for a uniform Chinese culture front and center now, at a major Party conclave?

One aim is that many officials want to put the Party back front and center in the lives of people—be that through revolutionary nostalgia or providing cultural guidance. An increasing proportion of Party discourse has taken note of the mental pressures of modernization and the concomitant decline in social morality. Some officials write and act as if a lot more guidance from the top is needed, and that cultural direction supplied by the Party will address moral shortcomings in society. More than a few cadres clearly believe that using “the greatness of Chinese culture” is one way back into the daily lives of citizens—that is, something that they think all Chinese can agree on and celebrate around, and therefore thank the Party’s brand of socialism for.

There was another agenda being pushed at the plenum: combatting the deepening influence of social media.

The speed and reach of micro-blogging–and the competition that Weibo and others now pose for the official media—worry many cadres who think that it is the public, and not the Party, that is shaping society. While Chinese officials cannot yet agree on how to move against those netizens who are nasty towards political authority, the more conservative in the leadership continue to push for a harder line. Phrases such as the “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” in an editorial in People’s Daily last week (in Chinese) may strike some readers as the same old celebratory rhetoric. But these are, in fact, important keywords: a “national culture,” secured and delivered from above if hardliners have their way, could well be accompanied by a deeper crackdown on netizens.

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“The Case of the Disappearing Shanghai Subway Apology”

A lot of reactions out today concerning the Shanghai subway crash. Luckily no one seems to have been killed, but some pictures circulating online show that many passengers were very seriously wounded. Coming so close on the heels of the Wenzhou crash this may well arouse more popular anger, which makes this story (via WSJ) interesting:

Shanghai’s subway operator was quick to post an Internet apology Tuesday after a subway accident that left about 250 people injured.

Then it was just as quick in taking it down.

Not long after the midafternoon subway accident in central Shanghai, Shanghai Metro, the operator of Shanghai subway system, issued an apology on Sina Weibo, the popular micro blogging service.

“Today is the darkest day in the operation of Shanghai subway,” the Weibo posting said. “No matter what the final reason or responsibility, [we] feel extremely ashamed and regretful for the harm and loss created for the city residents. … No matter how much we apologize, it only pales in comparison with the practical damage [the accident caused]. Still, [we] want to issue our deep apology.”

But the posting was mysteriously deleted shortly afterwards, prompting discussion–and anger–among Weibo users.

Other Weibo users were more cynical. Lawyer Yuan Yulai wrote, “The current [social] system won’t allow normal human feelings.” Another lawyer, Cui Xiaoping, said, “The original statement was deleted because it didn’t follow the [appropriate] propaganda style.”

A couple hours later, Shanghai Metro posted a positive-sounding Weibo message. It said operations will resume and further investigation into the cause of the accident will be conducted. Like most other official statements on disasters in China, it emphasizes how the victims helped each other and how the rescue workers and firemen came to the scene quickly. It ends by saying, “we did not do well. Please believe us, we’ll definitely do better!”

That posting was met with even more furious comments. Weibo user Zetongzhi sarcastically wrote, “Take back your apology. The subway did no wrong. It was the people [on the subway] who were destined for a bad fate.”

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“China’s censors clamp down on watchblogger”

Funny? Sad? Both? From FT:

China’s leading online portal has shut down the microblog of a watch enthusiast who rose to prominence pointing out the excesses of Communist party officials by identifying and valuing their expensive watches.

A long-time timepiece aficionado, Daniel Wu began his accidental crusade when he noticed in a news photograph of the deadly high-speed rail crash in July that Sheng Guangzu, the railway minister, appeared to be wearing a Rolex Oyster Perpetual, which retails for Rmb70,000 ($11,000) in China.

Mr Wu, 33, said this inspired him to cast his net more widely. He searched for other officials and compared photographs of the wristwatches to pictures from official product catalogues. The number of people who followed his microblog on online portal Sina quickly jumped from 2,000 to more than 20,000 before it was shut down last weekend.

“That was when I got a bit addicted,” said Mr Wu, who added that his “watch evaluation” is now taking up most of his spare time when he is not running his software company.

Mr Wu stresses that he does not equate the possession of a luxury watch with corruption. But the fact that Chinese officials do not have to declare publicly their financial assets, and that some of the watches on display were believed to cost the equivalent of many months of the officials’ salary, has driven many of his followers to see him as a graftbuster.

