Rebecca MacKinnon: China's Newly Subtle Internet Censorship

Rebecca MacKinnon writes in today’s Wall Street Journal and in her blog on her recent research showing how – despite China’s assurances to open up the Internet during the Olympics – censorship continues. (Cue: shocked gasps)

Interestingly, she found newly subtle and sophisticated approaches to censorship.

The newly subtle approach:

The strategy seems clear: Give China’s professional journalists a longer leash to cover breaking news even if it’s not positive — since the news will come out anyway and unlike bloggers, the journalists are still on a leash. At the same time, clamp down on blogs, chat rooms and video-sharing sites that might allow too much unfettered discussion of the news.

China Mobile, however, has upgraded to censor jokes:

One evening last week, a Chinese blogger who writes under the name of “deerfang” was sharing a good laugh with a friend who knows some great political jokes — learned through mobile-phone text messages sent in May from other friends. The friend tried to forward one of the jokes about Chairman Mao and President Hu Jintao — still stored in his phone’s memory — to deerfang’s mobile. “My phone received the message but in blank saying ‘missing text,'” deerfang wrote on her blog. Her friend tried sending the message to other people’s phones in case it was a technical error. Same result. It seems that censorship on the China Mobile network has tightened since three months ago.

The actual censored joke?

The joke doesn’t translate very well, but the gist of it is that President Hu Jintao, at his wits’ end about what to do with all the crises happening around the nation, goes to see Mao – lying preserved under glass in his mausoleum – and asks for advice. Mao offers to trade places with Hu and to go out and kick some foreign behind, frighten all the foreigners and put them in their place by making them take a ridiculous series of Chinese tests. Or something like that. It’s (slightly) better in Chinese…

Perhaps China Mobile was right to censor (On the basis of humor).

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6 comments

  1. “and put them in their place by making them take a ridiculous series of Chinese tests”

    It has been here for 20 years. It is called the HSK.

  2. Ruby Akbar

    If men could only know each other, they would neither idolize nor hate.

  3. Interestingly, she found newly subtle and sophisticated approaches to censorship.

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