Hinano Mizuki: The Case for Internet Censoring in China

This is not the usual blog post against Internet censorship in China.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  This post is a request for people to propose a solution on how to censor the Internet properly in China.

This post will begin with a brief description of Internet censoring in China.  At the outer perimeter, there is the Great Firewall of China that uses IP address blocking and keyword filtering.  From the Wired article Chinese Blogger Slams Microsoft by Kevin Poulsen:

The firewall was in evidence last week during a late-afternoon visit to a sprawling, smoke-filled internet bar in the Xi Jia Hui district, where an after-school crowd of fashionably dressed young people streamed in to nearly fill the nearly 200-plus PC stations.

Major news sites like CNN.com, MSNBC and Wired.com were freely accessible from the PCs. Google could be reached at first, but the caches were blocked, as was Google News. The BBC's front page was accessible, but individual stories were not. Anony*mizer.com was blocked.

Amnesty International's website was blocked, suggesting that the Chinese government holds the international human rights group in the same regard as the Bush administration. Human Rights Watch was blocked, along with nine of the top 10 results from a Google search on "China" and "human rights." After running that search, Google was blocked from the PC for about 10 minutes.

In the inner perimeter within China, there is the notion that Ownership Is Censorship In China.  A web site operator is required to register the web site with the appropriate government authorities, and is then obliged to observe the rules and regulations with respect to what appears on the website.  Thus, a blogger will be held responsible for what he/she writes, as well as what appears in the comments.  A bulletin board system operator will be held responsible for what the topics are and what the commentators say.  A search engine company will be held responsible for what is being searched and returned.  A blogging service provider will be held responsible for what an individual blogger publishes.

More recently, it is reported that Beijing is hiring 4,000 Internet security officers who will patrol the local scene (see IOL)

Public security officials in Beijing are recruiting and training nearly 4 000 Internet police to monitor activities at Internet cafes and related companies, state media said on Thursday.  Eight hundred "Internet security officers" will be sent to the city's Internet cafes and 3 000 to other Internet-related businesses, the Beijing News said.  The Internet security officers will report to police activities including visits to pornographic websites, "phishing" for bank details or other confidential information, and the "spreading of false information", the newspaper said.  They will "delete all kinds of harmful information, to help the units served to guarantee the safe operation of the Internet".

The above lists some of the principal tools that have been used by the Chinese authorities to control the Internet.

Against that, here are some examples of resistance: 

At this point, we need to backtrack and ask: What is being censored here?  In the previously cited article, Kevin Poulsen wrote:

Whatever its effect, the Great Firewall was not a great hindrance to the youthful netizens resting in wide, comfortable chairs, drinking soft drinks and smoking cigarettes. They were all playing video games, ranging from online poker to World of Warcraft, with nary a web browser or RSS reader in sight.

Thus, there are no people reading political tracts and there are no people watching pornographic movies.  But this was a public Internet bar that is possibly watched over by Internet security officers.  What about people's private behavior inside their homes?  Nielsen/NetRatings should be able to tell you that, but they probably won't release that information.  For now, let us take two categories (and I am ignoring online gambling) -- political content (e.g. freedom, democracy, human rights) versus pornography.  Which do you suppose is more popular?

In The Greatest Internet Crime Trial in China, the following statistics were presented for the pornographic web site 99bbs.com:

As a whole, the web site has more than 300,000 registered users who logged more than 400 million hits.  As of 5 pm on November 15, 2004, the computer records show that the pornographic section had 75,772 registered users.  It had 42,705 pornographic pictures which had been viewed a total of 32,734,600 times; there were 4,784 pornographic articles, which had been viewed a total of 24,340,060 times; there were 4,094 pornographic movies, which had been viewed 1,900,525 times.  The brothel directory section had 47,452 registered users, with 207 web pages which had viewed 252,731 times.  It is statistics such as these that caused the media to label this as the greatest Internet criminal trial in Chinese history.

This is just one web site.  Do you believe that any political web site has the potential for that kind of user statistics?  Anywhere else in the world with known published data, pornography trumps politics by a wide margin.  The censored material is much more likely to be pornographic than political in nature.

In the declaration by Reporters Without Borders and the representative of the OSCE (Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe) on Freedom of the Media (see link):

2. In a democratic and open society it is up to the citizens to decide what they wish to access and view on the Internet. Filtering or rating of online content by governments is unacceptable. Filters should only be installed by Internet users themselves. Any policy of filtering, be it at a national or local level, conflicts with the principle of free flow of information.

Article 2 is therefore a declaration that China must allow both political speech as well as pornography to reach its citizens who will make their own decisions.  At this point, you may yawn and say that you don't see how a little pornography can hurt anyone.  After all, there is quite of bit of it in television programs such as Sex In The City.

Here is where I will have to introduce you to Hinano Mizuki, if you don't already know who she is.  She is a twenty-three-year-old student from Taiwan who went to study in Japan.  She is even a blogger (Sweet Hina).  She is immensely popular among some Chinese males, but that would not be for that blog.  Nobody cares about that blog.  Even the ESWN blog gets more visitors than her blog does.  You see, she is best known as an AV (Adult Video) actress.  She is very popular among many Chinese men under the name 觀月雛 because she is Chinese and that sets her apart from the hundreds of Japanese AV actresses.