The blogger says he tried to exclude the possibility of mistaking fake watches for expensive originals by using as high-resolution pictures as possible. Even so, he has used phrases such as “appears to wear” in most cases.

Mr Wu’s original post about the railway minister was soon removed by Sina’s in-house censors who monitor the chatter of their more than 200m registered Weibo users on behalf of the ruling Communist party.

Mr Sheng has never commented on Mr Wu’s revelations. The blogger says he has only ever heard back from three of the more than 100 officials he wrote about.

Mr Wu says he and the censors were soon testing each other’s limits.

“I had … the impression that we had achieved a tacit understanding: I would not touch the most expensive watches and the highest-ranking officials and I would get away with that.”

Earlier this year, censors closed down a flurry of websites on which citizens could report their encounters with corrupt officials, typically by reporting anonymously how they had bribed someone.

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“A village with only one restaurant”

Danwei has a translation of a joke going around Weibo right now:

There is a village that only has one restaurant. Everyone in the village has to eat at that restaurant.

Villager: Why can’t we have more than one restaurant?
Waiter: Our village is in a stage of development where more than one restaurant can lead to chaos, so we only have one restaurant.

Villager: But the food here is really not good!
Waiter: Our restaurant has only been developing for a short time. Even if the food tasted worse than this, at least it’s our own food!

Villager: But can’t it be a little cheaper?
Waiter: That would not suit the conditions of our village; the restaurant also needs to develop.

Villager: But the employees of the restaurant are all driving Mercedes Benz cars!
Waiter: To ensure fair and uncorrupt staff, you need to pay them high salaries.

How long until the words ‘restaurant’ and ‘village’ get censored to stop this malicious anti-China joke?

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‘Further Web Controls Feared”

RFA has the latest on the government’s reaction to the Wenzhou train crash, and their subsequent deliberations on further muzzling the internet. Obviously the target this time will be Weibo and other twitter-like sites:

China’s propaganda chief has spoken publicly about the problems of controlling the activities of the country’s 500 million netizens, fueling fears that further attempts at control are on the way.

Propaganda department chief Liu Yunshan made the comments on Wednesday during a round-table media discussion held with participants from China, Japan, and South Korea, according to Taiwan’s Central News Agency.

“The central propaganda department won’t be able to completely control [the actions] of 500 million netizens,” Liu was quoted as saying in response to widespread criticism of his department.

Independent commentator Ye Du said that controls were already in place on Sina Weibo, but that a series of major events, including the recent Wenzhou rail disaster, had flooded the authorities’ capacity to edit, delete, and filter sensitive content.

“I think we can predict that the next wave [of controls] will target the microblogging sites,” Ye said. “There will be a new set of much tighter measures.”

“All of the microblog service providers will come under increased pressure from departments in charge of managing the Internet to step up self-censorship efforts,” he said.

“Controls on sensitive authors and topics will definitely be increased.”

Sichuan-based Internet expert Pu Fei, who works for activist Huang Qi’s 64Tianwang website, said the authorities would likely target sensitive and high-profile bloggers like Woeser, improve their ability to locate banned content, and continue to delete sensitive content when directed by government departments.

“Online rumors are saying that the major Internet companies have boosted the number of online censors to more than 10,000,” Pu said. “But we don’t have any evidence for this right now.”

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“Chinese Protest Suspensions of Bloggers”

Via NYT, we hear about the beginning of the assault on microblogging:

The operators of China’s most vibrant equivalent of Twitter notified each of its 200 million users Friday that several bloggers deemed to have spread unfounded rumors would have their accounts suspended for one month.

In messages, the operators of’s Weibo microblog detailed the suspensions of the bloggers. The announcements provoked a torrent of online protest, some of which was directed at the government on the assumption that it was behind the punishments.

The company’s notices stated that two bloggers who had spread false rumors on Weibo would lose their right to post messages or to add followers for a month. One stated that a blogger had been suspended after posting a false report that the accused killer of a 19-year-old woman had been set free after his politically powerful father intervened.

Another disclosed the suspension of a blogger who accused the Red Cross Society of China, which is mired in a financial scandal, of selling blood at a profit.

Some Weibo users sardonically applauded the suspensions, writing that the notices of them spread the rumors more effectively than the original bloggers.

“I didn’t know about the story till now. How tragic!” one blogger wrote. Others expressed outrage. “How does Weibo know what’s true or not?” one user wrote. “Who gives Weibo the right to silence its users?”

