Western Media Killed Chinese Web Sites

The following report came from Radio Free Asia via Boxun.  Two more famous Chinese web sites were taken offline by their Internet service providers under orders from government authorities, one of them just this week.

These two web sites have a special significance because of their recent exposure in the western media.  It is speculative whether being praised by western media represents the kiss of death these days.  I don't have the answer to that.  (Okay, I admit that the blog post title had been sensationalized!)

The first case is the website known as Yuluncn.com (or Yuluncn.net), or the Chinese Public Opinion Surveillance Net.  It was featured last month in the New York Times column titled Death By A Thousand Blogs by Nicholas Kristof (see the original article at Joseph Bosco and also the commentary Ankle-biting by a thousand blogs does not a revolution make at Danwei).

The collision between the Internet and Chinese authorities is one of the grand wrestling matches of history, visible in part at www.yuluncn.com.  That's the Web site of a self-appointed journalist named Li Xinde. He made a modest fortune selling Chinese medicine around the country, and now he's started the Chinese Public Opinion Surveillance Net - one of four million blogs in China.

Mr. Li travels around China with an I.B.M. laptop and a digital camera, investigating cases of official wrongdoing. Then he writes about them on his Web site and skips town before the local authorities can arrest him.

His biggest case so far involved a deputy mayor of Jining who is accused of stealing more than $400,000 and operating like a warlord. One of the deputy mayor's victims was a businesswoman whom he allegedly harassed and tried to kidnap.  Mr. Li's Web site published an investigative report, including a series of photos showing the deputy mayor kneeling and crying, apparently begging not to be reported to the police. The photos caused a sensation, and the deputy mayor was soon arrested.

Another of Mr. Li's campaigns involved a young peasant woman who was kidnapped by family planning officials, imprisoned and forcibly fitted with an IUD. Embarrassed by the reports, the authorities sent the officials responsible to jail for a year.

When I caught up with Mr. Li, he was investigating the mysterious death of a businessman who got in a financial dispute with a policeman and ended up arrested and then dead.

The server for Yuluncn is located in Beijing.  According to Li Xinde, the web server was shut down on Thursday morning.  When he inquired with the Internet service provider, he was told, "The Beijing Municipal News Office told us to shut it down."  Li said that the News Office did not give a reason for the shutdown.  Li speculated that this was related to the series of reports which has received 700,000 to 800,000 hits so far about a retired official from Liaoning.  Li said that it was rumored that this retired official went to Beijing and spoke to the State Council's News Office.

The RFA reporter called up the Beijing Municipal News Office, and was told: "If a web site was shut down, then it is because the web site does not have a permit and therefore cannot carry news reports.  That is against the regulations."

But according to Li Jinyi, whose own gmwq.org website was shut down last year, the offered reason is wrong.  The regulations are for all web sites to register before the end of June this year, or be shut down.  This is not yet the end of June!  So this is not the right reason.

On May 22, 2005, the Guangzhou-based Democracy and Freedom Web was shut down  The Shanghai-based Internet service provider was notified by the Shanghai Telecommunications Department to shut down the web site because of the presence of illegal contents.  There was no explanation about what was illegal.  This was the 44th time that Democracy and Freedom Web had been shut down.

On May 18, 2005, Ma Jian published an article titled China's Internet Dictatorship in the Korea Herald (also published at Asia Media). 

In a country where freedom of expression has been off limits for half a century, the Internet had at first proven to be a godsend: people poured their enthusiasm into it by building Web sites and personal homepages. Now these people find themselves exposed to the Public Security Bureaus.

For example, the Democracy and Freedom Web site has been either temporarily shut down or blocked 43 times in three years. Its robust reports on the death of Zhao Ziyang, the reform-minded leader of the 1980s who was imprisoned for objecting to the Tiananmen Square crackdown of June 1989, ultimately forced it to succumb to the power of the "Golden Shield." Today, the average online lifespan of proxy servers in China is a mere 30 minutes, and 17,000 Internet cafes have been shut down. 

It may be speculated that the mention of Democracy and Freedom Web might have angered the authorities.  It is also possible that the shutdown occurred right before the sensitive June 4 date this year to take down Democracy and Freedom Web.

Democracy and Freedom Web is used to being shut down, this being the 44th time.  All it takes is some more time to find another Internet service provider somewhere.

Thie reminds me of the carnival game named Whack A Mole, which involves quickly and repeatedly hitting the heads of mechanical moles with a mallet as they pop up from their holes (see online version of Whack A Mole).