Chinese blogger Zhou Shuguang’s journey through censorship, journalism and the Internet – from the Great Firewall to reporting banned stories
A lesson in censorship
In 2002, I hung around the online forum bbs.tencent.com. My first encounter with a BBS [bulletin board system] was also my first encounter with keyword filtering. On that website, all articles were censored by the software before they were posted. If certain sensitive words were found, such as ‘4 June’, ‘Falun Gong’, ‘hooker’ or ‘revolution’, the piece would not be posted. Sometimes, if an article contained non-political sensitive words like ‘fuck’, it would still be posted, but the system would replace those words with the * symbol. So I frequently saw BBS articles that contained * symbols. Some people used other symbols to separate individual characters in words like ‘revolution’ to avoid being censored by the software. I began to understand online censorship from that point.
On occasion, I’ve seen netizens make BBS posts about ‘propaganda notices’ and ‘propaganda rules’ which include prohibitions against reporting on ‘rights crusaders’, religious issues, family planning, forced eviction and demolition. The traditional Chinese media supervision framework consists of a strict registration and review system, a post-hoc censorship system, a personnel management system, and a permit system for practitioners, thereby exerting strict control over the dissemination of news.
How it works
All domestic websites must be registered, including non-commercial websites. The government assigns monitors to comment in chat rooms, direct the discussion and thereby influence public opinion. Server rooms control website content, under the supervision of the Internet Data Centre (IDC): if they discover sensitive content on websites under their jurisdiction, then the IDC will exert pressure to delete that content. ISPs and ICPs [internet content providers] are also tapped for content control. All sorts of online intimidation, complaints, administrative punishments and legal actions are employed to guarantee that all content is under the government’s control.
In 2003, I read an article, ‘Word filtering systems are unlawful, illegal, and unconstitutional’, by noted legal activist Si Ning, who was active online. Through that article, I became aware that keyword filtering systems are crude, illegal management systems.
On 13 September 2004, Peking University’s Yita Hutu BBS was closed. There were no official media reports on this affair, and many forums and websites were pressured by the Communications Administration to filter the words ‘Yita Hutu’ and ‘ytht’ to prohibit discussion of the topic. China’s netizens could find no related content on Baidu and a search on Google for ‘Yita Hutu’ would cause a page reset, making the page contents unviewable.
Searching for Mao Zedong
Subsequently, many netizens discovered that the names of national leaders, such as Mao Zedong, tripped a keyword filter during Google searches, rendering Google.com unreachable for several minutes.
Registration of non-commercial websites
The ‘Non-Commercial Internet Service Record Management’ regulations were passed by the 12th session of the Ministry of Information Industries on 28 January 2005. They were subsequently made public and went into effect on 20 March 2005.
In 2004, many netizens discovered a new phrase: GFW, the Great Firewall. China’s Internet censorship regime is relatively strict, but China’s commu- nications administrations only have jurisdiction over machines within the country. Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and foreign networks are not subject to restrictions. Hence the GFW, directed at ‘non-compliant’ foreign websites. It is a system spanning the machines on the country’s top-level network, made up of sophisticated information filtering equipment bought by the Chinese government with taxpayers’ money. The GFW can block netizens from browsing content. When the Chinese browse sensitive content overseas that the government does not wish them to see, the GFW will automatically cut off their connection to that website.
Google enters China
In 2005, Google entered China and set up the google.cn website to provide mainland users with a domestic web page search service, which would allow them to avoid disruption from the GFW.
Baidu doesn’t have a cock
Baidu may claim to be Chinese, but in 2006, a netizen discovered that there was no rooster discussion group among the Chinese zodiac forums in Baidu’s Post-Bar section. Baidu Post Bars are named using the topic keyword followed by the character , ‘bar’. All other animals had forums, like the Rat Bar ( , shu ba), but only the Cock Bar ( ji ba) was missing. It may be due to the connotations of ‘cock’ (which, as in English, is slang for ‘penis’) that discussion of roosters is prohibited. Netizens therefore joke that without a Cock Bar, Baidu has been castrated. At the same time, they mock the Internet censorship system that has forced a commercial company to do such a ridiculous thing. Google is in the same situation: by setting up its mainland website, google.cn, it cannot hide from the government invitation to join the censorship system and screen names of people and events that the Chinese government deems sensitive.
The greatest nail house of Chongqing
In February 2007, a photograph appeared on the Chinese Internet: a two-storey brick building standing on top of a ten-metre-high mountain of earth, surrounded by a massive pit. Netizens called this the ‘world’s greatest nail house’. The photo was taken beside the Yangjiaping light- rail station in Chongqing, which meant that all passengers going in and out of the station were able to see the real thing. The photo first circulated on the net, and then domestic and international media streamed to Chongqing to get a look at the nail house. Around 24 March, I noticed that state media reports had cooled down, blog reports had been deleted, and the special news section that the major portal Netease had created on the topic had been removed. I knew that the Publicity Department had begun to issue ‘propaganda notices’ to the domestic media to ‘guide public opinion’ and had started to block media reports on the Chongqing nail house. As an ordinary blogger with his own domain name, I was not restricted by the media system, so I decided to go to Chongqing to see the latest conditions of the nail house. When I arrived in Chongqing, I began to record what I saw and heard, and then presented the information I gathered to the readers of my blog. One week later, the owner of the nail house, Wu Ping, finally reached a compromise agreement that resolved the issue peacefully and legally. The same day the house was bulldozed, the website that I had set up in the USA, zuola.com, was blocked by the GFW.