Still, one official of a Chinese Internet-related service, speaking on the condition of anonymity about a matter of deep concern to the authorities, predicted that the notices would have a chilling effect.

The official said the announcements may also represent the start of further efforts to keep politically sensitive information out of the public domain.

While they do this publicly to try and discourage people from posting similar messages in the future, I’ll bet they’re also putting a lot of effort into behind the scenes measures to break the backs of the microblog sites. We’ll see what the details are when they inevitably leak out.

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“Chinese TV programme shows apparent cyber-attack on US website”

On the one hand, the sheer volume of Chinese cyber-attacks barely even qualifies as an open secret. On the other hand, it isn’t normally this obvious (via The Guardian):

China’s state broadcaster has screened footage that apparently shows army-labelled software for attacking US-based websites, security experts have said.

Beijing has consistently denied being behind cyber-attacks, insisting it plays no part in hacking and is itself a victim.

The analysts warned that the six-second clip could be a mock-up by the broadcaster, CCTV, and that, if genuine, it was probably around 10 years old. The footage emerged as the Pentagon’s annual report to Congress on the Chinese military said the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) had closed some key technological gaps and was on track for modernisation, including thorough investment in cyber capabilities, by 2020.

The Chinese state news agency, Xinhua, denounced the document as a scaremongering “cock and bull story”.

The Chinese characters indicate an option for a distributed denial of service attack – a crude form of attack that disrupts access to a site by bombarding it with requests for data.

Another shot shows the words “attack system” and “PLA Electronic Engineering Institute” on screen. The user chooses a name,, from a list of sites belonging to the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement and clicks on a button reading “attack”.

Dr Andrew Erickson, an associate professor at the US Naval War College’s China Maritime Studies Institute, and Gabe Collins, a commodity and security specialist, wrote: “It appeared to show dated computer screenshots of a Chinese military institute conducting a rudimentary type of cyber-attack against a United States-based dissident entity.

“However modest, ambiguous – and, from China’s perspective, defensive – this is possibly the first direct piece of visual evidence from an official Chinese government source to undermine Beijing’s official claims never to engage in overseas hacking of any kind for government purposes.”

Asked whether the footage had been mocked up, CCTV 7 said it did not respond to queries from foreign media. CCTV has been caught using misleading footage in the past, memorably in January, when shots from the film Top Gun were inserted into a news report about PLA training exercises into a news report about PLA training exercises.

Every now and then I think about CCTV using Top Gun clips to publicize their new fighter, and I pretty much lose it in public laughing. Everything about that story is perfect.

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“Communist Party Chief Issues Veiled Warning to Chinese Web Portal”

Much of the China-watching internet predicted trouble for Weibo after the Wenzhou train wreck. Weibo served as a forum for Chinese discontent, with the tone of comments becoming overwhelmingly negative towards the government. It looks like we were right:

Beijing’s Communist Party chief issued a veiled warning to Chinese Internet portal Sina over its Weibo microblogging service after a visit to the company’s headquarters, a sign of the government’s growing anxiety over Weibo’s explosive growth and spreading influence that threatens the government’s media controls.

Internet companies should “step up the application and management of new technology, and absolutely put an end to fake and misleading information,” Liu Qi, secretary of the Beijing Municipal Party Committee and a member of the Party’s powerful Politburo, told company executives during Monday’s visit according to state media.

The high-level attention poses a dilemma for Sina, which doesn’t want to fall foul of Party propaganda officials, but whose commercial future increasingly depends on its ability to keep alive an edgy national discourse.

Reinforcing those fears are a series of recent editorials in state-run newspapers discussing the need for a more robust effort to refute “rumors” online, with a particular emphasis on microblogging sites.

Against that background, a visit to Sina’s offices from a top Party official has potentially ominous implications.

“This kind of thing–these visits–have been going on a long time, but if it’s the Party secretary of Beijing, that does seem to be sending a fairly clear signal,” Jeremy Goldkorn, founder of Danwei, a website that tracks Chinese media, said Tuesday.

Afraid of the fallout from shuttering it themselves, they clearly hope that Weibo can be pressured into controlling itself. I guess that’s possible, but Weibo executives are probably well aware that killing the discourse on Weibo will kill their company. Failing that, the government figure out some plan to cripple the service without openly closing it- perhaps real ID registration requirements?

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