Monday, September 26, 2005

New Chinese Internet restrictions -- Yeah, right

Saw this in the New York Times this morning -- an article by Joseph Kahn about China drafting new regulations restricting news and commentary on the Internet. Here's the bit that applies to the big Chinese sites and search portals:
Major search engines and portals like and, used by millions of Chinese each day, must stop posting their own commentary articles and instead make available only opinion pieces generated by government-controlled newspapers and news agencies, the regulations stipulate.

... And here's the section that applies to everyone else:
The rules also state that private individuals or groups must register as "news organizations" before they can operate e-mail distribution lists that spread news or commentary. Few individuals or private organizations are likely to be allowed to register as news organizations, meaning they can no longer legally distribute information by e-mail.

The Washington Post also has an item about this, from Reuters.

If you're wondering how China's propaganda and police overlords are going to restrict people from sending email "commentary", the answer is, they're not. Shutting down big listservs can be done, but no one can enforce millions of Chinese people from telling friends, colleagues, or family members what they think via non-listserv email, or expect them to register with the government as news organizations.

Here are my predictions: Expect to see a few big sites toe the official line while looking for legal or technical loopholes in the new regs, and many others to ignore the directives. Of course, the police and propogandists will find a few hapless and unconnected citizen commentators to arrest and make public examples of, but that won't stop people from using the 'Net to participate in uncensored discussions about real issues, any more than public anti-corruption drives have stopped cadres and bureaucrats from lining their own nests.

In summary, the Chinese 'Net locomotive is out of the station and barrelling down the tracks, with a hundred million people using it to entertain, inform, conduct business, and do lots of other things in new and unpredictable ways. The PRC authorities can try to put on the brakes, but there's no way they can stop this train, short of turning off all the Chinese Internet nodes, halting the sales of PCs, and destroying people's cellphones in some sort of misguided Cultural Revolution for the 'Net generation.

See my earlier commentary on Chinese 'Net controls here.

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