In May 2007, during my one-month trip home from Chongqing, I gave lots of media interviews and was the subject of many reports. I was also contacted by a large number of rights activists, who invited me to visit their hometowns to help them come up with rights-protection plans. I began to write up news while I travelled. After I was interviewed by the American TV station NBC, my website IP was blocked by the GFW. I went through five IP address changes, but each new one was blocked within 24 hours, placing my website under an unprecedented lockdown.
Google’s co-operation with censorship
On 7 November 2007, I ran into Kai-Fu Lee, head of Google China, and asked him two questions. First, how could I keep from being switched to google.cn when trying to use google.com, and second, how to keep search results from violating local laws. Lee did not directly acknowledge co-operating with the Chinese government in carrying out online censorship. I posted the video of my interrogation on the Internet.
Blockage of the Yilishen incident
On 20 November 2007, more than 10,000 ant farmers in Shenyang took to the streets calling for the government to protect their interests. But the local government began to block related information, and not a single domestic media organisation reported on the situation. The government even issued a notice to Beijing’s lawyers, asking them not to take on cases related to Yilishen. On the 30th, I went to Shenyang to interview farmers to try and understand their situation. But as soon as I got to Shenyang, my calls were monitored, and on 3 December I was taken by Shenyang state security police to the nearby Dengta Public Security Bureau where I was held for 24 hours and made to write five statements. They confiscated 1,200 yuan, and then two plainclothes policemen accompanied me on the plane to escort me back home to Hunan.
Google filters my name
When the police banished me to Hunan after my investigation of the Shenyang Yilishen incident, my website was blocked twice. A search for my name on google.cn would produce the notice, ‘Because of local rules and regulations, some search results have not been displayed’.
A force to be reckoned with
During the previous year of turbulent personal media reporting, I made full use of technical tricks to counter China’s censorship and news blocks. I used my actions to prove the truth of my blog and to demonstrate that my ideas were legal and effective. Citizen journalism is a new rising force: I believe that it will play an important role in public affairs in the future. r
ß Zhou Shuguang
Translated by Joel Martinsen DOI: 10.1080/03064220802081738
Zhou Shuguang sprang to fame as the ‘nail house blogger’ and is one of China’s most celebrated citizen journalists
中文原文写于2008年3月1日，发表于Index on Censorship：
所有国内的网站都要求必须备案，包括非营利网站，政府还有安排网评员引导网上舆论，通过监督管理网络机房(IDC 互联网数据中心Internet Data Center)来控制托管的网站内容，发现有敏感内容则通过向IDC施加压力来删除内容，还通过约束ISP、ICP来控制内容，还有各种各样的网络举报和恐吓，还有通过实施行政处罚及司法追究来保证内容是被政府控制的内容。
非经营性 网站 备案
2004年，一个名词进入大多数网民的眼中。这个名字叫GFW，Great Fire Wall。 中国网络审查制度比较严格，不过中国的通信管理局只能管辖中国大陆境内的网 络机房 。对于港澳台和国外的网络却没有管理权限。GFW因此而存在，专门对付国外的”不合规格”的网站。 它是架设在我国主干级网络路由器上的一套系统，是中国政府花了纳税人的钱购置的一套高级信息过滤设备。GFW可以阻止中国网民通过网络浏览中国政府不希望中国人看到的内容。当中国人浏览境外含有中国政府不希望你看到的敏感字的内容的时候，GFW会自动断开和该网站的连接。
2005年 Google 进入中国，建立google.cn，为大陆用户提供网页搜索服务，从而避开边境路由器上的GFW的干扰
2006年，有网民发现自称是中国公司的百度公司的百度贴吧里有 缺乏十二生肖中的与鸡 相应的讨论组，由于百度将每个与关键字相对应的讨论组称之为”某某吧”，有鼠吧、牛吧、虎吧、兔吧、龙吧、蛇吧、马吧、羊吧、猴吧、狗吧、猪吧，唯独没有”鸡吧” ， 可能被认为与中国话里的”鸡吧”相关而被禁止讨论鸡吧。于是有大量网民嘲笑百度公司被阉割没有鸡吧，同样嘲笑互联网审查制度导致商业公司做出如此幽默的事情。同样，GOOGLE公司进入中国建立的 Google.cn也未能避免被政府要求加入审查制度来避开中国政府认为敏感的人和事件的名字。
2007年11月7日晚上，我偶然见到了Google.CN 公司的 的李开复，我向他提了两个问题，一个问题是如何在使用GOOGLE.COM的时候不会跳转到Google.CN，另一个问题是如何让搜索结果不违反当地法律。李开复没有正面承认协助中国政府进行网络审查。但我将质问李开复的录像公布到了网络上。
2007年11月20日，中国的沈阳市发生上万蚁力神养殖户走上街头呼吁政府保护他们的权益。但当地政府开始封锁相关消息，全国没有一家国内媒体报道相关情况，政府甚至发通知给北京的律师行业要求不接受与蚁力神相关的案件。我在11月30日 到达沈阳试图了解养殖户的情况， 访蚁力神养殖户， 但一到沈阳便被监听电话，12月3日，我 被辽阳市的国保警察带到了附近灯塔市公安局传唤了24小时 ，作了五份笔录， 并没收了我的1200 元钱，由两名便衣警察乘搭飞机将他押回了家乡湖南。
去沈阳调查蚁力神事件被警察谴送回湖南后，我的网站再次被封锁，在Google.CN上搜索我的名字也会出现” 据当地法律法规和政策，部分搜索结果未予显示。 “的提示。
近一年的动荡不安的个人新闻报道中，我充分运用技术手段与中国的言论审查和新闻封锁进行对抗，用行动证明 写BLOG 真实的表达自己的想法是合法的 ，是有效的。公民新闻报道已经异军突起。我认为，公民新闻会在将来的的公共事务中产生重要的作用。