Porn, piracy and politics


Publication: City Weekend Magazine, Shanghai - 3 articles

The government stamps further authority on the Chinternet. Paternalism or self-protection?

As of January, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) has ordained that only licensed companies will be entitled to register Chinese (.cn) domain names. According to the MIIT, the initiative is part of a wider crackdown on pornography, illegal downloading and internet scams, all of which are proliferating as more than a quarter of the population are now online. However, critics argue that it is yet another restriction on the liberty of Chinese netizens in order to stave off political opposition. 

This move to a “whitelist” of sanctioned domain holders is the latest in a regulatory rainbow that began in 1993 with the “Golden Shield” (a.k.a. The Great Firewall) which blacklists undesirable sites, and evolved into the failed “Green Dam” proposal, which would have had filtering software installed on every new computer but was eventually dropped, apparently due to public criticism. Could the new whitelist go the same way? Local domain industry insider, Pan Jiahui, thinks not: “The new proposal will see sales of Chinese domain names go down, but I don’t think it will stop people from creating websites – more people will just start buying .com and .net domains [which aren’t affected].”

John Harton, Shanghai-based blogger, is similarly optimistic: “Internet censorship always gets people’s hackles up – especially expats who are juggling proxy servers on a daily basis to update their Facebook status. But tightening up registration procedures isn’t a bad idea. At least it will give people a guarantee that they’re dealing with legitimate businesses online.” 

It is highly unlikely that the government will ban personal sites altogether. In fact, the latest biannual report from the government-run China Internet Network Information Center refers to the “prominently positive role [of the internet] in information acquisition, interpersonal communication, social participation, practical life convenience and other respects.” Then again, Minister of Public Security Meng Jianzhu recently denounced it as the “primary method for the anti-China forces to infiltrate us and amplify destructive energy.” Well, we can’t all agree. That’s what makes the web so interesting.