You yawn again, because how much harm can a little physical exertion do?  When your 14-year-old son wants to spend 12 hours a day looking at Hinano Mizuki, you may just change your mind.  So maybe you will say that only adults should be allowed to view 'adult' contents, by definition.  You would be very na´ve to think that setting up a button for "Enter only if you are 18 years or older" would solve this problem.  Maybe it will absolve you from legal liability in an American court of law, but the moral responsibility remains because you are unsure if your users are lying about their ages.

But there is something more, because Hinano Mizuki is willing to go very far in order to make a name for herself in her profession.  And I mean, extremely far.  I am going to offer a photo taken from one of her movies.  I will preface it with a warning that it may prove to be extremely upsetting.  You can skip it and just take my word that it is extreme.  In this photo, Hinano Mizuki is consuming a meal that she made from within herself.  Here is (be prepared!) the photo.  Remember that this is just one picture from a long movie, and I have made the decision not to show you the whole thing.  Do you think that you want anyone (children or adult) to watch the whole thing?  Anyone who is even remotely concerned about freedom, democracy and human rights should object to such degradation of a human being, even if she was a willing participant.  For the record, that photo was taken from the movie download section of a US-based Chinese-language web site; as with these things, the link is transient because it was hosted on a free service that expired quickly due to excessive bandwidth usage.

To the extent that the Chinese government does not want its citizens to swallow this kind of pornographic material, it has forbidden any Chinese web site to carry pornography.  Therefore, such pornographic materials are presently hosted overseas (e.g. 99bbs is based in the city of Charlotte, NC, USA) even though the web sites are presented in Chinese and targeted towards the Chinese people.  The Chinese government blocks the IP addresses of such foreign websites, it tries to stop proxy service access to these websites, it bans search engines from looking for such web sites and materials, and it uses Internet security officers to patrol public access points.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world is doing its best to make sure the Chinese government fails.  Dyna*pass, Free*gate and Ultra*surf enable users to directly access foreign-based web sites.  Someone wants the US government to invest US$100 million to provide unstoppable proxy servers, others want to stop China from receiving more filtering hardware and still others want Google and Yahoo! to enable people to look for these things.  All the while, web sites such as 99bbs operate freely in America.  According to the Article 5 in the RSF/OSCE declaration on Freedom of the Media:

5. All Internet content should be subject to the legislation of the country of its origin ("upload rule") and not to the legislation of the country where it is downloaded.

So the United States of America has decreed by its national legislation that China should get a sh*tload of pornography shoved down its throat.

Inevitably, someone is bound to draw the analogy to the Opium Wars.  Once upon a time, the Chinese government declared that it no longer wanted to have the opium produced by the East India Company, even though its addicted citizens craved for it.  The British Empire decided that anti-free trade practice was bad for business, and employed its mighty naval gunboats to force China to continue to accept more opium as well as pay heavy compensation (such as giving Hong Kong away) for daring to oppose.  Today, the Chinese government declared that it does not want any of the pornography produced in Japan and the United States, even if some of its citizens craved for it.  But there are forces that are trying to make sure that it fails, although most of these people do not recognize that their efforts have this perverse effect.

The situation is like two trains passing each other on adjacent tracks in opposite directions and not noticing the other.  On one hand, the western world is focused on freedom of speech and media in China, but not addressing any problems with imposing socio-cultural standards (with respect to pornography, for example) on everybody else.  On the other hand, China refers to its own efforts as trying to stem pornographic websites, "phishing" for bank details or other confidential information, and what it euphemistically calls the "spreading of false information."  Neither is paying attention to the other.

If China were paying any attention, it should mount a propaganda campaign about how the western world wants to shove pornography down the throats of the Chinese people.  Thus, the United States is the host country and safe haven to web sites such as 99bbs and many others.  A certain famous Chinese democracy activist is promoting Dyna*pass, Free*gate and Ultra*surf (see Breaking the Great Firewall of China).  Someone wants the US government to spend US$100 million on unstoppable proxy services.  And so on.  This is a good way to rouse up public passion against the decadent western world by pointing out what these actions are accomplishing.

If the western world were paying any attention, then there is a challenge at hand.  They may have the best of intention at heart with respect to freedom, democracy and human rights.  Yet, their actions have the unintended effect of aiding and abetting the propagation of extreme pornography for profit (and not necessarily sexual enlightenment) in China.  Maybe the Japanese or American people think what Hinano Muziki did was normal according to their standards, but why should the Chinese be forced to accept that?  

This post began with a request for people to propose a solution on how to censor the Internet properly in China.  'Properly' is clarified here to refer to pornography (while ignoring for now the category known as 'false and harmful information'; see, for example, the introductory section to The Shalan Flash Flood - Part 4).  How would you re-position your proposals with respect to the balance between ensuring freedom of speech and media versus the proliferation of pornography such as the Hinano Mizuki film?  I am fully aware that this is an unsettling question, for which I should expect a comment such as "Eat sh*t and die!".

P.S.  On further thought, this battle is about China.  I ask you to think about any chance of wanting someone like Hinano Mizuki to be imposed upon the Muslims around the world.  Do you think that the United States or Reporters Without Border will insist that Iraqis, Iranis or Saudis must have the right to have access to that kind of material?  Forget it!  Those principles will go out of the window so fast like you wouldn't believe.