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Tension grows in China between “harmonized” netizens and online censorship

Posted by Author on May 30, 2010

By John Boudreau, The Mercury News, U.S. 05/29/2010 –

SHANGHAI
— When blogger Isaac Mao recently announced online an upcoming talk by a Beijing writer whose work is banned by the government, police showed up at his door at night to “convince” him to cancel the event, which he eventually agreed to do. But just to be sure, authorities turned off the electricity at the planned meeting space and barred the doors.

Chinese officials say such actions are aimed at creating “social harmony.” In the sarcastic lexicon of Chinese netizens, Mao was “harmonized” that April evening.

“They won’t arrest you to stop you, but they pressure you,” said Mao, whose website is blocked by the government. “They pressured the owners of this space and they threatened to close it down. Many people worry about losing their jobs. That’s why many people self-censor themselves.”

With more than 400 million Chinese now online — and 100 million more expected to join them by the end of the year — netizens are increasingly bumping against the limits of expression imposed by officials.  Google’s recent decision to stop censoring its search site highlighted the tension between those who want an unfettered Internet and government efforts to suppress “unhealthy” and “subversive” activity. And it revealed to many Chinese how far the government will go to block certain information, Mao said.

China’s leadership views the Internet as an integral part of economic growth, but makes no apologies for censorship efforts so formidable they’ve been dubbed the Great Firewall of China. President Hu Jintao has said the stability of the nation depends on the government’s ability to “cope” with the Internet.

The government is so determined to control public opinion that it hires bloggers — dubbed the “50-cent army” because of what they are paid per post — to promote its views online. It also backs censorship-friendly social networking sites. And officials are considering a plan to require Internet users to reveal their identity before commenting in public forums.

When “very allergic topics spread quickly” and the government can’t block every Internet posting about them, officials issue orders banning entire topics, pressuring companies that host discussion boards and blogs to fall in line, said tech blogger Hong Bo, who has received government warnings to stop writing on sensitive issues, such as Google’s recent defiance of censorship regulations.

It’s not uncommon for young people to alert friends through mobile phone text messages to blog posts they have written — and the importance of reading them quickly before they are blocked, said Lisa Li, founder of China Youthology, which examines the attitudes and beliefs of those 15 to 25……. (more details from The Mercury News)

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