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Hu's afraid of "Prison Break"?

Posted by: Bruce Einhorn on January 25, 2007

It’s probably just a coincidence that Hu Jintao on Tuesday issued his latest call for more censorship of the Internet at the same time as the world’s political and business elite were gathering in Davos for the annual globalization gabfest. But by telling Communist Party officials that they should more “actively and creatively nurture a healthy online culture,” the Chinese president offered a timely reminder that the Beijing’s leaders want to have it both ways, continue drawing in billions of dollars in foreign investment from the sort of folks now hobnobbing in the Alps without surrendering the government’s control over the Chinese media. According to this article in Xinhua, Hu called on Party cadres to “use advanced technologies to better guide public opinions voiced through the Internet.” Adds Hu: “We should spread more information that is in good taste, and promote online products that can represent the grand Chinese culture.”

Good luck, Mr. President. China certainly has shown that it can do a good job of censoring the Internet, but with over 130 million Chinese now online, many citizens of the PRC have shown that they have what it takes to evade the Net police. Consider this story from Evan Osnos of the Chicago Tribune. (The link is to the Seattle Times, which picked up the story.) According to Osnos, millions of Chinese have been going to underground file-sharing sites to download episodes of “Prison Break,” the Fox show from the U.S. “‘As of nearly two weeks ago, it was leading all other American programs on China’s most popular underground downloading sites. A translation of its second season has received more than 2.5 million views, nearly 10 times that of “Desperate Housewives,” China’s long-running online favorite.”

The Chinese have long been determined to maintain control of their television industry, which has obvious importance as a propaganda tool. When Hu talks about the Party’s need to crack down on unhealthy content on the Internet, he might be referring to sites run from outside China by dissidents and the Falun Gong. But chances are he’s just as spooked by the way people throughout China are using the Internet as a way to find alternatives to the state’s monopoly of the airwaves.

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Reader Comments


January 28, 2007 10:20 PM

i'm an american-chinese living in Guangzhou right now, and to be honest, i do not understand what Hu refers to when speaking about the "grand Chinese culture". There is a severe vacuum of authentic modern Chinese culture and that is why western music and tv is able to flood in, censored or not. Until there is true investment and ENCOURAGEMENT to think differently and with pride about Chinese culture throughout the general public, Hu will have his hands busy trying to plug the firehoses of culture the Chinese are happily drinking from.

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BusinessWeek’s team of Asia reporters brings you the latest insights on business, politics, technology and culture from some of the world’s biggest and fastest-growing economies. Eye on Asia’s bloggers include Asia regional editor Bruce Einhorn, Tokyo reporter Ian Rowley, Korea bureau chief Moon Ihlwan, Asia News Editor and China Bureau Chief. Dexter Roberts, and Hong Kong-based Asia correspondent Frederik Balfour.

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