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China Censorship: After the Green Dam Fiasco

Posted by: Bruce Einhorn on July 01, 2009

It’s not often that opponents of Internet censorship get to celebrate a victory of the Chinese government. Today’s one of those rare occasions. The official Xinhua news agency reported last night, just hours before the July 1 deadline, that the Chinese government wasn’t going to rush ahead after all with a new policy requiring all PC companies to include locally-made censorship software with their computers. Back when the news first broke that China was pushing this Green Dam filter, I said the chances of the censorship policy actually going forward were slim, given the history of Beijing announcing silly policies and then backtracking after getting an earful from outraged multinationals. Sure enough, that seems to have happened this time.

What now? The censors still have the upper hand, despite the Green Dam retreat. YouTube remains a favorite target; Google’s video-sharing service has been offline in China for almost two months thanks to government blocking. Google’s search engine is under attack, too, with Chinese officials accusing the U.S. company of not following rules to block porn. In the lead up to the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown, censors went after the usual suspects as well as Twitter, Flickr and Bing. And after the embarrassment of Green Dam, it’s unlikely the government is going to ease up on censorship, since that would be a sign of weakness.

There’s a chance that some good will come from all this. Maybe China’s top officials will realize that this pattern - announce a draconian new policy, prompt an international outcry and then reverse course - is just too embarrassing for an economic super power. Writing on Huffington Post, Tom Doctoroff sees the potential upside.

The government has officially noted “technical issues” and “concerns about data security” as reasons for the delay. But everyone knows the truth. The CCP, in its zeal to control the thoughts and actions of its people, crossed an infra-red line of a people who, in exchange for political subservience, demand a government that advances economic interests and the freedom to live without heavy-handed bureaucratic interference. The Green Dam, a ham-fisted attempt to monitor online dialog, directly threatened both quality of life and access to the outside world. The people, in on- and off-line worlds, revolted.

Beijing’s about-face, following surprisingly vocal criticism at home, “highlights an evolving relationship between the Communist Party and the Chinese people,” he writes. “Despite being light years from introducing dramatic, multi-party political reform, it is increasingly small-d “democratic” (i.e., responsive) vis-a-vis the demands of a new, economically-empowered middle class.” Doctoroff sees the Green Dam incident as an example of the growing power of Chinese people to influence the government’s decisions. I’m not so sure; as I and others have written, this case seems to fit into the typical pattern of the government reversing bone-headed decisions by bureaucrats. In the past, nothing has changed. But let’s hope Doctoroff’s right that this time will be different.

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Reader Comments


July 1, 2009 09:51 AM

"...I said the chances of the censorship policy actually going forward were slim...."

Translation: Told you so! told you so!


C.H. Ng

July 2, 2009 10:14 PM

For once I am not in line with the Chinese government's decision to impose such censorship measure. The reasons are simple:-

1) At this current modern age of internet % multimedia, it's very hard to impose or stop people from accessing to informations and news.

2) Even if everybody can easily accessed to whatever he or she wants to see or know, I don't think they can be that easily influenced by what they have seen as I believe everyone of us with our common sense can differentiate right from wrong.

3) From those can't and are that easily influenced, there is nothing we can do about it as in every society, you are bound to see or meet this kind of people.


July 3, 2009 03:12 PM

The people in charge of Chinese Censorship is the most out-of-dated, backward-thinking Chinese bureaucrats today. I hope that they will all be forced into retirement and do hope better thing will come out from such an international embarrassment. However, the Censorship situation in China could get even worse. If those bureaucrats with concrete-brain could learn from past Bush administration how it managed to spread their extreme conservative agenda though news channels such as Fox News and public big mouth like Rush Limbaugh, Chinese people wouldn’t even know that they were brainwashed as opposed to now most Chinese Citizens know that the majority of news from CCTV are just for propaganda.

Max Edison

July 4, 2009 12:23 AM

Nobody told anybody. Mandatory. Not mandatory. Mandatory for Acer of .tw. Mandatory for Sony, from the land of the Rising Sun. And really mandatory for China's own, Lenovo. They've already loaded Green Damn It. HP and Dell. Not mandatory. They held their water.

So... to bad for numbers one and two. Probably. Not on the payroll. Lenovo? They'll get compensated at Hodge Podge to keep up the Green Damn It. You, know, to make up for the "penny stock elevator going down" situation. That won't show up on the Stockholders report, but it will be there.

After that? Dell and HP's in Shanghai. Lenovo's in Zhejiang and fill in the province here. And on and on. Has to be.

The catsouttathebag on a regional basis.

Not going back in there. Take care of business as usual and get on with it.

Neil Hardie

July 5, 2009 05:28 AM

I doubt if the backtracking on Green Dam had much to do with th eopinions of the Chinese people. I've lived in China for 5 years and most Chinese people I talk to even university students from privileged families believe that internet censorship is necessary and even a good idea.

I think it is more likely that the central government realised that the Green Dam policy was a step too far and could put back the cherished policy of attracting high tech investment and moving the Chinese economy up the value added chain.

For me the crucial intervention was not by the Chinese middle classes but by the normally subservient American Chamber of Commerce in China.

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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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