The Chinese government has intensified its crackdown on the internet, describing online criticism of the ruling Communist party as illegal and airing a televised confession from one of the country’s most popular online commentators.
An article in Monday’s edition of the influential party journal “Seeking Truth” described online criticism of the party and government as “defamation”, while Chinese-American investor and internet personality Charles Xue appeared on state television in handcuffs on Sunday to praise new legislation that in effect criminalises online dissent.
The moves are part of a wider campaign launched in recent weeks by newly installed President Xi Jinping to stifle calls for political reform in China and assert control over the country’s unruly internet.
Mr Xue, who boasts 12m followers on the Twitter-like Sina Weibo, was arrested in August for allegedly hiring prostitutes for group sex sessions, but most analysts and even senior officials say his arrest was intended as a warning to other prominent internet personalities.
There was no mention of the prostitute allegations in a 10-minute segment aired on China Central Television on Sunday, during which a chastened Mr Xue described how he had contributed to an “illegal and immoral” atmosphere on the Chinese internet.
“I felt like the emperor of the internet,” Mr Xue said when describing the thrill of speaking directly to more than 12m followers. “How do you think that felt? Awesome.”
The shackled Mr Xue also praised a legal interpretation issued by China’s judicial authorities last week, which allows people to be prosecuted for defamation or “spreading online rumours” if their posts are viewed by more than 5,000 internet users or forwarded more than 500 times.
Paul Rosenzweig reports on what one has to put up with:
- The one time I thought to go to an Internet cafe for access, I was waved off by my guide. Turns out I would have had to show my passport (which was back in the hotel in a safe) to get access.
- We had a Gmail account (since deleted) for email contact. Every time I tried to access it the processing got =very= slow. By contrast, all the connections to Chinese websites were quite quick. I strongly suspect that some serious filtering was slowing access.
- The same was true for access to non-Chinese, Western web sites. Efforts, for example, to navigate to cnn.com or google.com proved to be exercises in either patience or frustration. In the end, I had better things to do with my time and mostly gave up.
- The highlight (or lowlight) of the exercise was on my last attempt to get to the Gmail account. I was using Internet Explorer 7 (old stuff) and as I went to the Gmail page, an explosion of pop-up web pages started propagating. It got up to 58 different browsers opened before I could halt it with a 3-finger (CTL-ALT-DEL) hard stop. I haven’t seen a virus (I assume it was a virus) like that on a US computer in several years.
I'd very much like to visit China, and I might be willing to put up with all of this hassle in order to do so. But it is a hassle. And it shouldn't be. Contra Rousseau, man may not have been born free, but in a host of places, he is in chains.
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